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Killing you for me
July 13, 2005 7:46 AM   Subscribe

The Logic of Suicide Terrorism. First you feel nervous about riding the bus. Then you wonder about going to a mall. Then you think twice about sitting for long at your favorite café. Then nowhere seems safe. Terrorist groups have a strategy—to shrink to nothing the areas in which people move freely—and suicide bombers, inexpensive and reliably lethal, are their latest weapons. Israel has learned to recognize and disrupt the steps on the path to suicide attacks. We must learn too.
posted by The Jesse Helms (38 comments total)

 
An illicit copy of the Atlantic article that non-subscribers can read.

There need to be about 50 more bombings before we're in the position of Israel.
posted by smackfu at 7:53 AM on July 13, 2005


How inexpensive is a human life?
Ahhhhh; think on.
posted by NinjaPirate at 7:56 AM on July 13, 2005


Here is another full text which I found and posted yesterday. Here is how I found it. You must learn too.
posted by y2karl at 7:58 AM on July 13, 2005


Weirdly, the same title for a different article discussed at length yesterday in the blue. That said, why are people such wusses?
posted by realcountrymusic at 7:58 AM on July 13, 2005


"We must learn too."

"We" would be people in countries that, thankfully, do not have a regular stream of suicide bombers?
posted by Artw at 8:04 AM on July 13, 2005


YET
posted by notreally at 8:17 AM on July 13, 2005


Israel has learned to recognize and disrupt the steps on the path to suicide attacks. We must learn too.

Identify suicide bomber demographic. Preferably before suicide bombing starts.

Confiscate houses; move demographic to crowded area.

Build access roads around triage area. Disallow access to roads to demographic.

Bulldoze a house in triage are every once in awhile just to make sure demographic knows who is boss.

Attempt to shift population demographic to put suicide bomber demographic in minority.

Make discussion of changing plan illegal.

Profit!
posted by 3.2.3 at 8:17 AM on July 13, 2005


3.2.3 has it right. I woudln't go looking to Israel for solutions to dealing with suicide bombers.
posted by chunking express at 8:20 AM on July 13, 2005


By "disrupt the steps" i hope you aren't referring to building a wall around a people.
posted by re_verse at 8:21 AM on July 13, 2005


So wait a second, the terrorists want to make me feel skittish out in public so that I don't want to spend much time "exposed"?

This is very similar to what I experienced in South Africa just before the elections back in the early 90's. There were parts of town you always kept your head on a swivel when passing through because it wasn't all that unusual for a machine gun battle to break out at pretty much anytime. And, for what its worth, I was only shot at once, sort of, he wasn't shooting at me, just in my general direction.

I don't feel any less safe today than I did five years ago unless you include being afraid of our own president.
posted by fenriq at 8:23 AM on July 13, 2005


Well, The Jesse Helms, there are enough plain vanilla criminals around make me feel plenty nervous about entering a lot of areas. There are no Islamic terrorists in, for example, the Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia - it's too dangerous for them - and I wouldn't go there in broad daylight.

Ordinary crime is still a bigger concern than terrorism. According to the CDC (huge pdf file), there were 20,971 homicides om the US in 2004. In addition, there were 3,741 deaths due to fire and flame, 17,315 deaths to to other accidental causes.... and about twice as many automobile related deaths. No place is safe.
posted by three blind mice at 8:33 AM on July 13, 2005


Israel has learned to recognize and disrupt the steps on the path to suicide attacks.

If by disrupt you mean escalate...
posted by iamck at 8:38 AM on July 13, 2005


Not to mention the number of people attacked by their own pets. It helps to keep a sense of perspective, but terrorism is a public health problem (i.e. cause of mortality and morbidity) that deserves serious attention. And unlike pets gone bad, it's an intentional behavior. Make the world a better or worse place? You decide. Terrorists have opted for worse.
posted by warbaby at 8:38 AM on July 13, 2005


I wouldn't go looking to Israel for solutions to dealing with suicide bombers.

No, but they're a great role model if you want to know how to create suicide bombers, in order to sustain a social climate of insecurity and instability, so that an extremist minority that otherwise would not have much political appeal can control a country.

I always used to joke that Bush wanted to do for the US what Sharon did for Isreal. Unfortunately my joke is turning out to be accurate.


posted by mondo dentro at 9:12 AM on July 13, 2005


Well, Israel has an 80% prevention rate. The US is not batting that well, either at home or away.
posted by warbaby at 9:13 AM on July 13, 2005


Not to mention the number of people attacked by their own pets. It helps to keep a sense of perspective, but terrorism is a public health problem (i.e. cause of mortality and morbidity) that deserves serious attention. And unlike pets gone bad, it's an intentional behavior. Make the world a better or worse place? You decide. Terrorists have opted for worse.

