Terrorism and guilt

by John Quiggin on March 12, 2004

There’s a lot of confusion about the perpetrators of the Madrid terrorist bombings, with a letter, purportedly from Al-Qaeda, claiming responsibility, and leaders associated with ETA disclaiming it. There’s evidence pointing both ways and, of course, it’s possible that more than one group was involved. Meanwhile, another letter, also purportedly from Al Qaeda, disclaimed responsibility for the even bloodier atrocity in Karbala last week.

I don’t think it’s necessary to come to a conclusive finding as to who set up which bombs. All groups and individuals that embrace terrorism as a method share the guilt of, and responsibility for, these crimes. Both in practical and symbolic terms, terrorist acts by one group provide assistance and support to all those who follow in their footsteps. The observation of apparent links between groups that seemingly have nothing in common in political terms (the IRA and FARC, for example[1]) illustrates the point.

This point isn’t only applicable to terrorists. For example, governments that engage in, or endorse, torture in any context share in the guilt of criminals like Saddam, whether or not they were directly complicit in particular crimes.

Whether or not the official leaders of ETA and its political counterpart were directly involved in this attack, they deserve condemnation for it unless they are willing to repudiate terrorism and abandon those who would continue it.

fn1. Both the IRA and FARC have issued partial and mutually contradictory denials of the accusation that IRA members provided explosives training to FARC. But denials of particular accusations are beside the point unless they are accompanied by a renunciation of terrorism.

{ 58 comments }

1

Factory 03.12.04 at 7:49 am

Hmm sounds like a case of ‘morale equivilance’. A way to frame a stronger relationship between two or more entities than really exists, which dumbs down the discussion. While this might be good for moralizing crusaders, it’s prolly not that good for ppl wanting to be taken seriously.

2

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.12.04 at 8:00 am

This is an interesting formulation. I think you are on to something, but I don’t quite agree with the exact way you put it.

Perhaps all terrorist groups are complicit in creating an atmosphere where terrorism is considered by splinter groups to be an acceptable way of getting back at larger groups?

Perhaps governments who do not abandon torture are complicit in creating an atmosphere where torture is acceptable?

I’m not even sure that is a helpful way of looking at it. But I think it is closer.

3

Mat 03.12.04 at 9:58 am

I’d agree with Henry that, in ETA, as the political and old terrorist groups are getting weak, “the current active leadership is young, radical and politically inexperienced”. They must have been feeling pretty desperate as the Aznar government was really tough in this area.
So in that case, it is very plausible that they could be inspired by the suicidal mass-murder technique of Al-Qaida, equally desperate.
I don’t think you can generalise this to all groups though?

4

bad Jim 03.12.04 at 10:56 am

My ugly mind is muddied by the pointlessness of these attacks. Why Madrid train stations? Why the World Trade Centers? Can the purpose actually be to ‘send a message’ if the destruction is not instructively instrumental?

In contrast, the attack on Pearl Harbor actually destroyed some battleships. Aircraft carriers eventually proved (?) more useful in the ensuing conflict, but the initial gesture was more than spite.

Allied bombing of German and Japanese cities was cruel and unusual, but the context of world war was then clear, and nearly the only question raised was whether such means were acceptable.

Invasions of sovereign countries, absent immediate threat or assault (Germany 1876, 1914, 1939, US 2003) have generally been disambiguated, however unsatisfactorily. The archives bulge with communiques.

What is it that stalks us now, then?

After September 11, the eldritch composer Stockhausen was reviled for calling it “a work of art”. Is there any other there there, though? Do these attacks ever say anything more than “See what I can do!” and imply that the victims (who could be anyone) somehow deserve it?

5

Rex 03.12.04 at 11:05 am

I think the term “moral equvalence” should be banned from all all intelligent discussion. It’s a completly meaningless abstract concept, that serves no purpose except to make the individual who uses it feel eloquent. It’s a cop-out.

6

Donald Johnson 03.12.04 at 1:27 pm

It’s hard to avoid dealing with the concept of “moral equivalence”, but in practice the actual phrase is most commonly used as a rhetorical way to defend the US or its allies against a charge of doing something evil. The usual line is “Surely you don’t think that America’s policy in situation X can be compared to evil enemy Y’s policy in situation Z?” The target of this question is supposed to react defensively and say “No, of course not,” and if they don’t, then they have proven they are guilty of the sin of belief in moral equivalence and no longer need be taken seriously.

7

Jack 03.12.04 at 1:35 pm

I think that terror attacks are described as pointless or senseless rather too easily.

Certainly the terrorists will not gain directly through the death of those they murder and it is very wrong to use a person as a means rather than an end as terrorists do.

Even so it is still a long way to go from there to pointlessness. There are many purposes which have been explicitly explained by terrorists themselves. For example:

a) To provoke an excessive reaction with the aim of using the reaction to divide, set a grudge or motivate thos you are trying to help.

b) To ensure that your grievance is not forgotten.

c) To give hope to your suporters either by showing how far you can go.

d) To undermine the state by demonstrating its inability to protect its citizens

(a) has been cited by Nelson Mandela and the IRA. (b) is the reason for “spectaculars” and its value is illustrated by the unseemly celebrations after 9/11. (c) is an extreme version of the squeaky wheel theory and I have heard Jean Genet cited as an authority as a justification for the initfada. (d) seems the weakest but fear of it also seems the best explanation for most state responses to terrorism which is generally to attempt to apply main force to the problem. For example the cost of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in both cash and lives conpletely dwarfs the damage done on 9/11.

IMHO opinion it is very hard to detect where these to me uncontroversial observations seem to bear so little relation to governmennt policy in most cases.

The plain truth is that it requires very few people to blow up three trains. There is virtually no way of preventing someone boarding a train at rush hour with a suitcase full of explosive and would hardly take a genius to figure out how to get people on three trains at the same time. Making it impossible to do can hardly be a viable option. At the same time, who explained the world to these people other than staunch ETA/Al’Qaida supporters? What is done to use the horror of such attacks to shame the perpetrators? Why does speculation move so quickly to who did it? It’s at times like this when terrorists truly breathe the oxygen of publicity. Why not treat them as the murder enquiries they ought to be and not spend lots of time discussing the goals of the perpetrators.

