Thursday, March 27, 2008

On the nature of terrorism

By Carol Gee

The subject of GWOT is a perfect study in "The Blind Men and the Elephant." It depends who describes it blindfolded. First of all "GWOT" sounds like someone attempting to clear his throat. And it is a misnomer in several ways:

Global -- there may be a number of terrorist cells and a larger number of virtual jihad groups, but that does not mean they are everywhere around the globe. It would be like the blind man trying to describe the elephant as a wall, or trying to figure out how big the elephant is by trying to embrace the animal. "Global" is to big to get your arms around.
War -- a nation cannot fight a true "war" against the tactic of terrorist acts. It would be like the blind man holding on to the tail trying to describe the elephant as similar to a rope. A coiled rope looks as if it has no beginning or end; it goes on forever.
On -- meaning against, pertaining to, or about is not an accurate description of the various wars we are currently waging. It would be like the blind man holding on to the elephant's leg, describing it as like the trunk of a tree. This war ON terror is like saying the tree trunk is on its branches. It does not work that way.
Terror -- The term terrorism is carrying out an act of violence, against an individual or group, in order to terrorize, to immobilize the victims(s). It would be like the blind man holding the elephant's trunk and describing an elephant as like a snake. Because an elephant acts to coil its trunk does not mean that a trunk is a venomous thing.

Simply put the United States went to war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and it went to war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Troops and guns and bombs relate to war. It may feel like war but it need not be described that way, just because we happen to be in two wars at the moment. Neither airline security gates, border crossing kiosks, Coast Guard patrol boats, warrantless wiretapping, data mining, nor the consolidation of 16 agencies into one HSA, relate to war. These are defensive or protective tactics, not even rising to the level of a strategy. We do not have a coherent strategy to fight the acts of radical jihadis. We are still too blind to see what what this big thing looks like.

Briefly, Terrorism, is more understandable than one would think, given the propaganda surrounding the term. The Washington Note's Steve Clemons spotlights a moderate Republican businessman's thought provoking essay on Terrorism:

Richard Vague, a businessman who became distressed by the course the U.S. was on and its misapplication of power and resources in the inaptly named war on terror, wrote a set of New America Foundation essays titled, "Terrorism: A Brief for Americans."

This brief was designed for those casually interested in the affairs of Washington -- businessmen, primarily -- who have other things going on in their lives and don't realize how the US economy and America's own moral credibility were being quickly undermined by the war in Iraq and our collectively bad national security decisions.

New America Foundation: A Report from American Respect
Terrorism: A Brief for Americans
The Scope, Causes, and Means for Reducing Terrorism, Including Commentary on Iraq
Richard W. Vague
American Respect | February 2007
There is a very interesting discussion of Osama bin Laden and others going on at Project Lucidity, "Bin Laden's Al Qaeda vs. Sunni Insurgency in Iraq," in which I have been a participant. Many of the comments are about describing of what we are talking, what is the reality of the threat, and how do so-called terrorists think. What drives them -- and us -- in this conflict. Some very smart people are teaching me some things I did not know until recently. The thread is worth the read.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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