Tag Archives: Terrorism

September 11 and the Surveillance State

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. but at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized. (George Orwell, 1984, Chapter 1)

Our world, sixteen years after 11 September 2001, has changed dramatically in both subtle and obvious ways. We scarcely notice one of the most all-encompassing changes, namely the loss of privacy in almost every facet of our lives. Cameras track us everywhere we go. Our credit card payments betray our every purchase. Our cell phones share our GPS locations. We voluntarily tell people where we are, where we’re going, what we’re eating, and what we’re thinking on social media platforms.

Mostly, we relinquished our illusion of privacy without a peep. Our language shows the voluntary nature of our loss: We share with people, and simultaneously, we share with our governments. Once upon a time in the West, we trusted our governments to spy only on suspects. If they gathered enough evidence, they might arrest those suspects. But now our governments “surveil” those whom it deems “persons of interest.” If those persons act “suspiciously,” they may be “detained.”

Presumably, we allowed these changes to occur because of 9/11, specifically, because our intelligence agencies had failed. Surely, if a small band of terrorists could bring down skyscrapers in Manhattan and strike the Pentagon, someone must have failed somewhere. We can’t deny that. But exactly where did that failure occur? read more »

How Terrorists Are Made: 2 — Group Grievance

Continuing the series on Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko. Previous post: How Terrorists… 1 – Personal Grievance.

This post looks at the psychological mechanisms at work among those who are radicalized and turn to terrorist acts in response to threats or harm inflicted on a group of cause they care about.

Readiness to sacrifice for friends and family is so common that it is often seen as natural and no more in need of explanation than having two eyes. But sacrifices for non-kin present more of a puzzle.

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Vera Zasulich (1849-1919), a leading nihilist, shoots and wounds police chief Trepov in retaliation for his brutality : she is tried but acquitted by a sympathetic court.1878

Vera Zasulich (1849-1919), shoots and wounds police chief Trepov in retaliation for his brutality : she is tried but acquitted by a sympathetic court.1878

Vera Zazulich (alt Zasulich. Link is to Wikipedia article)

Nineteenth century Russia was a time of social turmoil. Vera Zazulich, from a modest noble family, became involved in student activist circles. She was arrested and exiled to a remote village in 1869 but returned to mix with a new student group.

Zasulich became outraged over an event she read about in the newspapers — the flogging of a political prisoner. The Governor of St Petersburg, Trepov, had passed the prisoner twice; the first time the prisoner removed his hat but not the second time. Trepov ordered him to be flogged. Zasulich did not know the prisoner, was not herself threatened in any way, but according to her own testimony at her trial she decided to risk her own life to follow her conscience and attempt deliver justice upon cruel government officials for their mistreatment of student activists. (Zasulich had planned with a friend to kill two government officials and drew lots to decide their respective targets.)

Their motivation was to see justice done. It was entirely altruistic. They had nothing to gain; Zasulich was acting on behalf of people she did not know against others she did not know personally. Her actions and testimony following her crime (she did not attempt to hide and said she was prepared to face any penalty the court decided) make it clear that she had nothing to gain for herself. read more »

How Terrorists Are Made: 1 – Personal Grievance

frictionNot every book I discuss here I would recommend but I am about to post on chapters in Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko and this one I do recommend. It is a quick yet grounded introduction to a range of factors that turn people towards radical action against state powers, extremist violence and terrorism. Each chapter looks at one of twelve contributing factors through biographical case studies accompanied by descriptions of scientific research into the relevant human behaviour.

Some of the mechanisms for radicalization operate at an individual level; others involve the dynamics of small group and mass social psychology.

Not only do we read about “them” but we also learn what motivates “us” to fully support our governments to launch campaigns of state terrorism — war, torture, extra-judicial murder.

Sometimes it appears just one factor is enough to propel people to extremist violence; more often several factors come into play. Friction concludes with a look at the life of Osama bin Laden to demonstrate how a range of triggers and conditions coalesced in one person to lead to 9/11.

The message conveyed is that there is rarely a single simple explanation for why people become involved in extremist violence and terrorism.