8

james 03.12.04 at 1:52 pm

“…the cost of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in both cash and lives conpletely dwarfs the damage done on 9/11…”

You know, I think that’s a really intelligent and comprhensive summary of the issues involved in the Afghan and Iraqi wars.

9

SKapusniak 03.12.04 at 2:00 pm

No, sorry, I refuse.

People who plan or commit hideous acts, are guilty of those particular hideous acts they plan or commit, and only of those particular hideous acts.

Other hideous acts planned/comitted by other people, are the responsibility of those other people. Deciding to ram two or more sets of perpetrators together declaring them all guilty of all of each other’s crimes, because of the similarity in those crimes’ hideousness…

…well I’m going to be polite, given the awful cirumstances and the number of swear words I would require, and not write down what I really think of that sort of reasoning.

Murderers are guilty of murdering those that they actually murdered, not of all murders everywhere and everywhen across all time and space. Just about forget about trying to push that opposite line with me, m’kay?

10

Heater 03.12.04 at 2:41 pm

“All groups and individuals that embrace terrorism as a method share the guilt of, and responsibility for, these crimes.”

Not quite. “Terrorism” is a method, and as such, cannot be pronounced guilty across the board. If, for instance, the terrorist has a worthy goal, then the terrorism is to be encouraged (e.g. in India, when the British were ruling, some Indians were justified terrorists).

Secondly, a point that’s been made in many other places: I think you should make clear that the ‘group,’ referred to, above, can include – and indeed, does often include – governments.

11

Motoko 03.12.04 at 2:51 pm

All groups and individuals that embrace terrorism as a method share the guilt of, and responsibility for, these crimes.

Why??

12

rogerg 03.12.04 at 3:53 pm

Your post makes absolutely no sense.

It takes a perfectly clear term — responsibility — and distorts it until it signifies the opposite — that is, it signifies guilt by the vaguest of associations, or irresponsibility. This is a useful tool for “non-terrorists,” of course — the State. Since State sponsored violence stands in about a 1000 to 1 ratio to the violence enacted by terrorists, the more extension given to the term terrorist, the more the state has leaway to operated violently against any group they choose. Since, of course, responsibility in the tactical sense has a very specific meaning — if you arrest ETA people and al qaeda people are bombing your trains — you will signally fail in the duty of securing the populace, but you will succeed magnificently in using the politics of paranoia to create authoritarian structures.
Your paragraph could have been penned by the Argentine military in 1976. We know exactly where that logic leads.

13

bill carone 03.12.04 at 4:24 pm

John,

“All groups and individuals that embrace terrorism as a method share the guilt of, and responsibility for, these crimes.”

I find this very interesting. Do you have support for this argument?

Some restitution-based punishment systems treat all crimes this way. All criminals of a particular type are responsible for all crimes of that type.

For example, take bicycle theft on the Stanford campus. Here is how you calculate the punishment for each thief.

1) First, you figure out the total cost of the crime (stolen bikes, cost of locks and bike racks, etc.)

2) Then you take all the criminals _who have been caught_ for the crime (say on a yearly basis), and split that year’s _total cost_ among them. That represents their punishment; they have to pay that amount in restitution. (At Stanford, we did an informal study and found that each bike thief caught should pay $20,000 in restitution).

Now you need a better theory than the above (what crimes are to be lumped together, how do you calculate cost, what happens when the criminal can’t immediately pay the fine, etc.), but the nuts and bolts are there.

It makes intuitive sense to me, but the punishment is draconian, and I don’t have a perfect argument against the idea that we are punishing someone for someone else’s crimes.

One argument is based on incentives. If you only require the thief to pay back what he stole, then there is an incentive to steal: if you get caught, you break even; if you don’t, you come out ahead. The restitution idea above is almost identical to the idea that

Punishment = “cost” of the crime committed divided by the probability of getting caught, a common way to calculate appropriate punishment.

Another argument is the idea of conspiracy; all bike thieves are in a conspiracy against everyone else. I am not an expert in how conspiracy works when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing; does anyone else know about this?

14

dipnut 03.12.04 at 5:49 pm

“All groups and individuals that embrace terrorism as a method share the guilt of, and responsibility for, these crimes.”

Then Saddam (who proudly advertised his financial and moral support for the Palestinian intifada) was in part to blame for 9/11.

I’m a warblogger, and even I don’t buy that line of reasoning. I do believe that 9/11 was a major, and legitimate, factor in the decision to finally get rid of Saddam Hussein. But your reasoning is really bizarre. Put me in with skapusniak, motoko, and rogerg.

15

Jack 03.12.04 at 8:50 pm

Some possible interpretations that make sense to me:

It’s like drunk driving — those who don’t get caught are also guilty.

Loss of innocence — Any act of terrorism where people become means and not ends does damage beyond the death of the immediate victims, to our expectations and hopes and our view of what is permissible. It wounds our collective soul and facilitates subsequent similar actions.

Guilty means worthy of opprobium — Anybody who has a similar lack of scruples is just as bad.

Actual conspiracy — Terrorist groups are either explicitly cooperating or the very non-specific nature of their acts mean that they have a common purpose and benefit form each others activities.

Moral clarity — Terrorism is so wrong on so many levels that only very misguided people can allow it to happen and as such all those with this failing are complicit.

Some which don’t:
If you’ve done one killing you are responsible for all that follow.

Killing 200 people and killing 20 people — Same thing

All people who kill non combatants are equally evil — So Nelson Mandela and Osama bin Laden are morally equivalent.

16

Colin 03.12.04 at 9:56 pm

Well, I suppose it was inevitable, but my Arabic-speaking research partner says he’s seen claims on some Middle Eastern discussion boards that blame the Russians (to implicate the Chechens?!), the CIA and the Mossad, the latter complete with the obligatory “aha” pointing out that there were no Israelis reported among the 199 dead so far (I guess it would be a lot easier to warn the few Israelis resident in Spain to stay home from work in Madrid yesterday morning than it must have been to warn the “4000 Jews” to skip their jobs on September 11).

17

Donald Johnson 03.12.04 at 10:24 pm

Is John making a Chomskyite point (which is a compliment coming from me, btw) under the cover of condemning terrorism? That bit about all countries which engage in or support torture being guilty like Saddam obviously includes the US, Great Britain, and Israel. He then goes back and talks as though he is chiefly interested in ETA and al Qaeda, but I think it’s all a clever ruse. Well, not entirely a ruse–he means it about ETA and al Qaeda, but he also means it about countries which support torture.

