Archives for posts with tag: Terrorism

“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.


When facing an uncertain future, people are hard wired to search their past.
Some look for things that have gone well and hope that reenacting them will bring back a measure of order in their lives.
Some others look for clues pointing to things that went bad, hoping that making them right will change their prospects.

In this respect I remember how fascinated I was when I first heard about Malraux’s “The XXI-st Century will be religious or will not be at all“.
When trying to understand what Malraux wanted to convey we must remember that he started as a left wing intellectual who, at some point, felt an admiration for Stalin. Later, after he found out what Stalin was really up to, Malraux had given up on Stalinism but never on his atheism. So?

Looking even further back in time we arrive at Emile Durkheim’s Suicide.

Written at the end of the XIX-ht century the book teaches us that while suicide remains a profoundly individual decision those who consider it are deeply influenced, when making the call – one way or another, by the strength and nature of the social ties that connect him to the community to which each of them belongs.
Further into the book Durkheim also discusses the fate of the communities themselves, arguing that a society needs to keep a dynamic balance between social control – that keeps a community together – and a healthy dose of deviance – which might pull at the seams of a society but simultaneously allows it to change when it has to do that in order to survive.

OK, all these are very nice but will you come back to our present? You promised us something about the future and you are leading us further and further into the past. Into a ‘mythological’ past, no less…

One of the most pressing issues that we must face today is the advent of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism. The kind that not only scares us the most but also the one that is hardest to prevent.
Some even try to make us accept the idea that we’ll have to learn to live with it.
“No revelations come from the massacre in Nice. There is nothing to be learned. This is what we live with, what we are getting used to living with. None of it is surprising—that’s the most frightening thing of all.” (George Packer, The Tragic and Unsurprising News from Nice, the New Yorker, July 15 2016)

Well, I strongly disagree with this line of thinking.

What happened in Nice, where a lunatic drove a truck through people gathered to watch fire-works celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 of them, is proving that both Malraux and Durkheim were spot on. Each in his own right.

In the last twenty or so years, terrorist acts have doubled as suicides. Some perpetrated by ‘simple minded’ youngsters driven to desperation by perceived socio-economic inequities and primed by callous so called religious leaders while others were carefully planned and cold-bloodedly executed by apparently sophisticated members of the middle class.

If we interpret these acts according to Durkheim’s theories we might reach the conclusion that the communities that harbor the terrorists do not function properly. Either the individuals feel so constraint by the existing rules that they cannot find enough breathing space – and snap – or that they cannot find enough social support – and go out ‘with a bang’.

Or both, at the same time.

Let’s remember that those who comited most recent terrorist acts, in Europe and in the Middle East – if we count those who joined ISIS coming from the Western Europe, are second generation Muslim immigrants or new Islamic converts.
I’ll deal with these two categories separately.
The second generation immigrants had a very frustrating experience.
Their parents came from abject poverty, worked hard and, most of the time, fared a lot better in their new countries than any of them even dreamed of on arrival – specially when comparing to the situation in their countries of origin. The youngsters went to school alongside the natives, watched the same television programs and read the same books and magazines. And grew to have the same expectations. But had a lot more difficulties when tried to fulfill them. Because of their skin color, religion, etc., etc. Add to that the nefarious propaganda coming from the Wahhabi preachers and you have an already primed keg of gun-powder waiting for a spark.
But let’s not forget that these people live in otherwise closely knit communities.
And that preparations for terrorist acts do take some time and effort.
How come these preparations go unnoticed and, even more important, unreported?

Can we conclude that whole communities have went past the ‘I don’t care anymore’ point?

A situation for which Durkheim used the term ‘Anomie‘?

Could we consider that not only the immigrant Islamic communities are in an anomic state but also the larger, host ones? For letting the whole situation degrade to such an extent? Not only at home but also at the door steps of Europe?
And please remember the new converts to Islam. What happened to those youngsters – most of them are young people –  that they became so estranged to their native society that emigrated to a totally different realm, not to a different country? A few of them might be explained away by individual ‘deviance’ but such a large number becomes a social phenomenon that begs a different explanation.

Should we accept the situation – and the degradation that would inevitably follow if nothing is done – or should we heed to Malraux’s advice and do our best to find new, and more efficient, communication channels so that we’ll be able to built some much needed trust amongst us? Based on mutual respect, not on MAD force?

“Muslim Marine Murderer’s father sexually assaulted wife and beat son”

A Facebook friend of mine shared this Daily Mail article with the following comment:
“Sad… well educated, accomplished, but lost spiritually… perfect for being radicalized…”

I was haunted by this ever since Mohamed Atta and his gang of terrorists forced us to consider it.

What made them snap?

It couldn’t be their religion.
First of all mainstream Islam, like all other bona fide religions, does not condone senseless murder.
Secondly only a very small minority of the Islamic immigrants become ‘radicalized’.
Thirdly, some of them even turn on their own people.

What if they use religion, Islam in this case, as a pretext for destruction rather than a way to connect with the others? As religion was meant to – reliegare, in Latin, means ‘connecting to’.
What if for them religion is more about ritual than about true spirituality?

I’ve slowly reached the conclusion that what these guys are doing can be interpreted as a form of ‘assisted suicide’. They are pissed off by what has happened to/around them, they blame it on the ‘society’ and they just want out. So they commit suicide and exact vengeance at the same time.

Maybe we need to pay closer attention to what the classics have taught us.

Emile Durkheim, Suicide.:

“Suicide is used by Durkheim as a means of demonstrating the key impact of social factors on our personal lives and even our most intimate motives. The book succeeds brilliantly, both as a technical study of suicide and as a fundamental contribution to this broader issue. Students of sociology will continue to be required to study this book, which will remain on the sociological agenda for many years yet to come.” Anthony Giddens.
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