Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Terror Free Tomorrow?

I found a Christian Science Monitor article called, "The myth of Muslim support for terror" about a poll conducted by an organization called Terror Free Tomorrow that claims to show that Muslim countries have fewer pro-terrorist attitudes than Americans do.

The article begins with this paragraph:
"Those who think that Muslim countries and pro-terrorist attitudes go hand-in-hand might be shocked by new polling research: Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria."

According to the article U.S. citizens are more approving of "terrorist attacks" than most Muslim countries. However, I smell a rat. Maybe I'm paranoid and too deeply distrustful of Washington but something doesn't add up.

The author of the Christian Science Monitor article is Kenneth Ballen and he happens to be the founder and president of Terror Free Tomorrow, a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization in Washington, D.C. whose advisory board is headed by Senator John McCain and Lee H. Hamilton.

According to Mr. Ballen's article only 46 percent of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."

Wait a minute, is "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" an acceptable definition terrorism? If it is, then is not George Bush a terrorist when he bombs civilian areas? Are Carl von Clausewitz's concepts of total war and absolute war terrorist concepts? It's the idea that wars tend to escalate in violence toward a theoretical absolute and that total war, targeting civilians, is an acceptable strategy in the theoretical absolute war. During World War II we fire bombed Dresden and dropped two nukes on Japan. Those were terrorist acts if we are calling terrorism "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians."

I'm not sure I can accept that definition. If someone asked me if "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified" I would have said "no" because there are a few, very rare, cases when it is justified and America has done it. When you're invited to the dance of total war you have to go.

Contrast that with how they phrase the information about a 2006 poll of the world's most-populous Muslim countries, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, and found that 74 percent of respondents in Indonesia agreed that terrorist attacks are "never justified." In Pakistan, that figure was 86 percent. In Bangladesh, 81 percent.

But were they asked the same question, or were they asked this different question about terrorist attacks being justified? Ask me if terror attacks were never justified and I would have said "yes, they are never justified" because the objective of a terror attack is to cause terror, the most dangerous and unpredictable emotion you can induce in people.

The word "terrorism" lacks definition and is easily refuted with trite truisms like "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" and "Terrorism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder." The word is just a subjective epithet and not a well defined military tactic. The use of that word has been nothing but a manipulative tool throughout this so called "War on Terror." It's nothing but a term of abuse, with no intrinsic meaning. The only definition of "terrorism" is a subjective one; "any violence that I do not support."

While total war, fire bombing Dresden and nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki certainly caused terror, the military objective was also to cripple production, to destroy war-production factories, supply routes or military installations. Most Americans would probably accept the necessity of those two acts. We believe they worked for us and helped us win WWII and both required us to intentionally attack civilians. Terror is only a side-effect and one that has to be countered with assurances of reconstruction and a helping hand when the war is over.

Mr. Ballen claimed in his article that his organization, which sponsored the surveys, has shown that Muslims reject terrorism as much if not more than Americans, and that even those who are sympathetic to radical ideology can be won over by positive American actions that promote goodwill and offer real hope.

While I tend to agree with that broad thrust of this idea of changing hearts and minds and how that needs to be our goal, I'm think they are either trying to candy coat Muslim attitudes or missing some important point with these surveys. Do these Muslims who reject terrorism also think that killing apostates is a bad thing? Do they think the honor killings of their women is a form of terrorism?

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that violence against women has increased alarmingly, with some of the incidents incited by Mullahs opposed to women's emancipation. In Pakistan recently, a minister and fighter for women's rights was killed by an Islamic fanatic. She was Zilla Huma Usman, 35, Pakistani, a minister for social welfare in Punjab province, shot dead by an Islamic fundamentalist just before she was about to address a meeting of party activists in Gujranwala, 120 miles south east of Islamabad.

The assassin, Mohammad Sarwar, after his arrest, told a television channel that he had carried out God's order to kill women who sinned. "I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again," he said. Sawar had been previously held in connection with the killing and mutilation of four prostitutes in 2002, but was never convicted due to lack of evidence.

Is Mohammad Sarwar a terrorist? I would say yes, and so is James Kopp, and Paul Hill, and Peter James Knight, all of whom were accused of murder in relation to their anti-abortion activities. In the late 1990s, prior to George W. Bush's election to presidency, there was a spate of murders of doctors who practiced abortion and the bombing of abortion clinics in the United States. It was one the more successful terrorist campaigns around because it worked. It became very hard for women to find doctors who would provide the service.

Would Christians in the United States call that terrorism? Would they call bombings and violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland terrorist?

Polls also show that, in the United States and Europe, nearly half of Westerners associate Islam with violence and Muslims with terrorists. Given the many news events in which Islamic radicals have committed violence in the name of Islam around the world, that's an understandable result. It's also true that there is a unique element within Islamic societies that is not like other cultures. What other religious culture today kills apostates and women who fight for equal human rights?

If we wrongly attribute radical views to all of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims it might perpetuate the myth that marginalizes our potential allies in the war on terror. I would agree that the stereotyping and lumping of Muslims into this terrorist supporting mold is clearly wrong. For example, I don't think Sufism would lead to terrorism.

