"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Monday, April 13, 2009

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." - H. G. Wells

***

What Terrorists Really Want / Max Abrahms:

"The strategic model—the dominant paradigm in terrorism studies—posits that terrorists are rational actors who attack civilians for political ends. According to this view, terrorists are political utility maximizers; people use terrorism when the expected political gains minus the expected costs outweigh the net expected benefits of alternative forms of protest. The strategic model has widespread currency in the policy community; extant counter-terrorism strategies are designed to defeat terrorism by reducing its political utility. The most common strategies are to mitigate terrorism by decreasing its political benefits via a strict no concessions policy; decreasing its prospective political benefits via appeasement; or decreasing its political benefits relative to nonviolence via democracy promotion...

Despite its policy relevance, the strategic model has not been tested... Does the terrorist’s decisionmaking process conform to the strategic model? The answer appears to be no...

The argument is not that terrorists are crazy or irrational; as Louise Richardson notes, psychiatric profiles of terrorists are “virtually unanimous” that their “primary shared, characteristic is their normalcy.” Rather, I contend that the strategic model misspecifies terrorists’ incentive structure; the preponderance of empirical and theoretical evidence reveals that terrorists are rational people who use terrorism primarily to develop strong affective ties with fellow terrorists...

Seven empirical puzzles vitiate the strategic model’s premise that terrorists are rational people who are motivated mainly to achieve their organization’s stated political goals. The seven puzzles contradicting the strategic model are (1) terrorist organizations do not achieve their stated political goals by a (tacking civilians; (2) terrorist organizations never use terrorism as a last resort and seldom seize opportunities to become productive nonviolent political parties; (3) terrorist organizations reflexively reject compromise proposals offering significant policy concessions by the target government; (4) terrorist organizations have protean political platforms; (5) terrorist organizations generally carry out anonymous attacks, precluding target countries from making policy concessions; (6) terrorist organizations with identical political platforms routinely attack each other more than their mutually professed enemy; and (7) terrorist organizations resist disbanding when they consistently fail to achieve their political platforms or when their stated political grievances have been resolved and hence are moot...

Crenshaw remarked at the time that terrorist organizations do not obtain “the long-term ideological objectives they claim to seek, and therefore one must conclude that terrorism is objectively a failure.” Thomas Schelling reached the same conclusion in the 1990s, noting that terrorist attacks “never appear to accomplish anything politically significant.” In a study assessing terrorism’s coercive effectiveness, I found that in a sample of twenty-eight well-known terrorist campaigns, the terrorist organizations accomplished their stated poiicy goals zero percent of the time by attacking civilians...

Polls show, for example, that after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked the British public, the British people became significantly less likely to favor withdrawing from Northern Ireland. Similar trends in public opinion have been registered after groups attacked civilians in Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, the Philippines, and Russia. Although the international community frequently appeals for target countries to appease terrorists, terrorist attacks on civilians have historically empowered hard-liners who oppose, as a matter of principle, accommodating thc perpetrators...

Terrorist groups never lack political alternatives. Large-n studies show, first, that only the most oppressive totalitarian states have been immune from terrorism, and second, that the number of terrorist organizations operating in a country is positively associated with its freedom of expression, assembly, and association—conditions conducive to effecting peaceful political change. The “paradox of terrorism” is that terrorist groups tend to target societies with the greatest number of political alternatives, not the fewest...

Terrorist organizations are characterized by “an intransigent refusal to compromise.” It is far more common for them to derail negotiations by ramping up their attacks. In fact, no peace process has transformed a major terrorist organization into a completely nonviolent political party...

Terrorism is an extremism of means, not ends. Many terrorist organizations profess surprisingly moderate political positions. Russian terrorist groups of the mid-nineteenth century were known as “liberals with a bomb” because they sought a constitution with elementary civil freedoms. The expressed goal of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is to achieve a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip—a policy preference held by most of the international community. Robert Pape points out that even in his sample of contemporary suicide terrorist organizations, “the terrorists’ political aims, if not their methods, are often more mainstream than observers realize; they generally reflect quite common, straightforward nationalist self-determination claims of their community. . . goals that are typically much like those of other nationalists within their comrnunity.’ Yet terrorist organizations rarely commit to negotiations, even when these would satisfy a significant portion of their stated political grievances. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, for example, responded with an unprecedented wave of terror to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s January 2001 offer of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank.

The marked fluidity of al-Qaida’s political rationale is reflected in the fatwas Osama bin Laden issued throughout the 1990s, which contain a litany of disparate grievances against Muslims. Only in his fourth call to arms on October 7, 2001, did he emphasize the Israeli occupation, which is known in policy circles as his “belated concern.” Al-Qaida members have frequently criticized the inconsistency of their organization’s jihadi message...

Some of the most important terrorist organizations in modern history have pursued policy goals that are not only unstable but also contradictory The Basque separatist group ETA, for example, is criticized for failing to produce “a consistent ideology,” as its political goals have wavered from fighting to overturn the Franco dictatorship in Spain to targeting the emergent democratic government—a progression similar to that of the Shining Path, Peru’s most notorious terrorist organization. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party— Turkey’s most dangerous contemporary terrorist group (known by the Kurdish acronym PKK)—has likewise vacillated between advocating jihad, a Marxist revolution, and a Kurdish homeland governed without Islamist or Marxist principles. The Abu Nidal Organization staged countless attacks against Syria in the 1980s and then “almost overnight switched allegiance” by becoming a Syrian proxy. According to Leonard Weinberg, the most feared mternahonal terrorist group of the 1980s was willing to carry out a terrorist attack “on behalf of any cause,” even conflicting ones. Similarly, Laqueur points out that many well-known groups that began on the extreme right— such as the Argentine Montoneros, Colombian M-19, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—ended up on the left as far as their phraseology was concerned.63 Hoffman has likewise noted that in the 1980s, right-wing terrorist groups in West Germany temporarily adopted left-wing rhetoric and began attacking targets that are the traditional choice of left-wing groups. Predictably, the police initially suspected that dozens of their attacks were the work of communist groups."

(To be continued)
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