“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.”
“We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

George W. Bush 9/11 Address to the Nation, the Oval Office.

What went wrong?

Why is “war on terrorism” so hard to win? Even by the most powerful nation on Earth?

Let’s start with the beginning.

What is ‘terrorism’?
The calculated use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.
I’m afraid this is only how terrorism works. Or not…
How terrorism is designed to work, more exactly.
Terrorism, before anything else, is a concept. A manner in which some people choose to act. A manner in which some people attempt to impose their will upon those around them.

Is it possible to wage war upon a concept?
Is it possible to win a war against a concept?

So what are we going to do? Cave in? Only because we cannot win a war against a concept?!?

How about redefining the problem?

How about choosing an achievable goal?
After all, we’ve been reasonably good at beating the terrorists themselves. And those harboring them…

Only if we had made some difference between these two!
Between the terrorists and those in the middle of whom they were hiding. And continue to hide…

Let’s get back to square one.

How does terrorism work?

Some ‘agents’ determine that what they want cannot be achieved in normal ways.
And choose instead to use terrorism as their tool ‘of choice’.

What do they need?

Man power, material resources, pertinent knowledge, time to organize the ‘heist’, a place to put it all together and a practical method to apply the ‘pressure’.

There are some things which are hard to control.
Not impossible but hard.
Material resources, for instance. A knife, or even a cutter blade, can be used for terrorist purposes. Money are also a very fungible resource.

Place is also a tricky thing. A remote ‘hamlet’ is easy to find. But transporting a terrorist ‘solution’ from a remote hamlet to a place where that ‘solution’ might produce the intended result is not so simple.

Time. The longer it takes to design a ‘solution’ and to implement it, the easier for the general public to find out what’s going on.

Pertinent knowledge. The more sophisticated the solution, the more pertinent knowledge is needed.
Which knowledge comes comes attached to the man-power involved.

So. What drives a knowledgeable person to use their skills towards producing terror?
Hard to say. And hard to change the mind of a person who has already become a terrorist. Either a person who had spent years descending into the ‘mood’ or somebody who had been convinced on the spur of the moment to ‘participate’ as a suicidal driver. Explosive vest wearer. Or knife wielder.

The above mentioned motives make it hard, almost impossibly hard, to prevent terrorist acts committed by deranged persons, specially when they act alone. Or as a very small ‘team’.

But when we the ‘solution’ has a certain degree of sophistication – terrorist plots, that is, there are many kinds of people involved. Initiators/backers, operatives, facilitators and ‘neighbors’.

It’s hard, almost impossible to change the minds of a determined ‘initiator’. Or of some of the ‘operatives’. The initiators tend to be sociopaths while many of the operators, specially those committing suicide, must be ‘hopeless persons’. Not only clinically depressed but outright hopeless.

But the rest?

Why would anybody back a terrorist plot if there’s another way of achieving a goal? There’s always the sociopathic explanation but not all ‘backers’ are sociopaths. Not in an obvious manner, anyway…

Which brings us to the facilitators and the neighbors.

We have, broadly, two situations.
When the terrorists want to inflict pain in the middle of the enemy territory or when the terrorists want to gain control over a territory.

In 2015 ten terrorists have killed some 130 people in Paris. Wounded a couple of hundreds. And wrecked the lives of many others. Nine of them had been killed by the law enforcement agencies. On the spot or during the next few days. Only one of the assailants has survived and had been apprehended later.
The process has just begun. Besides the surviving shooter there are other 19 other people against which have been brought charges. “some are accused of helping the gang without necessarily knowing the extent of the conspiracy.
Many of the accused, including some of the assailants, have lived – at least for a while, in Molenbeek, Belgium.
A suburban commune where quite a high percentage of the population feel ‘there’s no way out’.

Are you familiar with the studies which maintain that both people and mice prefer social interaction to using drugs? Statistically speaking, of course. A very few individuals get hooked and cannot give up while the vast majority stop using drugs when conditions return to normal. When the American soldiers had come back from the VietNam war, for instance.

Same thing is valid with ‘terrorism’. Along with other kinds of fundamentalism.

When too many members of a community become despondent some can be ‘converted’, many others will help – even if not engage directly, while the majority will turn a blind eye to what’s happening in their middle.

That’s why the terrorists who had wreaked havoc in Paris had been able to organize themselves in Molenbeek without the police finding out what was going on.
That’s why the Americans had not been able to wipe out the Taliban. And why the Taliban have grabbed back power so quickly once the Americans had decided to pull back.
Because not enough of those living there – in both Molenbeek and Afghanistan, were hopeful about their future.

Because not enough of the Afghani hearts and minds have been won over.

I’m afraid that making “no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them” wasn’t helpful.
On the contrary…

And please, please, click the first picture and read the article.