Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, July 11, 2005

"Roots of Terrorism, Part 2," July 11, 2005.

What are the causes of terrorism? Is it really just that some people are evil like them and others are good like us? That's the Bush-Blair line. But maybe the roots of terrorism go deeper than that.

As former Prime Minister Kim Campbell points out, "...the issue of terrorism is fraught with many political implications and divisions. ... Our goal is to have a discussion that acknowledges these differences but tries to transcend them" (Campbell After terror Mar 1 05).

Two weeks ago, in Part 1 of this feature, Syed Saleem Shahzad's profile of a young man he called Akhtar provided us with a face-to-face starting point for understanding terrorism. Corrupt police units, youth gangs, and several military operations create an atmosphere of crime, extortion, and violence in the impoverished neighborhood of Karachi where Akhtar grew up. Young people were sometimes detained without charges or trial and tortured. Those who could not bribe their way out of trouble were faced with execution by police who would claim that they had been killed in an exchange of "retaliatory fire." When a militant group paid for Akhtar's freedom, he became an obligatory member. Such is the trap that Akhtar describes.

Canadian economist and historian RT Naylor takes a different view in Part 3 of this series when he says "for 'terrorist' actions, the most important resource is commitment."

In Part 1 we also considered conservative political scientist, James L. Payne's critique of the idea that Democracy will prevent terrorism. Not everyone will agree that all the groups Payne cites are bona fide terrorist organzations. Definitions usually come first. But the topic is complex.

As Campbell warns, "The most important lesson we can learn from looking at terrorism around the world is not to simplify this complex phenomenon but to understand that there are many aspects to it and perhaps many 'terrorisms', ranging from the Ku Klux Klan, to terrorism in Ireland" (Campbell After terror Mar 1 05).

So the challenge of defining terrorism is also on the agenda for future consideration. For the time being, our conclusions will be subject to change because the boundaries of our topic fluctuate according to the needs of the public discussion about it.

This week Juan Cole argues that authoritarian governments don't cause terrorism.

But first, the question of the day: On Sunday, June 28, 1914, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne?

Stay tuned. You'll hear that answer later in this Monday Morning World Report.

Juan Cole, a historian at the University of Michigan, has assembled some evidence for the proposition that the terrorism of the last few decades "comes out of a reaction to being occupied militarily by foreigners." Cole cites examples of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Zionists in Palestine, the FLN in Algeria, the Shi'ite Amal and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards in Iran, and Hamas in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Cole doesn't mention the IRA or the Basques. The Philippines are outside his area of expertise as is Indonesia.

"The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s was among the biggest generators of radical Muslim terrorism in modern history. The US abetted this phenomenon, giving billions to the radical Muslim ideologues at the top of Pakistani military intelligence (Inter-Services Intelligence), which in turn doled the money out to men like Gulbuddin Hikmatyar ... [and] Osama bin Laden.... The CIA training camps that imparted specialized tradecraft to the mujahedin inevitably also ended up training, at least at second hand, the Arab volunteers, who learned about forming covert cells, practicing how to blow things up, etc. The 'Afghan Arabs' fanned back to their homelands, to Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, carrying with them the ethos ... which held that they should take up arms against atheist Westerners who attempted to occupy Muslim lands" (Cole Syria's occupation).

"To this litany of occupations that produce radical Muslim terrorism, Chechnya and Kashmir can be added..." (Cole Syria's occupation).

The shortage of case histories and personal information about terrorists produces a number of problems not least of which is that when we indulge in generalized speculation about their ideological hatred, their envy of our freedoms, and their desire to destroy our way of life, we reveal more about ourselves than about the terrorists. One group of terrorists that is better known than most are those members of the Narodna Odbrana, the "Nationalist Defense," who participated in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 at the beginning of World War I.

More than 70 years later, liberal philosopher John Ralston Saul, interviewed the youngest of the six terrorists, Vaso Cubrilovic, in Belgrade. Here is Saul's version of those events: quote

"When Archduke Ferdinand drove down the quai in Sarajevo, a team of six assassins were waiting, spread out over a distance of 350 meters in the crowd. Almost all of them were under-age students. All carried bombs and pistols and, equally important, cyanide to kill themselves immediately after firing.

"The first lost his nerve as the procession went by, as did the second. The third [Vaso's older brother] threw a bomb which wounded twelve people but missed the Archduke. In the ensuing chaos, the last three fled. It was only much later in the day that an accident of fate or stupidity caused the Archduke's car to turn off the official route, where it became blocked by the crowds on a side street. Gavrilo Princip, one of the three assassins who had fled, was moping in a cafe with his girlfriend when the limousine ground to a halt outside. He leapt to his feet, rushed out, put his hand over his eyes, turned his head away, and fired two shots in the general direction of Ferdinand and his wife. Both were fatal. He then tried to swallow his cyanide but got only enough down to make himself sick. He was captured, tried, and being too young to hang, was imprisoned. He died of consumption and gangrene in an Austrian jail in 1917....

For his part, Cubrilovic was "Second in the line of assassins on the quai, he had lost his nerve at the last moment, panicked no doubt by the first assassin's failure to throw his bomb. Cubrilovic in turn failed to throw his or to fire his pistol in spite of a clear target. He was later identified, captured, tried and, being a teenager, was jailed rather than executed. After the war, he was freed. He went on to become a revolutionary leader, an associate of Tito and an historian. He survived the guerilla fighting of World War II to become one of Tito's ministers. In the late 1980s, he was still alive--the last of the six men who had, in a sense, brought the old world and its civilization to an end" (Saul Voltaire's Bastards).

During his conversation with Cubrilovic in 1987 Saul asked what he felt about the unprecedented violence which had been released by the assassination of Ferdinand.

"This tiny man in his nineties, shrunken almost translucent in a heavy, dark ministerial suit, brushed the question aside: 'I am an historian. [he said] There are no ifs in history. Only what happened. What didn't happen. The assassination was a reflection of our situation. Peace was impossible.'

"He went on to describe politics as being dominated by three types--the rare great leader; the idealist who fails; and the opportunistic or narrowly motivated men who dominate. Cubrilovic and his five young friends on the quai fell into the category of failed idealists. He saw Tito as a rare, great leader. But the satisfaction he felt over the creation of Yugoslavia seemed to have been largely wiped away by the rise to power of the third type--the technocrats and opportunists" (Saul Voltaire's Bastards ).

The more distant we are from the devastation the terrorist works, the more likely we are able to see him or her as more than just an evil monster, as a human being, in fact, responding to circumstances of a kind that can be understood, even changed.

As Juan Cole says, "I'm all for democratization in the Middle East, as a good in its own right. But I don't believe that authoritarian governance produced most episodes of terrorism in the last 60 years in the region. Terrorism was a weapon of the weak wielded against what these radical Muslims saw as a menacing foreign occupation….

"You want to end terrorism?" he says, "End unjust military occupations. By all means have Syria conduct an orderly withdrawal from Lebanon.... But Israel needs to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which belong to Syria, as well. The Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must be ended. The Russian scorched-earth policy in Chechnya needs to stop. Some just disposition of the Kashmir issue must be attained, and Indian enormities against Kashmiri Muslims must stop. The US needs to conduct an orderly and complete withdrawal from Iraq. And when all these military occupations end, there will be some hope for a vast decrease in terrorism. People need a sense of autonomy and dignity, and occupation produces helplessness and humiliation. Humiliation is what causes terrorism" (Cole Humiliation Mar 8 05).

Digg This

Recommend this Post

Sphere: Related Content