18

Jean-P 03.12.04 at 11:58 pm

That bit about all countries which engage in or support torture being guilty like Saddam obviously includes the US, Great Britain, and Israel

Obviously. Torture? Who could possibly not think of these countries? The “big three” are they, Donald?

19

Luc 03.13.04 at 1:11 am

Jack made the folowing observations:

Sense


Moral clarity — Terrorism is so wrong on so many levels that only very misguided people can allow it to happen and as such all those with this failing are complicit.

vs. non-sense


All people who kill non combatants are equally evil — So Nelson Mandela and Osama bin Laden are morally equivalent.

The ANC and Nelson Mandela were considered terrorists by the US (Reagan) and the UK (Thatcher).

For the view of Cheney see
http://dir.salon.com/news/col/cona/2000/08/01/south_africa/index.html

The ANC was labelled as terrorist by those that made the important decisions, and the ANC was and is supported by many around the world (although that support came a bit late). So either we are all complicit in terrorism or we should differentiate terrorism, and base our judgement on something else, not just the label of terrorism.

So i would ditch that moral clarity.

20

John Quiggin 03.13.04 at 2:37 am

luc, are you saying that we should regard Mandela as a terrorist because powerful people called him one?

21

Gary Farber 03.13.04 at 3:24 am

I have some comments on the claim from “the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades of Al-Qa’ida” here.

22

Gary Farber 03.13.04 at 3:33 am

“If, for instance, the terrorist has a worthy goal, then the terrorism is to be encouraged (e.g. in India, when the British were ruling, some Indians were justified terrorists).”

Ah, so the ends justify the means, and all that counts is good intentions.

My. Goodness.

So if my “goal” is to reduce pollution, I am justified in using a mini-nuke on any factory violating EPA standards in the US.

If my “goal” is prevent traffic deaths by convincing people that driving is one of the greatest killers in society (a fact), I am justified in blowing up highways.

If my “goal” is to create Kurdistan, I am justifying in killing anyone necessary.

Etc.

At best, the only possible justification for terrorism might be that no alternative path is possible. This was plainly not the case in India. It is typically not the case.

But it’s always lovely to see justification of mass slaughter based upon good intentions.

23

Donald Johnson 03.13.04 at 3:39 am

To Jean-P

John was condemning everyone who commits terrorist acts and everyone who tortures, so quantity doesn’t matter. But I understand that the opportunity to be snarky was too good to pass up. I picked the USA, Israel, and Great Britain precisely because these three countries are so quick to moralize about the crimes of others.

And anyway, when it comes to supporting torturers, of course the US is one of the leaders, so you got me on that. I do think my country rates pretty high in the moral depravity department.

But I tend to agree with what I understood to be John Quiggin’s point–one ought to be a moral absolutist on support for torture and terrorism, which would lead to some interesting political developments if we stop dealing with countries based on his suggested principle.

24

Luc 03.13.04 at 4:42 am


luc, are you saying that we should regard Mandela as a terrorist because powerful people called him one?

Yes and no,

There were ANC actions that can be described as terror (planting bombs in public places causing civilian deaths). So following those arguments of moral clarity and shared responsibility that would taint as immoral the whole ANC and their supporters.

So either I can deny those acts were terror, and that is possible since the definition of terror is not fixed, or I can dispute those arguments of moral clarity. I choose the last.

And that is where Mandela fits in. Today he is not considered a terrorist. But he was in the past. And not just by powerful people, but by the government of South Africa, the US and the UK among others. And for example by Cheney, who still is in a position to determine who is considered a terrorist and who is not.

And partly because they used the same moral clarity and shared responsibility logic, they didn’t support the ANC but instead offered support to an apartheid regime. Only when the SA government itself decided to change course did the US turn around and changed its opinion on the ANC.

But Mandela is still on a US blacklist for his past.

http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?art_id=ct20030810102700522T600578&set_id=1&click_id=3&sf=

The problem with the moral clarity and shared responsibility is not in applying it to 9/11 but in applying it to cases where there is disagreement in wether the cause of those committing acts of violence is just.

25

msg 03.13.04 at 6:21 am

“…they deserve condemnation for it unless they are willing to repudiate terrorism and abandon those who would continue it.”

Terrorism being “the systematic use of violence as a means to intimidate or coerce societies or governments”
or, more arcanely, in Thomas Jefferson’s locution:
“a mode of government by terror or intimidation.”
The first definition is the more common and I’m assuming it’s the one used here.

I’m not sure which side of the Atlantic you’re from, John Quiggin, but on the western side we celebrate every year, with great festivity and lots of beer, acts which were accurately deemed by their recipients as terrorist. Bloody acts of violence that led to all-out war.
That innocent people were killed, are killed in these terrorist bombings contrasts with the direct military engagement of 200 years ago, yes. But the contrast in power is much greater still. Direct engagement is suicide now.
It’s all well and good to condemn terrorism when you’re comfortable with the status quo, but the outcome of non-violent resistance isn’t automatically redress and recognition. So what alternatives do you offer these desperate men and women?
Many of those who commit these acts, that horrify decent people, are at the edge of what they feel is extinction. Are you suggesting they go humbly when all other avenues are closed to them?
Negotiate, petition, plead, beg, and, when nothing works, surrender to an enemy you see as immoral but impossibly superior in military strength. Because terrorism is worse than being starved to death, worse than seeing your young men beaten into servitude, worse than being driven from your home.
Is that a defense of terrorism?
Jets bombing innocent civilians, men women and children, in their homes, is that terrorism?
An armed soldier running a bulldozer over an unarmed woman while other soldiers look on and do nothing, is that terrorism?
How many innocent people have to die at once for it to be terrorism, as opposed to merely bad behavior? Or is it about their religion or the color of their skin? The Ashoura bombings in Iraq last Tuesday certainly didn’t generate this much outrage.

I’m not defending the act, I’m defending the people who are driven to such acts, who no longer have a voice in this world as it is.