In fact, Sufi stories and jokes like this might undermine terrorism:

"One woman says to another, "Poor Maisie really has suffered for what she believes in."
"And what DOES she believe in?" asks the other.
"She believes that you can wear a size six shoe on a size nine foot."

However Saudi Wahhabism and Islamic Shari’ah law may not be so blameless.

We are fighting an ideology and not a state and the ideology seems to be contained in these kind of religious movements. Islamic Shari’ah law contains no conception of universal human rights, women's civil rights and individual freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief and freedom from religion. Apostasy is punishable by death under Shari’ah hudud laws. It thus forcefully opposes free thought and freedom of expression. Accusations of apostasy are waiting to silence any voice of dissent. One is born Muslim and is forced to stay Muslim to the end of their life.

Even good Muslims can be accused of unbelief, blasphemy and heresy as well as of apostasy for various other causes, including skepticism and atheism and not fully implementing Shari’ah. leaving the door wide open for denouncing other Muslims as infidels liable to the death penalty in a process known as takfir.

In countries that are considered Islamic states, like Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan under the Taliban, we already saw the effects on TV. Christiane Amanpour did a TV special showing us a woman being shot in football stadium under Taliban rule. We know about the stoning to death of women exercising their right to personal freedom. We read about random accusations of blasphemy with a mandatory death penalty being used to settle personal grudges and public hangings for apostasy, real or alleged.

Can we defeat terrorists by ignoring such things?

Religious moderates think there is a clear separation between extremist and moderate religion. But the Bible and the Koran both remain perpetual engines of extremism because the God of the Bible and the Koran is not a moderate. In both books you find reasons to live like a religious fanatic, to fear hell, to despise nonbelievers, to persecute homosexuals, to oppress women.

Moderates cherry-pick scripture but the pickings are slim, and the more fully one gives credence to the claims in those two books, the more one will be committed to a world view where infidels, heretics, and apostates should be violently opposed.

Should we be ignoring research published in the March issue of Psychological Science that may help elucidate the relationship between religious indoctrination and violence? The researchers compared aggression after reading a quotation that enjoined subjects to "take arms against their brothers and chasten them before the LORD." That has shown that getting God's permission increases levels of aggression.

Toward the end of the article we are given this over simplistic notion:

"In truth, the common enemy is violence and terrorism, not Muslims any more than Christians or Jews. Whether recruits to violent causes join gangs in Los Angeles or terrorist cells in Lahore, the enemy is the violence they exalt."

I'm not against lessening violence, but what about the fact that one of the people on Terror Free Tomorrow's advisory board is Senator John McCain who wants to escalate the war in Iraq? Isn't that violence too?

Something doesn't add up here.


Sandy said...

Hi - Firstly, nice blog. You make some interesting points in this post, particularly regarding the hazy border between war and terrorism, as well as the questions raised about when (if ever) violence against civilians might be justified.

Regarding the ties between Islam and violence, I agree that it is undoubtedly dangerous to hold up any book as holy or any belief system as infallible, especially so when the book itself contains atrocities and violence, and licenses believers to engage in violence in order to uphold it. But I also get the impression that this Islam vs. the rest of the world thing has a strong defensive element to it -- an air not necessarily of "kill the infidels," but of "kill those who want to destroy us." I've talked to several muslims who seem to have the very vivid idea that the West is actually bent on exterminating their brothers and sisters in Palestine, like Hitler exterminated the Jews, and thus they would tend to sympathize with "freedom fighters" for doing what is necessary to fight back (even if they may not approve of the specific methodology involved, i.e. murdering civilians).

I don't mean this to really say anything for or against any particular polls / studies, but only to reflect my own (obviously very limited) personal experiences with the issue. It always mystifies me how so many people seem to take their religion so seriously that any criticism of it is taken as a personal bodily threat... If I were to say "I am anti-Islam," I would probably mean "I really wish you would critically examine your religious philosophies and adjust them for the 21st century," but I think a lot of people would read it as "I want to commit genocide against all of you." There's no concept of separating the religion from its followers, which I think is a very dangerous thing.

bob said...

Great post! I'm going to keep an eye on your blog.

VictorLaszlo said...

Wait a minute, is "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" an acceptable definition terrorism? If it is, then is not George Bush a terrorist when he bombs civilian areas?


jim said...

Let's keep it simple. The act of carrying out any acts of violence against innocent lives is viewed as terrorism according to the anti-terror bill signed into law by Bill Clinton. It is why gangmembers in the United States can now be charged with terror enhancements even in a fistfight. The question then becomes: Is the United States a terrorist nation when it kills massive civilians for a war built on lies. The answer: Yes. Bush is no different than Abu Nidal.

Anonymous said...

From the Fog of War - Robert McNamara

* Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb if LeMay was burning up Japan? And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities. 58% of Yokohama. Yokohama is roughly the size of Cleveland. 58% of Cleveland destroyed. Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51% percent of New York destroyed. 99% of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama. 40% of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya. This was all done before the dropping of the nuclear bomb, which by the way was dropped by LeMay's command. Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.

* LeMay said, "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?