05 May 2010

counterterrorism

Graduate level

A statistic like this should be trumpeted from the hills, but it also shouldn't have to be. Military triumphs over extremist groups and radical militants are rare. Of modern examples, I can think of maybe one: the military arm of the Tamil Tigers who were brutally put down in Sri Lanka by an all-out assault on their stronghold, including thousands of innocent civilians in the crossfire and having to hunker down for artillery or air strikes. And even crediting that one as a victory assumes that they will stay down.

Most of the time, a country should be well enough off to use police and law enforcement tactics or to encourage the organisations involved to become political and non-violent rather than aggressively resistant to government institutions that are often perceived as the core of disagreement and trouble. I don't foresee Al Qaeda becoming one of the latter groups, ala the PLO or the Muslim Brotherhood; some of their beliefs and issues are too radical even among radical or fundamentalist Islam to be taken seriously as a political movement. And while it may be possible to claim that military strikes and foreign entanglements involving previous Al Qaeda strongholds have disorganised and weakened their institution to the point that they are throwing up fizzling bomb attacks on American soil, it is also plausible that regular law enforcement methods, things like tracking financing and communication between suspects and co-conspirators, arresting or detaining violent activists, and so on, have had a significant impact. None of these required new and broad powers involving systems of surveillance, or the suspension of habeas corpus rights, or the torture and death of suspected terrorists (some of whom were determined to be innocent by their captors), or even the suspension of the simple right to a jury and judge to examine dispassionately the evidence we could amass against them.

Among libertarians and indeed many Americans and Westerners, this perception that it was necessary to proactively and violent lash out against not merely radicals but all Muslims, as a perceived and general threat to our way of life, has become a problem of its own. I don't see the percentage in claiming our interest must be the eradication of the philosophies and ideologies of over a billion people, perhaps even by eradicating the people themselves if necessary through wars of aggression, often accompanied by a claim that only the Muslim is a terrorist and comfortably sweeping under the rug dozens of organisations and free radicals who bomb, maim, and kill for reasons totally unrelated to Palestine, Mohammed, or the historical schism between Christianity and Islam. This has rarely been a strategy which we have looked kindly upon when conducted by others nor one which has gathered a history of being successful in its aims. I do see the percentage in claiming that our interest should be to restrain people who act with violence and malice in accordance with their own interpretation of those beliefs and ideologies.

The difference between these two notions has a great deal of importance on how we should react, such as with resolve rather than terror. Treating our enemies here as little more than common thugs removes from their capacity the thin reed of hope that they are martyrs to some great cosmic cause and discloses to themselves the enormity that they are indeed no more than a criminal disposed to hateful actions such as the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. It also has the advantage of limiting the opportunities for ourselves to engage in the slaughter of civilians and thus having to wage the uncomfortable cognitive battle "justifying" such actions. Instead, the most serious attention is granted to people who wish to dispose of our criminal safeguards and protections against government powers at the slightest hint of danger (never mind that those sanctions exist for a good political/philosophical reason, were often revered even by these same foes now, and historically are more effective at engaging these types of foes) and engage in rhetoric soaring our dispersed and often ineffective foe to that of a great and worthy enemy for our brave and honorable armed forces. Our most powerful and righteous weapon (that of democratic human rights protected in our homes and nations) is thrown aside in order to find comfort in hiding behind a gun.

If one is Al Qaeda or a like-minded group, all they have to do is live by Napoleon's maxim to survive: "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."
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