Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The threat of terrorism remains

The last thing terrorist groups want is for the rest of the world to believe they’re history. Influential though he may have been, Osama bin Laden’s departure does not change a thing in terms of the root causes of terrorism

After nine-and-a-half years of pursuit, one of the world’s most dangerous men reaped what he sowed, early yesterday morning. Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire who left a trail of death and devastation behind him, is dead.

Despite what is already being hailed as a victory for embattled US President Barack Obama, the death of the al-Qaeda leader will not bring an end to the threat of international terrorism for several reasons — some of which were probably foreseen by bin Laden himself.

Since the devastating Sept. 11 terror attacks on the US, which reinvigorated the hunt for a man who had already been sought by the US for about a decade, bin Laden’s organization has become increasingly decentralized, so much so that terrorism experts and intelligence agencies are often at a loss to determine whether certain terrorist organizations are part of bin Laden’s network or not.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

5 comments:

Michael Fagan said...

My comment last night disappeared...

It's great that Osama Bin Laden is dead, although sad that it took ten years to get him. I'll even give President Obama credit for personally authorizing the hit. Good stuff.

"Despite claims by former US president George W. Bush’s administration and others that al-Qaeda was targeting the West because it abhorred its democracy and freedom, there is ample evidence that for the great majority of those who support Islamic extremist organizations, the real reasons for that support are far more pragmatic and localized than ideological."

I disagree with your insistence that Islamic militants are motivated by pragmatic concerns rather than ideology. There are poor and downtrodden people everywhere, but only the Islamic militants whip women in public on trumped up charges, behead journos on youtube videos, and then explicitly justify such acts on theological grounds. Those people are not comparable to ideologically motivated terrorist groups like the IRA. Look at what they did to that daft young commie in the Palestinian territories just last week - what "pragmatic, localized" aim did his murder serve?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Mike:

The question that needs to be asked is the following one: Absent Islam, would Palestinians, Lebanese in southern parts of the country and Algerians not be waging wars of resistance, or terrorism, in similar fashion? Of course they would, because they are fighting for pragmatic, local causes. There is nothing inherently Muslim about blowing oneself up (people in Sri Lanka did that well before Muslims did) or engage in a suicidal terror mission. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Palestine Islamic Jihad, to name a few, may be couching their actions in Islamic formulation, but in the end, Islam is nothing more than an organizing factor — a recruiting ground. In many of those societies, mosques and religious organizations meet societal needs for the poor that are unfulfilled by the state. That’s where extremists recruit their people. Examples of non-Muslim organization that has committed untold atrocities abound, from the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda to Sendero Luminoso in Peru to the Aum Shinrikyo in Japan (or Japanese soldiers during World War II, for that matter), all of which used religious or cult ideology to justify their atrocities.

To understand why so many acts of terrorism occurring today come from the Muslim world, one needs to turn to post-colonialism and neo-colonialism studies rather than to religion.

Michael Fagan said...

"The question that needs to be asked is the following one...

No it isn't, it is this: absent Islam, how many people once living in Europe, America, India, Bali, Indonesia and elsewhere might still be alive today?

I know that there are land issues in respect of the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I know that these issues are aggravated by theology on either side.* Yet the context in which your article was set was that of international terrorism against the West - not just the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

The point is that militant Islam weaponizes people, and no amount of counterfactuals can refute that since Islam is one very large reason for not only why "pragmatic, localized" problems cannot get solved, but also for why new problems emerge. The anti immigration policies of the political far-Right have gained strength in Europe over the last decade because people see Muslims marching in European cities calling for the imposition of Sharia Law and the beheading of "infidels" - and marching under police protection. I don't want to overstate the case (there are far more serious problems), but nontheless militant Islamic theology is a very real threat to the West over and above "pragmatic, local concerns".


*And in respect of that particular problem, the Palestinians were repeatedly sold out by that manipulating scumbag Arafat, as you must surely well know.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

You write: “No it isn’t, it is this: absent Islam, how many people once living in Europe, America, India, Bali, Indonesia and elsewhere might still be alive today?”

Let’s turn the question around, shall we? Absent Western neo-colonialism and its propping authoritarian regimes across the oil-rich Muslim world, how many people once living in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan (and in non-Muslim lands such as Angola), might still be alive today?

You write: “Yet the context in which your article was set was that of international terrorism against the West - not just the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”

If you read al-Qaeda’s declarations against the West carefully (or any book on the subject by Michael Scheuer, for example), you’d see that OBL’s decision to target the West was a means to end external support for their proximate territorial targets — Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, the Occupied Territories, etc. In other words, it was calculated and localized rather than stemming from blind, religious-based hatred for all things liberal, democratic and Western. Muslim Chechens, many of whom trained at AQ camps in Afghanistan, didn’t take hostages at theaters in Moscow and raid schools in Russia because they hate democracy (Russia isn’t) or the West (Russia is as much East as West).

You write: “… no amount of counterfactuals can refute that since Islam is one very large reason for not only why ‘pragmatic, localized’ problems cannot get solved, but also for why new problems emerge.”

No. Invidious neo-colonial policies, such as US support for Israel and authoritarian regimes across the Muslim world, is. Yes, militant Islam is a problem, but it’s not the main one, nor is it the source.

As to your footnote: Arafat was mightily corrupt, but any close reading of the “deals” the Israelis forced upon him and his people immediately shows that to accept those would have been an even more horrible betrayal of his people.

Sorry Mike, but as a former intelligence officer who read thousands upon thousands of pages, classified and non, on al-Qaeda, Palestinian terror organizations and the Lebanese Hezbollah, and who went to grad school at a military college in War Studies and Asymmetrical Threats with soldiers who either were on their way to or coming back from Afghanistan to fight AQ and the Taliban, I simply cannot agree with you on this. Let’s just agree to disagree, shall we?

Michael Fagan said...

"Let’s turn the question around, shall we?"

Let's not: we can play counterfactuals until the cows come home and still not be finished.

But I'm leaving with these two points:

(1) Islamic theology is, as a matter of both ethical principles and epistemology, fundamentally incompatible with the core of the Western liberal order. There are militant Muslims in Europe, right now, who support militant Islamic organizations that have murdered European citizens on European soil for open criticism of Islam. Nothing to do with Palestine or Chechnya.

(2) Across all of the problems you mention, government, and its modus operandi of coercion, was behind every single one - whether in the service of theological or ideological premises. None of those problems are principally a matter of free markets, despite sub-Marxist insinuations to the contrary.