Some thoughts provoked by a lecture I heard last Monday evening delivered by Dr. Louise Richardson. Her latest book: What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat
- Dr. Richardson spoke of the importance of “following our own rules.” I agree. It is beyond foolish to jettison our highest principles — our esteem for the rule of law and our commitment to human rights for all people — for the sake of protecting ourselves and “our way of life.” We are only dooming our way of life in the process, as well as severely undermining any international credibility we might have had in calling other nations and leaders to account.
- “Terrorism” has become a catchall term, used to define — and defame — any “enemy” of any sort. When we refer to “The Terrorists” without any further elaboration, as if “The Terrorists” were a monolithic, coordinated opposition, it only confuses things. We are threatened not by “The Terrorists,” but by a variety of terrorists groups, each with their own distinct grievances, ideologies, political objectives, and modes of behavior: Al Qaeda, Hamas, Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, etc. It is critical that we understand our enemies and what it is that drives their rage, even when it may mean acknowledging the legitimacy of some of their complaints.
- Dr. Richardson defines terrorism as the “deliberate targeting of non-combatants for the sake of some political objective.” It seems to me that an additional element of any terrorist organization is a perception of powerlessness. Terrorism is a tactic adopted by those who cannot “win” a fair fight, the response of the “little guys” to the “big bully,” resorting to cheating or trickery or unfair fighting to strike back at the bully. In this regard, it is interesting to note that as Hamas gained some legitimate political power, it began to back off somewhat from its terrorist rhetoric and tactics. Terrorism is the “weapon” of the oppressed and the weak (unwarranted and morally unjustifiable), just as militarism is the “weapon” of the oppressor and the strong (just as unwarranted and just as morally unjustifiable!).
- In that case, it is clear why a “bullying” response to terrorism is useless. It merely confirms the terrorist’s point of view and redoubles the determination to go on. The only way to defuse or contain terrorism is to stop the bullying … and to share power! But that is the one thing we are not prepared to do. We want to dictate the terms for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, as long as we insist on doing so, we provide a ripe environment for the growth of terrorism.