26

Colin 03.13.04 at 7:38 am

I’m defending the people who are driven to such acts

The “oppressed”, eh, MSG? Well the conclusion of virtually all scientific research on the subject (only recently has any rigour been applied to examination of the facts; googling will turn up 2 or 3 studies) is that, contrary to received wisdom, there is no fast relationship between terrorism (in its common definition) and oppression (by any meaningful application of the term), and that the former is in almost all cases merely politics or religion by another means. E.g. the Madrid bombings.

27

bad Jim 03.13.04 at 8:40 am

We still don’t know who did the Madrid bombings, so we still don’t know what point they intended. ETA and Al Qaeda might agree that Spaniards deserve striking, but apart from that there’s little to infer except the idea that timed bombings on commuter trains can be very impressive.

28

maya 03.13.04 at 10:58 am

I have to a agree with msg to a certain extent. One of the most frustrating aspects of the reporting we receive on events like the bombing in Madrid is the manipulation of the public mind with the blanket tag “terrorism.”

As others have said, with a nod to Chomsky, how do we separate State terrorism and terrorist acts by populations not recognized by the UN, for instance. Why do we? Is the current world order so perfect that anyone trying to change it automatically a nutjob – even if it involves trying to reclaim their homeland?

I have seen no talk in the news of who the ETA is & what their claims are – except that they are a violent separatist organization. Why does no-one recognize the legitimacy of their claims, even if we can deplore their modus operandi.

The IRA only gained recognition after years of horror. Would they have gained it otherwise? Doubt it. Organizations like these, nations trying to gain their rightful autonomy, are not to be lumped in with the likes of Al Qu’da who are fighting for an extreme interpretation of an ideology.

How are these nations that have been annexed by major powers supposed to negotiate when nobody’s listening, nobody’s willing to take them seriously.

The Chechens, South Africa, Corsica and on and on, back through the great Revolutions (including the US war of independence). All of which involve what we now so hastily call terrorist tactics – a word that immediately shuts down the public’s desire and ability to listen.

29

colin 03.13.04 at 1:04 pm

Maya,

The point I was making is simple: the idea that terrorism (especially suicide bombing) is spawned by “oppression”, when researched scientifically, appears to be nonsense. In almost all cases it turns out to be, like war, merely an extension, by other means, of politics or religion. Assuming that the perpetrators of the Madrid bombing were either ETA or Al Qaeda (or some unholy alliance between the two), we already know very well what their claims and positions are. ETA? Do a bit of research yourself and you’ll find that the Basque region already has about as much autonomy and self-rule as any province can have in a federal system — save perhaps what exists in Belgium or Quebec — without being a separate country. The vast majority of Basques, even those favourable to independance, decry ETA. So can you kindly tell us how the “oppression” justification works here? Frustration, maybe, even inexperience (according to the theory that it was the work of some younger, more radical faction of ETA), but “oppression”? And how exactly are these 200 dead and 1500 wounded the “oppressors”?

30

Luc 03.13.04 at 2:02 pm


The point I was making is simple: the idea that terrorism (especially suicide bombing) is spawned by “oppression”, when researched scientifically, appears to be nonsense.

You mean proper, peer reviewed scientific research has shown that the Tamils and the Palestinians aren’t being oppressed? Great news!
Stop the peace initiatives! There is nothing wrong in Sri Lanka and Israel. Sure.

31

Tom T. 03.13.04 at 3:24 pm

Organizations like these, nations trying to gain their rightful autonomy, are not to be lumped in with the likes of Al Qu’da who are fighting for an extreme interpretation of an ideology.

Nationalism is an ideology as well. I don’t see any reason why atrocities committed in service of an extreme interpretation of that ideology should be any more excusable than those committed by al-Qaeda.

Or to put it another way: Are there any actions that could be taken by ETA (or the IRA, or the Tamil Tigers, or the Palestinians) that are so violent, so disproportionate, or so reprehensible that you would condemn them? Or does the nationalist basis for their actions justify any tactics whatsoever? And if there are some actions that are beyond the pale, how do those actions differ, in your view, from the bombings in Madrid?

32

colin 03.13.04 at 4:31 pm

Luc,

You are either incapable of understanding what I said or wilfully misreading my point. The research I mentioned appears to show that there is no causal relationship between “oppression” and “terrorism”, especially not suicide bombing. The Al Qaeda suicide bombers, for example, are only “oppressed” if one completely abandons any reasonable meaning of the word. Far from being impoverished, enslaved or persecuted, they are generally more educated than the norm and frequently issue from the middle classes of their particular societies (viz the Sept. 11 bombers). What they are, in most cases, is angry and humilated. And often simply brainwashed.

This is in no way a comment on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of various ongoing political or religious conflicts, but since you mention the cases of Sri Lanka and Palestine/Israel, I should point out one major difference between the two. The Tamil Tigers, who are often credited with having invented the modern technique of suicide bombing, are not seeking to eliminate or take over all of Sri Lanka, but want their own country (Tamil Eelam) established in about one quarter of the Sri Lankan territory, generally the northeast of the island. Unless they’ve changed their official positions since the Madrid bombings, however, Hamas and Islamic Jihad seek the complete elimination of Israel. To borrow the terminology of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Tamil Tigers are fighting for a two-state solution while Hamas is fighting to prevent one. (And, again, I am voicing no opinion on the relative merits of their causes.)

33

Anti-Leveller 03.13.04 at 4:34 pm

“I don’t think it’s necessary to come to a conclusive finding as to who set up which bombs.”

1. But whether several individuals did or didn’t participate in the actual killing on 3-11 of 200 innocent people is of considerable importance. (I’m somewhat reminded of ordinary Christian sinners’ extravagant belief that they’ve sinned in extremis, that they drove in the nail. Actually doing a bad thing usually does matter.)
2. If ETA did it, it’s COMPUTER REJECTED TERM terrorism committed by folks presumably asking for more regional autonomy (really, in all likelihood, themselves being installed in power in the region). The incumbent government was a victim of aggression for which it bears no responsibility, and which it could not reasonably be expected to have prevented.
If al Qaeda did it, then it’s true that the attack would in all probability not have occurred had not the Spanish government’s aligned itself, against the Spanish people’s wishes, with America’s venture into Iraq. That is to say, the Spanish government did a lousy job of protecting national security.
I think many a Spanish citizen will think who did it a question of some importance, and rightly so.
Lest I be misunderstood, I quite agree that the innermost circle of hell is reserved for Osama and his ilk–for those who plant bombs in railway cars and fly airplanes into skyscrapers.

