8 July 2005

Stopping terrorism

I watched the talking heads discuss the terrorist incidents yesterday. Each of the news interviews would end with the question of what to do to prevent more attacks. The various experts offered general solutions such as putting more police in key areas or encouraging people to spy on one another and report suspicious activities. These measures might have some effect but probably wouldn't do much.

The bad news is that terrorism like that in London is very difficult to stop in an open society. I don't see how the police can prevent someone from carrying a bomb the size of a backpack onto a bus or a train track. Anyone with a smidgeon of creativity can think of a million ways to destroy things or kill people. But before we conclude that the sky is falling, we need to also look at the good news: There aren't very many people trying to carry out such acts...yet.

Hopefully, this won't change. It's said that violence is practiced because it works. But in case of the London terrorism, I can't see it accomplishing much. If intensified over time, it would, in the worst case, merely lead to the creation of strong police states in the West (such as that of China). While that would make me miserable, I don't see how it would help some small group achieve its geopolitical objectives.

So to return to the original question of what can be done, I'd offer the following steps:

  1. As a stop-gap measure, governments need to limit immigration (legal and illegal) from areas that export terrorism.
  2. Citizens need to retake control of government activities to prevent small elite cliques from funding terrorists for their own objectives (i.e., economic and geopolitical ends). A modern example is the funding of the Taliban in Afghanistan or the support of Saddam (which started way back in the Kennedy administration). When I brought this up before elsewhere, the example of funding Stalin against Hitler was brought up, but the comparison is outlandish. Some third-world government not willing to do business with a U.S. oil company is hardly a "Hitler."
  3. In order for citizens to retake control of government activities, secret operations conducted by the CIA and other intelligence groups should be eliminated. To have a democracy, we have to know what the U.S. government is doing.
  4. U.S. policy needs to be consistent and moral. In order for this to happen, the U.S. population needs to educate itself about the world and retake power from large corporations and wealthy, elite individuals. Corporations aren't moral--they exist solely to make a buck. In many cases, the interests of people around the world and large corporations diverge.
  5. Nationalism should be abandoned. The biggest blow to terrorism is the creation of a world in which people look at each other as people like themselves. Flag-waving simply stresses divisions.
  6. Citizens of the world need to create a collective will that exist apart from national interests (which are primarily determined by corporate interests). They need to collectively exert pressure on all governments to move towards long-term solutions that promote fairness and justice in place of narrow policy objectives based on gaining competitive advantage.


Daedalus said...

Interesting suggestions. However, I am not sure these changes can ever take place. For instance, how can you possibly discriminate against people just because of what country they are from? People hated the Irish when they came over, and the IRA was funded by Americans, but can you imagine how vastly different this country would be if we hadn't let the Irish in? I certainly wouldn't be here.

Nationalism will never go away, especially in the US, where citizens think they are the chosen by God to rule the world. Nationalism is a human instinct, a tendency to cling to tribes.

Individualism is an inherent American trait. It will never go away either. This country is full of me, me, me, and collective will sounds too much like socialism for their tastes.


Karlo said...

I suggested the first measure as a stop-gap. Actually, I ultimately think that nation-states are a problem--perhaps even THE problem. But if terrorism gets out of hand, limits on immigration are a good temporary solution. And I would agree that nationalism (or at least, tribalism) is embedded deep within the human genome. The goal shouldn't be to stamp it out completely but rather to provide for its natural expression in a healthy way (e.g., through love of family, community and so on) while encouraging a more altruistic sense of common good with the rest of humanity. I don't think nationalism and patriotism is really that natural but that it's a distortion of natural feeling. As reported in any book on actual battles, military leaders, despite all their efforts, have a very difficult time getting anyone to die for their country, but people are perfectly willing to die for their comrads in their unit. This phenomenon shows that so-called feelings of "patriotism" really don't run very deep at all.

dailyread said...

Karlo, your suggestions are saturated with sanity and common sense. Many societies evolving from a clan mentality have become non-hostile even though the clan identity lingers on with intensity. This non-hostility comes about because of a willingness from all involved to sit at the same table, and negotiate from the needs of the many rather than the desires of the elite.
There is a revolution taking place in the name of the populous, and it gains momentum when we address issues in a mature manner as you have in this post.
Well done.

terrette said...

I think the list is principled and well considered. There is nothing in it that one could object to; however, one could add some very concrete suggestions, such as:

i) getting US and UK forces out of Iraq as soon as possible;

ii) getting US and UK forces out of Afghanistan as soon as possible;

iii) spending a great deal more energy and capital on facilitating a fair resolution to the Middle East peace negotations.

iv) (and, to mitigate the dangers of future terrorist acts) securing the highly enriched uranium that is stored in hundreds of unsecured locations in the world today.

The failure of US foreign policy in these areas, to date, has exacerbated the antagonism that has, in turn, served to recruit many to the terrorist cause.

Karlo said...

Good points. Especially no. 3.

Kate said...

Excellent post with realistic ideas. How do we get started on these?

Karlo said...

As an initial step, we need to stop expanding the CIA's powers. The CIA (or more precisely, the corporate interests that guide its actions) is largely to blame for getting us in this mess in the first place. There's no point in handing the same people more power.

fzian said...

1) Limitting immigration is problematic. How are we to define nations that export terrorism? Given that IRA has now moved its operations to Columbia, Cuba and the Arabian Peninsular, are we to limit Irish immigrants?

2) A civilian control of government activities is pointless given that some citizens typically support the State's cause -- case in point, Iran.

3) The move to disband intelligence agencies ignores cases where intelligence agencies undermine terrorist activities.

4) Abandoning nationalism is a Utopian dream. Nations are different and distinct; any attempt to artificially integrate a 'world society' usually fails -- e.g. Balkan politics.

Karlo said...

The point on #3 is not simply that intel agencies make mistakes but rather that they don't necessarily act in the people's interest and end up forming one arm of a government within a government. In other words, the popular will is perverted for the interest of small groups. As for nationalism, you make a valid point about differences. But many of these differences in modern society are largely artificial and are simply exploited as a way to manipulate people.

fzian said...

1) What does the intelligence agencies not 'necessarily act(ing) in the people's interest and end up forming one arm of a government within a government' have anything to do with stopping terrorism?

2) Actually these differences are significant enough. To argue that differences are largely artificial may sound ethnocentric given that the differences between two cultures are relevant and largely significant. You may want to look up on the balkanisation of the Soviet Union as a good example.

Karlo said...

If we counted up the incidents of violence in the modern world, terrorism would be infinitesimal. Put on a pie-chart, we'd see huge slices titled crime and another slice titled state conflicts with a wafer thin slice called terrorism. Of course, it would be easier to fight terrorism with strong covert agencies. But then again, we could compeletely wipe out terrorism if we simply became a fascist or dictatorial state. You don't see Al Qaeda targeting North Korea. As for nation differences, I still hold that they're largely artificial. I've travelled the world and while cultural differences are always fascinating, they're actually fairly minor aspects of the human condition. Traveling the world, you keep seeing the same things: families walking in parks, young adolescent guys ogling girls, small kids playing house... It takes a great deal of "education" for us to "figure out" that we're so different.

fzian said...

1) The post is title 'Stopping Terrorism', not 'curbing violence'.

2) Explain the real-world manifestation of real cultural differences. One can't simply conjecture a general law from a personal -- and unrepresentative -- sample.

Karlo said...

A real cultural difference is eating with chopsticks versus with a fork. A fundamental similarity is the desire to eat and the fear of starvation. I'd say the former is less important than the latter.