Terrorism, fear, and fighting amongst ourselves
Yesterday, commenter "sally" posted this on the Zarqawi thread:
Something to bear in mind in all of this is that terrorism itself is a purely ideological and propagandistic form of warfare. Sudden, random, and otherwise pointless acts of mass slaughter are an extremely effective way of, first, getting everyone's attention, and second, "persuading" the more impressionable and easily frightened (e.g., the indecent left) of the value of your cause.
A fair amount of contention over sally's message followed in the comments section.
Do I agree with sally? To a point, but not entirely.
One assumption that I don't think can be disputed (although no doubt someone, somewhere, will try) is that terrorism is an excellent way of getting attention, and that this is one of terrorists' main goals.
In addition, I think nearly everyone would agree that terrorists seek to foster fear in the populace, and often succeed in doing so--although, like civilian bombings in conventional wars such as WWII, terrorism can also foster solidarity and resistance in those who are its intended targets.
And I'm not at all sure that what sally refers to as "the indecent left" (I'm assuming she means that segment of the far left that makes excuses for and/or sympathizes with terrorists) is the most frightened part of the population. No, I don't believe the far left's particular response to terrorism come mainly from fear; rather, it comes from a world view that follows the PC Commandments (see this for the Commandments, and pay particular attention to my number 12).
When sally states that pointless acts of mass slaughter are a way of persuading those who are easily frightened of the value of the terrorists' cause, what could she possibly mean? Isn't it counterintuitive to think that horrific violence would foster sympathy for the cause in whose name it is perpetrated (the Rolling Stones notwithstanding)?
One mechanism by which such sympathy can occur is Stockholm Syndrome, in which, paradoxically, a bond is formed between a captive and his/her hostage-taker. But Stockholm Syndrome is generally limited to a situation of very close contact and vulnerability; the hostage is under the total control of the hostage-taker in that situation. Terrorism doesn't generally have these characteristics.
Does terrorism sometimes result in more sympathy for the perpetrators, and, if so, why? One example of terrorism that seems to have worked in this way was the Munich massacre, which not only increased the visibility of the Palestinian cause but gave it more supporters. The old saw about children--that even negative attention is sometimes sought, because negative attention is better than no attention at all--seems true of those who turn to terrorism. Sometimes, it works.
Who says so? Surviving Munich terrorist Jamal Al Gashey, for one:
"I'm proud of what I did at Munich because it helped the Palestinian cause enormously," he says.
"Before Munich, the world had no idea about our struggle, but on that day, the name of Palestine was repeated all around the world."
And only two years after Munich, Yassar Arafat was considered an acceptable and legitimate enough world leader to address the UN. It's no accident that he tried to wear his pistol during the speech he gave there (he ended up with an empty holster, instead). It seems Arafat already understood the value of wearing his gun on his sleeve, as it were.
So, why do some people end up sympathizing more with terrorist causes as the outrageousness and offensiveness of the terrorist attacks escalate? Perhaps it's a combination of the aforementioned PC commandments, an attenuated Stockholm Syndrome, and the sort of inverted logic that goes like this: anyone desperate enough to commit an act as evil as the Munich Massacre must be sorely oppressed by circumstances. Therefore, the more terrible the terrorism, the more the cause must be just--as long as it's against the West, especially the US or Israel.
Sally has more to say:
But in this case the murderers are counting on their opponent -- that is, the West generally -- being fundamentally soft and weak, enfeebled by decadence, riddled with self-doubt, fractured into squabbling factions. Against that kind of target, acts of mass carnage have the force of a spectacular propaganda display, and can induce a degree of internal collapse that leaves the target an empty and effectively paralyzed shell.
Are the US and the West already that soft? I think the jury is still out on that. But the last few years have made it abundantly clear that our society is, as she says, "riddled with self-doubt, fractured into squabbling factions."
The terrorists and their supporters have known this for quite some time, and count on it. But don't take my word for it, let's turn to those of that prescient and wily old adversary of America, Ayatollah Khomeini (remember him?), who said as much:
In recent days an old slogan of the Khomeinist Revolution has made a spectacular comeback on city walls throughout the Islamic Republic: "America Cannot Do A Damn Thing!"
The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini launched the phrase in 1979, as he played Tom and Jerry with the clueless Jimmy Carter who, at the time, acted as President of the United States.
At the time many in the ayatollah’s entourage believed that he was being unnecessarily provocative. Khomeini, however, was dismissive. “America, “he told his secretary, a mullah called Ansari Kermani, “may have a lot of power but lacks the courage to use it.”
According to Kermani, who wrote a hagiographical account of Khomeini’s life in 1983, the ayatollah “always counted on America’s internal divisions” to prevent the formulation and application of any serious policy on any major issue. The ayatollah believed that the American political system was clear proof of the saying attributed to Jaafar al-Sadiq, the Sixth Imam, that “God keeps the enemies of Islam fighting among themselves!”