Over the next several weeks/months I hope to address each of the twelve dynamics covered by McCauley and Moskalenko. The table below lists the topics to be covered. read more »

The Object of Torture

I have two reasons for spending so much of my free time on ancient history and Biblical studies. First, I have a genuine, lifelong curiosity about these subjects, but perhaps just as important (especially since 2001), I welcome the pleasant distraction from the awful present. With that background in mind, I reluctantly face the subject at hand: Torture. What is it? Why is it used? Who are its defenders?

Category:George Orwell Category:Nineteen Eight...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘. . . The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’ (1984, George Orwell)

Notwithstanding O’Brien’s explanation of persecution and torture to Winston Smith, people don’t normally engage in torture for its own sake. So, why do they do it? Rule number one of power is that it must protect itself. Any threat to power must be met by every tool available. Whatever public excuse the people in power give us for what they do, we must not forget rule one.

The Tool

Torture is and has always been a tool of the powerful, who need not justify its use. Of course, in Western nations the public voices who represent state power will often provide halfhearted justifications for certain acts of torture re-framed under other names. Hence we have Orwellian euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation,” which vaguely reminds me of the unexpected joy of being upgraded to a seat in first class. Who would complain about being upgraded to enhanced interrogation?

The Law

This fuzzy language could make us forget the legal meaning of torture. The federal code could scarcely be clearer:

read more »

The not so great Islamist menace

The following is from Alcanaanite’s Blog (Monzer Zimmo has kindly allowed me to re-post it here)

Dan Gardner: The not so great Islamist menace

Posted on 2011/01/06 by Alcanaanite

Two millennia ago, there was a Jewish Palestinian from Nazareth by the name of Jesus who once said: “The truth will set you free.”  Sooner or later, the truth will reach people, and those who know it will be free; free from fear, free from hate, and free from vengeance.

Yesterday, January 5, 2011, Dan Gardner wrote a revealing article in the Ottawa Citizen, in which he introduces the truth to his readers about terrorism in Europe.  There is nothing more compelling than the truth; facts, numbers, comparisons, and putting things in perspective.  Gardner does it eloquently in his easy to read article.

Excerpt:
“The European Union’s Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 says that in 2009 there were “294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks” in six European countries. This was down almost a third from 2008 and down by almost half from 2007.  So, in most of Europe, there was no terrorism.  And where there was terrorism, the trend line pointed down.  As for who’s responsible, forget Islamists.  The overwhelming majority of the attacks – 237 of 294 – were carried out by separatist groups, such as the Basque ETA.  A further 40 terrorist schemes were pinned on leftist and/or anarchist terrorists.  Rightists were responsible for four attacks.  Single-issue groups were behind two attacks, while responsibility for a further 10 was not clear.  Islamists?  They were behind a grand total of one attack.  Yes, one.  Out of 294 attacks.  In a population of half a billion people.  To put that in perspective, the same number of attacks was committed by the Comite d’Action Viticole, a French group that wants to stop the importation of foreign wine.”

For the full article, click on the following link:
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/great+Islamist+menace/4060885/story.html read more »

Leaderless Jihad

Leaderless Jihad

Another MHR (“most highly recommended”) Podcast of a Late Night Live (LNL) program on ABC Radio National (only available online another few weeks).

Dr Marc Sageman, an expert on terrorism and counter-terrorism, uses historical analogies to argue that Islamic jihadism does have a limited shelf life. He believes that the zeal of jihadism is self-terminating and that eventually its followers will reject violence as a means of expressing discontent. Given this scenario, do we have our counter-terrorism strategy right? — blurb on the LNL Leaderless Jihad program website.

Additional links to Marc Sageman’s works: read more »

When Popeye David beat flabby Goliath and called it a ‘miracle’

Since we’re the good guys we’ve done nothing so bad as to deserve all the headaches we have to put up with from Islamic terrorists and the bad guys in the Middle East. When the bad guys wearing the dark skins and having the wrong religion say that the root cause of all the strife in the Middle East – at least till the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 – is “the Palestinian question” and the occupation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, we can be sure that that is just as fatuous as an armed bank robber appealing for sympathy by telling the judge that he needed the money to pay for his gun and getaway car. read more »