"War" on "Terrorism"

October, 2001


Contents List:

Disappointment
Prodigal Immorality
Muddled Thinking
An Alternative Strategy
Continuation

Return to:

World Views
Ardue Site Plan

See also:

The Price of Liberty
The Individual and the World
Freedom!


Disappointment

I write this on Tuesday, 9 October, four weeks after the cataclysmic triumph of "International Terrorism" at the expense of the mighty United States of America.

Until last Sunday, I was encouraged by the international consensus acknowledging that an evil deed had been committed. I was buoyed up by the hope that the United States and its closest allies would break new moral ground by refraining from responding in kind. Alas, this hope has proved to be forlorn.

Prodigal Immorality

I can perceive no moral difference between flying a hijacked aircraft into a high-rise building and raining bombs and rockets on a virtually defenceless country. What I can see is a marked difference in cost-effectiveness between stimulus and response. The politics of revenge have resulted in a ludicrously costly aerial assault on Afghanistan with little hope of terrorising a hardy population, accustomed to war, into compliance with the demands of a foreign dictator. This costly expedient may offer short-lived satisfaction to an unthinking Western public whose common sense is numbed by outrage and grief: but in the longer term, it can only result in loss of fragile consensus and in providing further incentive for a resourceful "enemy" whose intelligence and range of operations is by no means confined within the boundaries of one small mountainous country.

The first significant effect of the war has been an "own goal" — a hit on a United Nations office, killing four innocent civilians. As long as this folly continues, the death toll will inevitably rise. The Anglo-American allies would do well to bear in mind that in a contest between David and Goliath, public sympathy invariably ends up on the side of the little guy.

Muddled Thinking

The political rhetoric used to excuse the initiation of a war against a poverty-stricken country on somewhat tenuous grounds betrays a disconcerting lack of understanding of the nature of the problem. There is no such thing as "terrorism" in the sense of a philosophy, principle, or ideal which serves to bind its practitioners together. Terrorists may have many motives whose detailed dissection we may safely leave to the criminal psychologist.

The one thing terrorists clearly have in common is contempt for the cardinal values held by the majority of the people in a civilised society — notably respect for the life and liberty of the human individual. That is what enables them to commit acts calculated to inspire terror and makes them enemies of every civilised society. They band together in groups simply because being "mob-handed" enables them to be more terrifying, and so more likely to wrest concessions from a cowed population. They recruit by making common cause with anyone who has a grudge against the established order on the principle of expediency, i.e. that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". This is but a poor guarantee of group loyalty. But as long as a group is in being, its members live among ordinary people and work unobtrusively, in most cases beyond the ken of the authorities of any particular country. Their only advertisements are the atrocities by which they make their collective presence known.

Whilst terrorists recruit other fanatical proponents of whatever cause, whether it be religion or animal rights or anything else, as a means of helping to weld otherwise disparate groups together, their activities automatically put them beyond the pale of any socially acceptable body. There can be no negotiation with terrorists because they have no sense of responsibilty and no recognisable identity or chain of command capable of imposing discipline on the rank and file.

I am as committed as anyone to the conviction that if liberal civilisation is to survive, terrorists must be put out of business. But that can be done only by identifying the individuals concerned and bringing them to justice dispensed in courts of law. The defence of civilisation is poorly served if its defenders are as careless of the life and liberty of human individuals as are the terrorists themselves. The innocent must be protected from indiscriminate violence or unreasonable deprivation of liberty. That is why the current military assault on Afghanistan is profoundly mistaken. There is nothing that aids terrorist recruitment so much as the spurious legitimacy conferred by an opportunity to pose as participants in some sort of "holy" war. And there is nothing so damaging to civilised society as the loss of confidence in supposedly democratic systems of government which inevitably sets in when they too readily engage their citizens in pointless foreign wars.

An Alternative Strategy

If terrorists are to be put out of business, they must be deprived of the incentives and resources necessary to hold them together in coherent groups. We can safely assume that terrorist bands are not immune to the rivalries which beset other groupings of people. If the character of the individuals concerned is taken into consideration, there is every reason to suppose that they are more prone than most to internecine strife and to assassinating one another.

There is no practical difference between groups of terrorists and other criminal gangs. They are financed in similar ways, and they recruit their members from the disaffected individuals in society. Such people exist in all countries. They do not necessarily have criminal records: indeed to be "known" to the police is something of a handicap. It therefore does no good to declare "war" upon terrorists or other criminals in a military sense. More subtle methods must be used to make life difficult for them, subvert them, turn them against each other, and so render them incapable of significant co-ordinated operations. This will reduce their effectiveness whether or not the individuals concerned can be positively identified.

It therefore seems to me that the responsible people in the world would benefit enormously if gung-ho politicians abandoned outdated, purely destructive, shooting and bombing warfare, and adopted instead constructive ideas of applied psychology with the object of depriving would-be terrorists of motives, men, money, and materials. The methods required to do this are, in the main, administrative rather than military.

Continuation

In further essays, I hope to offer some suggestions both for a global approach to the problem and for a strategy that might be implemented in the United Kingdom, a country which has had long experience of the operations of terrorists and doubtless still "harbours" them in significant numbers. In the meantime, I hope Western politicians will see sense, stop the "war", and start thinking dispassionately about more effective means of dealing with terrorism and the causes of terrorism.

In an effort to assist them, I have attempted to outline some fundamental ideas in another essay entitled "Freedom!".