34

Luc 03.13.04 at 5:08 pm


You are either incapable of understanding what I said or wilfully misreading my point. The research I mentioned appears to show that there is no causal relationship between “oppression” and “terrorism”, especially not suicide bombing.

I willfully misrepresented your point. You gave your opinion the authority of scientific evidence, while it is simply an opinion. You mentioned no scientific research, but a conclusion that has little resemblance to reality.

35

Natalie Solent 03.13.04 at 5:33 pm

I think you have it the wrong way round. Terrorist group A do not share in the crimes of terrorist group B unless they are actually cooperating in the prosaic sense of the word.

However the crime of terrorism has many facets. As well as the obvious crime of murder, injury etc. it also involves the crime of making the next act of terrorism more likely (i.e. the “loss of innocence” mentioned by an earlier commenter.) And, of course, the crime of making people afraid.

36

Juan G. 03.13.04 at 5:47 pm

If al Qaeda did it, then it’s true that the attack would in all probability not have occurred had not the Spanish government’s aligned itself, against the Spanish people’s wishes, with America’s venture into Iraq. That is to say, the Spanish government did a lousy job of protecting national security.

Luc, I am a Spanish citizen and I have already voted (in advance) for Zapatero and the Socialists, but I take great exception to your remarks. I was against Spain’s involvement in Iraq but I recognize that Sadaam Hussein was an abominable tyrant and I applaud his removal. To suggest, as you clearly have, that we ought to have considered Osama bin Laden’s opinions beforehand or that we somehow deserved the Madrid bombings because we helped depose Sadaam, is deeply insulting. All I can say in response is fuck you!

37

Juan G. 03.13.04 at 5:51 pm

My last comment was misaddressed to Luc. It should, of course, have been directed to “Anti-leveller”.

38

maya 03.13.04 at 5:52 pm

For the record, the concept of nationalism baffles me. But, it apparently means a great deal to certain people, not the least those who make so many decisions in our stead.

So I cannot fully discount certain passionate feelings that drive others’ actions merely because I personally find them misguided. That’s too facile and thorougly unproductive.

Calling the Pays Basque a region is like calling Occitan a dialect.

39

Donald Johnson 03.13.04 at 6:26 pm

I think the scientific research that someone keeps referring to above is probably a reference to the work of Atran. I don’t have a reference handy (or his full name either, but the first name might be Scott). He was published in SCIENCE about a year ago, I think, and in other places as well.

You can find a link to his work at the anti-Iraq war website Stand Down if you look for it.

Part of what I got out of the study is that terrorist leaders aren’t generally economically oppressed (think of bin Laden), but they do feed off of oppression. On the whole the analysis was quite congenial to people of leftwing opinions but the romantic notion (that most people have gotten over anyway) that terrorist leaders are the prisoners of starvation is wrong. People like bin Laden can’t be reasoned with, but many of the people who might be tempted to follow him can, so in the end one has to both capture or kill the bin Ladens, while simultaneously dealing with whatever legitimate grievances they might be exploiting.

40

Chris Tunnell 03.13.04 at 6:30 pm

“You gave your opinion the authority of scientific evidence, while it is simply an opinion. You mentioned no scientific research, but a conclusion that has little resemblance to reality.”

It isn’t just solely an opinion. A man named Alan Krueger from the Woodrow Wilson building at Princeton said this. He talked about it a year or so ago, so my mind might be a little fuzzy, but he conducted a survey in the Gaza Strip and asked if the suveryee supported terrorism against Israel. He also noted their education and there was a pattern where the more educated a person was, the more likely they supported terrorism.

The big problem with this research is that it focuses on the Palestinians, but collin actually does have a leg to stand on. Hopefully the name Alan Krueger in a google search will yield more.

41

Peter King 03.13.04 at 7:07 pm

See also Kusum Mundra’s “Suicide Bombing as a strategic instrument of protest: an empirical investigation”. It’s available on the web. As are several other studies. Colin’s point is well taken; the idea that suicide bombing is a special form of “protest” born of extreme “oppression” has long since been debunked.

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msg 03.13.04 at 7:18 pm

Che Guevara was not personally oppressed, being the child of privilege and fortune, therefore no action of his in resistance to the corruption and oppression that were ( and to a large extent still are) endemic to Latin America was valid.
He chose to risk, and give, his life for abstract causes recent scientific research, funded by and delivered directly to unbiased panels of interested observers, shows to be spurious and of doubtful origin.
In study after study these “revolutionary causes” have been exposed as meaningless rhetoric, used to mask serious anti-authoritarian pathologies.
Scientific research has also shown that in a majority of cases people do not specifically need homes in which to live; and that they are capable of surviving for long periods of time on little or no food whatsoever.
In addition scientific research, carried out over hundreds of years, has proven unequivocally that a relatively long life of unremitting toil in service to “masters” wielding superior force, is the most that certain types of people should be allowed to expect.
It having been shown conclusively that many of them are, in fact, inferior, in all the ways that count.

Juan G.-
There’s nothing anyone can say to grief like that in Madrid at this moment.
Pointing to the Ashoura bombings and their victims seems almost cruel.
But we live in time, and we’re moving toward a future that promises more, not less, of these events.
Preventing them is, as always, first a matter of choosing a position.
The original statement of position in this thread was that all violence of this nature is always wrong.
My position, and that of many other people, is first – that that attitude will only contribute to making things worse; and second – that the best way through this is to confront the causes, to understand why these things are happening.
Know your enemy.

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Chris Tunnell 03.13.04 at 7:40 pm

Well, instead of just throwing the research out, do what you said and ask why. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the more educated a Palestinian is, the more apt they are towards terrorism. But then again, this is also an isolated case since they’re many contrary examples.

What is wrong with just saying that terrorism is a powerful tactic and is normally used by the impotent and ignored. Whether you are a Palestinian fighting against American weapons, or a member of the Tamil Tigers, terrorism is a tactic that works in that case.

44

Luc 03.13.04 at 8:06 pm


Hopefully the name Alan Krueger in a google search will yield more.

It does.

