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Terrorism Redux
Alex Steffen, 11 Dec 03

Robert Wright, of Non Zero fame, has written a piece on how to wage a real war on terrorism. Wright makes some excellent points, particularly when he discusses how "The amount of discontent in the world is becoming a highly significant national-security variable." If nothing else, it's worth a read as a backgrounder in what the Bush Administration is thinking. (more below)

The piece falls short, though, in providing genuinely new models. Wright acknowledges that poverty, resentment and the diffusion of technology to terrorists are problems, but he offers only global trade, better PR and more policing as the solutions. We can do better.

How much better is made clear by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi's biting acceptance speech yesterday:

"If the 21st century wishes to free itself from the cycle of violence, acts of terror and war, and avoid repetition of the experience of the 20th century - that most disaster-ridden century of humankind, there is no other way except by understanding and putting into practice every human right for all mankind..."

Key points from the Wright essay:
Al-Qaida and radical Islam are not the problem

For the foreseeable future, smaller and smaller groups of intensely motivated people will have the ability to kill larger and larger numbers of people

The number of intensely aggrieved groups will almost certainly grow in the coming decades of rapid technological, and hence social, change.

The amount of discontent in the world is becoming a highly significant national-security variable. (Therefore) the substance of policies should be subjected to a new kind of appraisal, one that explicitly accounts for the discontent and hatred the policies arouse. The ultimate target is memes; killing or arresting people is useful only to the extent that it leads to a net reduction in terrorism memes.

The current phase in the evolution of information technology is anti-repression. Support free expression and, ultimately, democratization in authoritarian Arab and other Muslim states.

Globalization, though a large part of the solution, is also a large part of the problem. We are seeing, and will continue to see, the globalization of resentment.

The problem isn't poor people; the problem—or at least part of the problem—is poor nations. Terrorists may not be the poorest people in their nations, and they may not draw most of their support from especially poor people in their nations—but the nations they come from tend to be at the bottom of the world's economic hierarchy. Draw Islamic nations—and for that matter all nations—into the web of global capitalism.

The lines separating domestic policing and foreign policing, national security and international security, are rapidly blurring.

Understanding where technology is moving us in the long run can save us lots of short-run turmoil.

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Finally, someone gets it :)

Posted by: Taran on 11 Dec 03

yeah, i don't really agree with wright that al-quaida and radical islam are not the problem...
"The Arab world has a history rich in art, culture and society — and was a pioneer in science, math and language 400 years ago. But the past 50 years have brought mess to no progress. In this excerpt from his new book “The Future of Freedom,” Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International, discusses reasons behind this unique downward spiral."

although wright's right i think to broaden the proximate cause to social change :D (cf. beeman in his essay on understanding the history and origins of fundamentalism: ), which then offers/frames a solution through easing said transition, i.e. trying to make progress worthwhile, even for the "losers" who might otherwise be left behind and, with nothing left to lose, present candidates to foment terror (cf. zakaria's contrast between the recent radicalisation of chechens vs the tempering of kurds: ).

by trying to accomodate cultural differences, instead of ripping, intentionally or no, a social fabric to pieces, one would, i suspect, encourage moderating influences within the culture itself!
"Many people believe that Islam is intrinsically authoritarian, anti-Western and anti-modern. But how different is it really from Judaism or Christianity? In this excerpt from his new book “The Future of Freedom,” Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International, sorts through the facts and assumptions about Islamic governments and people — and offers surprising answers."

Posted by: smerkin on 11 Dec 03


A Biological Theory of War: The Young and the Restless
"Two researchers at Toronto's York University have concluded that wars are triggered whenever societies accumulate a critical mass of young unmarried and unemployed men. Graduate student Christian Mesquida and Professor Neil Wiener argue that an oversupply of young males (aged 15 to 29) is "a necessary condition for the emergence of violent conflicts." A study of world conflicts suggests that wars and internal rebellions become more likely once a population of young, unmarried men reaches 35 percent of a nation's total. This has been the case in Rwanda, Sudan, Algeria, the Congo and the former Yugoslavia. York and Mesquida note that the proportion of young men in the US is approaching 30 percent of the population. They predict trouble ahead in China, where there will soon be one million more young men than young women. The biological theory applies only to offensive wars, York and Mesquida claim. Since the days of the Crusades, nervous rulers have found foreign wars an effective means to rid their countries of the danger of large populations of young and restive men. There are other ways to deal with the problem: University of California anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon notes that the indigenous Yanomamo rainforest dwellers simply make sure that the young men are assigned a lot of exhausting work to keep them productively occupied."

and :D

All you need is love: How the terrorists stopped terrorism
"Finally they hit upon an idea. Why not simply marry them off? In other words, why not find a way to give these men—the most dedicated, competent, and implacable fighters in the entire PLO—a reason to live rather than to die? Having failed to come up with any viable alternatives, the two men put their plan in motion."

Posted by: smerkin on 11 Dec 03

Elaine Scarry has written a small book called _Who Defended the Country?_ which posits a citizen based defense system against terrorism. From what I've read about it, her idea is that the only effective anti-terrorists on 9/11 were those who took it upon themselves to fight against the hijackers and prevent it from flying to Washington DC. Elaine Scarry is a good writer and very smart person. She may be on to something.

Certainly, the way to minimize biological attack damage is through basic public health measures, something that we have neglected over the last few years.

I know my initial reaction to the fall of the Trade Center was to buy the components for a one window solar electric system.

Posted by: gmoke on 11 Dec 03

in addition!

Vengeful majorities
"My aunt's killing was just a pinprick in a violent world. But there is a connection between her murder and the Serbian concentration camps of the early 1990s, the murder of 800,000 Tutsis by ordinary Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, the mobs in Indonesia in 1998 which looted hundreds of Chinese properties leaving nearly 2,000 dead and even the terror attacks of 11th September. The connection lies in the relationship among the three most powerful forces operating in the world today: markets, democracy and ethnic hatred. There exists today a phenomenon - pervasive outside the west yet rarely acknowledged, indeed often viewed as taboo - that turns free market democracy into an engine of ethnic conflagration. I am speaking of the phenomenon of market-dominant minorities: ethnic minorities who, for varying reasons, tend under market conditions to dominate economically, often to a startling extent, the indigenous majorities."


finally :D

"In sum, a range of interesting and difficult philosophical issues is raised by the disputes between cosmopolitans of various stripes and their critics. As the world becomes a smaller place through increased social, political, and economic contacts, these disputes and the issues they raise will only become more pressing."


Posted by: smerkin on 12 Dec 03



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