A column by Alan Krueger
http://www.irs.princeton.edu/krueger/05292003a.pdf

And the original source, a paper by a graduate student of his, Claude Berrebi

http://www.princeton.edu/~cberrebi/edu-pov-terror.pdf

I was aware of that research, but I didn’t have the references. It is a column and a piece by a graduate student, so its value is limited.

But the statement of Colin


The point I was making is simple: the idea that terrorism (especially suicide bombing) is spawned by “oppression”, when researched scientifically, appears to be nonsense.

is not supported by this research by Berrebi.

The first paragraph of his conclusions


VIII. Conclusions
If there is a link between income level, education, and participation in terrorist activities, it is either very weak or in the opposite direction of what one intuitively might have expected.
According to the findings of this paper, there is no reason to believe that increasing the years of
schooling or raising the income level of individuals, without simultaneously modifying the
educational content and monitoring (or at least limiting) the possible use of any additional
income, will decrease the trend towards terror, the level of terror, or using means of terror.

There is nothing about oppression there. It is about education and income and its relation to terrorism.

And to put it into a context the author even wrote the following sentence (page 20):


Further, highly educated
individuals may be more aware of situations of injustice and discrimination, and may be more
aggravated by their implications, again inducing them to participate in terrorist activities.

suggesting that it may be possible that there can be a link between oppression and terrorism.

And as for Kusum Mundra’s “Suicide Bombing as a strategic instrument of protest: an empirical investigation”

http://www.economics.ucr.edu/seminars/10-01-03%20Kusum%20Mundra%20Intro.pdf

It again contains nothing about oppression. Is concludes that suicide bombing is a deliberate strategy. And its main part is about developing a theoretical model.

If you refer to science at least read the damned papers.

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msg 03.13.04 at 8:30 pm

“…America will finally risk stepping through the fantasmatic screen separating it from the Outside World, accepting its arrival into the Real world, making the long-overdue move from ‘A thing like this should not happen HERE!’ to ‘A thing like this should not happen ANYWHERE!’.
America’s ‘holiday from history’ was a fake: America’s peace was bought by the catastrophes going on elsewhere. Therein resides the true lesson of the bombings: the only way to ensure that it will not happen HERE again is to prevent it going on ANYWHERE ELSE.”

Welcome To The Desert Of The Real
Slavoj Zizek
textz.com

46

Peter King 03.13.04 at 9:23 pm

I can see Colin’s point, Luc: you are very good at bluffing and misreading. Here’s a bit of what Kusum Mundra resumes from his and other studies…

Acts of terrorism, particularly where the actor accepts her/his demise as certainty, assault our notion of human rationality to the core. Facing the conundrum, a number of scholars have attempted to understand this extreme behavior by looking for clues in the a) psychological profiles of the suicide bombers, b) in the external conditions of poverty or other economic woes, or c) have sought explanation in the chaotic discourse of religious beliefs and ideology… Psychological investigations have also produced a mixed bag… Sarraj (2002), a noted Palestinian psychologist, argues that the primary motivations behind suicide bombing are a mix of guilt, shame and an overwhelming desire to avenge perceived injustice… Krueger and Maleckova (2002) show that contrary to the popular notion, poverty, lack of education and other factors of economic opportunities are not directly linked with the bomber’s sample profiles… A number of other scholars have concentrated on religious teachings and the process of socialization in preparing the mindset of a prospective suicide bomber (Juergensmeyer, 2000; Benjamin and Simon, 2002; Kelsay, 2002).

In short, contrary to your original charge (“You gave your opinion the authority of scientific evidence, while it is simply an opinion“), there is plenty of (social-)scientific research on the subject, and the consensus is that extreme oppression (in the normal meaning of the word) is not what dispatches suicide bombers but something far more ordinary and calculated; i.e. (in Colin’s words) “(terrorism) is, in nearly all cases, merely politics or religion by another means”.

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Luc 03.13.04 at 11:06 pm

Did that research conclude that curfews, roadblocks, military rule etc. are not oppression or did they state that those factors are of no influence on Palestinian terror? It doesn’t.

What those papers refer to is why the method of suicide bombing is chosen by the organizations and by the individual. Krueger concludes it isn’t the lack of money and education, and the other researchers are just as inconclusive (Sarray: “a mix of guilt, shame and an overwhelming desire to avenge perceived injustice”)

I may be bluffing, but then please give a quote where they state that:


the idea that terrorism (especially suicide bombing) is spawned by “oppression”, when researched scientifically, appears to be nonsense.

The fact is that the Palestinians have to deal with oppression in their daily lives, and the fact is that some of them resort to terror. In the Palestinian case the terror and the oppression are related. And I know of no research disputing that.

And I don’t consider the reference to Clausewitz
“war is a continuation of politics by another means” as very subtle.


the consensus is that extreme oppression (in the normal meaning of the word) is not what dispatches suicide bombers but something far more ordinary and calculated; i.e. (in Colin’s words) “(terrorism) is, in nearly all cases, merely politics or religion by another means”.

What am i to conclude from that?

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Anti-Leveller 03.14.04 at 12:23 am

I recognize that Sadaam Hussein was an abominable tyrant and I applaud his removal. To suggest, as you clearly have, that we ought to have considered Osama bin Laden’s opinions beforehand or that we somehow deserved the Madrid bombings because we helped depose Sadaam, is deeply insulting. All I can say in response is fuck you!

Dear Juan,
I of course agree that Saddam’s departure is a great blessing.
I of course agree that Osama’s opinions are those of a moral cretin.
I of course agree that no Spaniard did anything that serves to justify the attack. What could justify this slaughter of the innocent?
I also believe that Aznar’s policies were contrary to the wishes of the Spanish people and the interests of the Spanish state. And that one of the foreseeable effects of these policies was that an attack like this one might occur.
Nothing Spain did contributed signficantly to the departure of Saddam. If Aznar had adopted a different policy, the attack in all probablity would not have occurred.
Osama’s actions are evil through and through. They are also somewhat predictable, and there’s no reason that a state should not take them into account when determining its foreign policy. And no reason why a state should not shape a foreign policy that reduces the risks of mayhem to its citizens.
Would that Bush would have done as much for the US, by making war against al Qaida and other Islamist terrorists, period.

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Donald Johnson 03.14.04 at 1:06 am

Scott Atran’s work is on the web. I haven’t read the other references people have put up, but they sound consistent with Atran’s work, which I have read. Atran is interested in understanding the roots of terror and how to eliminate it and I imagine that’s true of the other papers people are citing. But what’s going on in this thread appears to have turned into a fairly typical flamewar. Have fun.

50

Donald Johnson 03.14.04 at 1:12 am

The bad grammar in my previous post is due (I like to think) to my exasperation. But anyway, people interested in understanding terrorism would be well-advised to read Atran and probably some of the other papers mentioned in this thread (which I’ll do myself).

I’d also like to see some papers on the mentality of Western policymakers in democratic regimes who support murderous policies, but am not aware of any. Citations would be appreciated.

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Leveller 03.14.04 at 1:39 am

As a people, and most of them as individuals, Palestinians support suicide bombing. This is a morally squalid position to take, but they have been misled by Arafat and humiliated by Sharon and other Israelis for many years.
It’s true that, partly as a consequence of their suppport of suicide bombing, Palestinians are oppressed–hours spent just getting to work or even to the hospital & etc. Does it follow that they are justified in killing innocent people–that is, people who are not engaged in acts of oppression? Who have done nothing to deserve to die?
It’s also true that Sharon leads the preponderant power in the region and hence bears primary responsibility for the situation of the Palestinians. Rather than lead a withdrawal from settlements many of which are an obvious strategic liability, Sharon (with broad popular backing) regularly stages operations the foreseeable effect of which is the killing of innocent Palestinians. Sharon says these operations are intended to prevent suicide bombings. But the innocent people killed are not suicide bombers, and often have done nothing wrong, let alone something so wrong as to deserve death. (I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t true that many, usually most, of the Palestinians killed are either currently armed and dangerous or guilty of perpetrating suicide bombings. Just that many innocent Palestinians are also killed and that this outcome is quite foreseeable.)
Both Arafat and Sharon have a lot to answer for. Even if those on whose behalf they supposedly act are oppresssed or endangered, that does not justify killing innocent (not engaged in oppression/bombing) people.
If one asks “what else can the Palestinians do except engage in and cheer on suicide bombings?” my answer is that disciplined civil disobedience and ordinary politics and diplomacy have scarcely been tried and have considerable promise. These alternatives also have a substantial moral advantage over the killing of innocent people.)

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msg 03.14.04 at 2:48 am

So, not only do we have to do the heartbreaking research necessary to understand the causes of terrorism, most of which will make most of us very uncomfortable, but we have also to slog through the vitriolic spew of those who feel they’re the innocent targets of terrorist attacks.
Why are we doing this?
So that people who have been driven mad by suffering don’t destroy us all, and with us the future.

The actual motives behind the Madrid bombings specifically are unknown to me at this time. There may be a statement from the Spanish government soon, and there may be news that purports to explain those motives, but it seems less likely now than three years ago that we’ll get the truth from any government about anything this volatile. And the news media are as vulnerable to coercion as politicians.
So it’s a people’s thing.

Debating wilfull ignorance is a waste of time, as is reading it.
Donald Johnson’s advice seems most appropriate now.

Parsing statements like “…merely politics or religion by another means…” is almost sexual it’s so frustrating.
Politics and religion pretty much covers the totality of human social experience as far as I can see.

The courage necessary to commit a suicide bombing, even when it’s suffused with insane conviction, would be hard for people to understand, obviously, when cowardice has become so commonplace it’s practically a human character trait.
It seems clearly less brave to rain bombs on people from high altitudes, than to use one’s own body and life to deliver them. Yet we’re told to revere the pilot and scorn the young zealot with the bomb strapped to her chest.
But that doesn’t seem to have been the case in Madrid anyway.
It’s the next one we want to concern ourselves with I think; and somewhere up there there’s a nuke.
Attitudes of vicious retaliation will virtually guarantee the use of nuclear weapons, sooner rather than later.
The distinction, between the mass damage to innocent people from nuclear warfare and the mass damage to innocent people from suicide bombs, is one I have a hard time making.

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Colin 03.14.04 at 2:49 am

I have no interest in a detailed debate over the merits (and demerits) of the various parties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but my point about terrorism and suicide bombing being little more than a shrewd and calculated — and often very effective — political strategy, derives from the following facts:

1. There was terrorism in Israel before 1967, i.e. when Gaza was still administered by Egypt and the entire West Bank plus East Jerusalem were occupied by Jordan.

2. There was terrorism and suicide bombings throughout the 90s, (though admittedly at a lower level than today), even after Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo accords in 1993. Arafat’s Fatah party had renounced terrorism as a political instrument, but Hamas and Islamic were more than happy to make up the slack. Still, by the time of the Camp David peace talks, the Israeli military was almost entirely gone from the Palestinian territories, certainly from the populated areas, and goods and people moved as freely as they ever had across the Green Line. By 2000 the Palestinian Authority was in defacto control of nearly 90% of the territories and the Palestinian standard of living had tripled in the space of seven years.

In other words, there was less “oppression” in the Palestinian territories than there had ever been since Israel had first occupied them in 1967. True, many Palestinians were frustrated by the slow pace of their nation’s march to political and economic independence and were greatly irritated by the presence of Israeli “settlements”, but most rational observers on both sides felt that a final treaty was inevitable (Barak headed a very dovish government in Israel in 2000), that a two-state solution (with a viable, contiguous Palestine in the West Bank) was simply a matter of time. Whether the start of the Second Intifada was accidental and spontaneous or calculated and deliberate, there is little doubt that for Hamas and Islamic Jihad it offered a golden opportunity to extend their influence and advance their agenda — which, let’s not forget, is not any peace with Israel at all but its outright elimination. Suicide bombings multiplied , Israeli repression followed, and the cycle of violence was launched. There is genuine hardship and human rights violations in the Palestinian territories now and the suicide bombings play into the hands of that faction of the right wing in Israel which continues to argue against any Palestinian state whatsoever. But if terrorism is a simple consequence of “oppression”, why was there any before 1967? I think the answer is obvious.

And specifically what “oppression” provoked the bombings in Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, Riyadh and Karbala? But I digress…

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Keith M Ellis 03.14.04 at 2:51 am

The very notion of terrorism, as distinct from any other kind of warmaking, relies upon distinctions between “innocent” and “guilty” and the even murkier distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” agents (and targets) of war. People do not agree about these distinctions and thus people do not agree about who is a terrorist and who is not.

If there were near-universal agreement on these matters, I’d feel a lot more secure in determining the moral value of “terrorism” as John does. But there isn’t, so I’m not.

Calling something “terrorism” is like calling something “evil”. The problem isn’t that evil doesn’t exist or is a legitimate concept; the problem is that people almost never agree upon what is evil and what is not (especially in the context of warfare) and so the appelation of “evil” creates a false sense of rational and moral certainty that is used to justify actions that are themselves controversial and not occasionally arguably “evil”.

So, the use of term (“terrorism”, as in the case of “evil”) hurts more than it helps. And, one can argue that everyone that casually uses the term without qualification or care is morally complicit in all acts conducted in the name of “fighting terrorism”, many of which are often morally reprehensible.

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Colin 03.14.04 at 2:55 am

In case there is any confusion, that should be “Islamic Jihad” in paragraph “2” above (not simply “Islamic”)…

56

Damien Smith 03.14.04 at 3:41 am

Read Nick Lemann’s report on “What Terrorists Want” in the New Yorker from October 2001. Excerpt:

“Fearon and Laitin believe that civil wars get under way because of specific dynamics that don’t have much to do with over-all political conditions, ideology, or religious and ethnic disputes. (They do, however, believe that a high level of poverty almost certainly plays a role.) Laitin told me his evidence shows that grievance—for instance, oppression on the basis of ethnicity, religion, language, or political belief—does not necessarily lead to open rebellion against the government, as you’d expect. And when there is a rebellion there is no assurance that solving its stated grievance will cause it to stop. (Two other ambitious international research projects on civil war—one conducted by a team at the World Bank, the other by a C.I.A.-funded State Failure Project at the University of Maryland—have reached similar conclusions.) Fearon and Laitin’s explanations of the escalations of civil wars rely on fine-grained examinations of the ways people interact on the ground. “We prefer micro-mechanisms to master narratives,” Laitin says.”

The link is:
http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?011029fa_FACT1

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Johnson 03.14.04 at 5:32 am

The very notion of terrorism, as distinct from any other kind of warmaking, relies upon distinctions between “innocent” and “guilty” and the even murkier distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” agents (and targets) of war. People do not agree about these distinctions and thus people do not agree about who is a terrorist and who is not.

If there were near-universal agreement on these matters, I’d feel a lot more secure in determining the moral value of “terrorism” as John does. But there isn’t, so I’m not.

IT’S TRUE THAT PEOPLE DON’T AGREE. BUT THEY DON’T AGREE ABOUT A GREAT MANY THINGS IN ADDITION TO ‘TERRORISM’ AND RELATED TERMS. YET THERE IS FAIRLY WIDE AGREEMENT THAT TALKING IS PREFERABLE TO KILLING, AND THOSE WHO DISSENT FROM THIS NOTION ARE TO BE REGARDED WITH CONSIDERABLE SUSPICION.
AS TO THE MORAL VALUE OF ‘TERRORISM,’ SURELY, SINCE IT LEAVES CORPSES STREWN ABOUT, THERE’S A PRESUMPTION AGAINST IT.

Calling something “terrorism” is like calling something “evil”. The problem isn’t that evil doesn’t exist or is a legitimate concept; the problem is that people almost never agree upon what is evil and what is not (especially in the context of warfare) and so the appelation of “evil” creates a false sense of rational and moral certainty that is used to justify actions that are themselves controversial and not occasionally arguably “evil”.

WELL. YES. IF ONE PROPOSES TO KILL, EVEN TO STOP KILLING, THERE’S A PRESUMPTION AGAINST THAT PROPOSAL.
AND IT’S BETTER TO KILL SOLDIERS THAN CIVILIANS. THAT’S THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF JUS IN BELLO. SOLDIERS ARE BY PROFESSION AT RISK, AND CIVILIANS PROTECTED. PERHAPS A DEFEASIBLE PRESUMPTION, BUT STILL ENOUGH TO IMPOSE A CONSIDERABLE BURDEN OF PROOF.

So, the use of term (“terrorism”, as in the case of “evil”) hurts more than it helps. And, one can argue that everyone that casually uses the term without qualification or care is morally complicit in all acts conducted in the name of “fighting terrorism”, many of which are often morally reprehensible

SO ONE CAN ARGUE. BUT CASUAL USE OF TERMS IS A GOOD WAYS FROM ACTS OF KILLING, ESPECIALLY THOSE THAT PUT THE LIVES OF INNOCENT (NOT ARMED, NOT PROVEN GUILTY) CIVILIANS AT RISK.

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Luc 03.14.04 at 7:02 am

Three quotes from Scott Atran

The strategic threat from suicide terror (dec. 2003)

http://www.aei-
brookings.org/admin/authorpdfs/page.php?id=311

page 12

Support and recruitment for suicide terrorism occur not under conditions of political
repression, poverty and unemployment or illiteracy as such, but when converging political,
economic and social trends produce diminishing life opportunities relative to expectations, thus
generating frustrations that radical organizations exploit.

page 14

Studies by Princeton economist Alan Krueger and others find no correlation between a nation’s per capita income and terrorism, but do find a correlation between lack of civil liberties (defined by Freedom House) and terrorism. A recent National Research Council report, Discouraging Terrorism, finds that: “terrorism and its supporting audiences appear to be fostered by policies of extreme political repression and discouraged by policies of incorporating both dissident and moderate groups responsibly into civil society and the political process.”

page 15

We should promote personal liberty by withdrawing military and political support from
those of our “partners” who persistently infringe on human rights and deny political
expression to their people. There seems to be a direct correlation between U.S. military
aid to politically corroded or ethnically divided states, human rights abuses by those
regimes, and rise in terrorism, as initially moderate opposition is pushed into common
cause with more radical elements. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
regularly document “horrific” and “massive” humans rights abuses occurring in countries
that receive the most U.S. aid in absolute terms (Israel, Egypt, Colombia, Pakistan), and
the greatest relative increase in aid (Central Asian Republics, Georgia, Turkey) including
many “new Partners in the War on Terrorism.”

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