Not to be snarky, but how is murder not an intentional act? The comment I think you're meaning to rebut wasn't about pets attacking--it was about the 20,971 homicides committed in the US in 2004. How is that not a bigger problem than domestic terrorism, from a public health and safety perspective?

And here are some other reasons to snort at the absurd "Islam= Terrorism" line of argument (unless of course you only count suicide attacks as terrorism, for some reason, in which case, remember again that non-believers have gone the suicide attack route, too): Neither the countless abortion clinic bombings we've had in the US nor the Oklahoma bombings were in any way related to Islam. In the first case, religious belief certainly factored in--but it was so-called Christian faith (ironic, considering Christianity's abundant teachings of non-violent opposition to adversaries--remember that bit about offering your enemy the other cheek when you've been struck?); in the second case, racial hatred seems to have been the main factor. The only real common thread: Ideological/political extremism. Just remember that the next time you go bashing moderates and people who advocate non-violence and tolerance.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:32 AM on July 13, 2005


We may learn that the London bombers were, like the Madrid crew, a bunch of self-starter terrorists with few or no ties to bin Laden. U.S. and partner intelligence services have done such a good job running to ground members of the original group that there may be no connection with the remnants of al-Qaeda's command on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. We may also learn that the killers belong to a network being built by Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, who has emerged in Iraq as bin Laden's heir apparent.

Or we may find that the bombings were engineered by returnees from Iraq. Muslims from Britain, France, Germany and elsewhere--along with several thousand from Arab countries--have traveled to Iraq to fight in what has become a theater of inspiration for the jihadist drama of faith. A handful are known to have trickled back to Europe already. Western intelligence services fear that more are on the way and will pose a bigger danger than the returnees from Afghanistan in the 1980s and '90s, the global jihad's first generation of terrorists. The anxiety is justified; the fighters in Iraq are, as the CIA has observed, getting better on-the-job training than was available in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan.


Why Iraq Has Made Us Less Safe ...

If I'm asked about 7/7, I - a Yorkshire lad, born and bred - will respond first by giving an out-clause to being labelled a terrorist lover. I think what happened in London was a sad day and not the way to express your political anger. Then there's the "but". If, as police announced yesterday, four men (at least three from Yorkshire) blew themselves up in the name of Islam, then please let us do ourselves a favour and not act shocked. Shocked would be to imply that we were unaware of the imminent danger, when in fact Sir John Stevens, the then Metropolitan police commissioner, warned us last year that an attack was inevitable. Shocked would be to suggest we didn't appreciate that when Falluja was flattened, the people under it were dead but not forgotten - long after we had moved on to reading more interesting headlines about the Olympics. It is not the done thing to make such comparisons, but Muslims on the street do. Some 2,749 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks. To discover the cost of "liberating" Iraqis you need to multiply that figure by eight, and still you will fall short of the estimated minimum of 22,787 civilian Iraqi casualties to date. But it's not cool to say this, now that London's skyline has also has plumed grey...

We rock the boat
posted by y2karl at 9:33 AM on July 13, 2005


all-seeing eye dog, I wasn't rebutting, I was agreeing. But murder (which is also a public health problem) doesn't seem to garner as much political attention as terrorism. But the U.S. sucks at a lot of things, anti-terrorism and public heath being two of them. But we were talking about suicide terrorism, so back to our regular programming.
posted by warbaby at 9:45 AM on July 13, 2005


Prolonged exposure to the sun causes cancer, people still go to the beach.

Terrorism is no different than the anarchists that show up at otherwise peaceful rallies and smash the windows of local merchants. They use a common cause as an excuse to create havoc, because an ordered society that doesn't perfectly align with their ideals frightens them.

Terrorism is also a byproduct of our high-tech and high-knowledge society, and as such will never go away unless all technology and vast segments of easily obtained knowledge are flushed away.

Terrorism will never go away, and our options for coping with it are limited to the following: prevention, retaliation and avoiding being a target in the first place. Retaliation and avoiding being a target in the first place are really just forms of prevention. So lets focus on that.

The difficulties associated with prevention are that it:
a) costs money
b) takes time to implement
c) forces people to change they way they live their lives
d) draws resources away from other social projects that will benefit more people than the prevention methods will
e) can be counter-intuitive towards letting people live their lives as is
f) is never infallible
g) requires a level of ingenuity that goes beyond reacting to what we've already seen happen (which is pretty hard to do and even more expensive)
h) can easily be abused since limiting or controlling people's actions is one of the more effective methods of prevention.

That list is hardly exhaustive, but gives an idea of all the many sources of frustration that can come with implementing prevention schemes, from the simplest to the most complex.

The USA has just recently jumped on this bandwagon, and so they are making hasty decisions (war with iraq) and paying the price for it. Israel, Britain, and many other countries have gone down this road before and so are more apt to make better decisions. One can only hope that in a 20-30 year time frame the USA realizes that there's only so much you can do, and that once you start playing this sort of game it's hard to get out of it. Then people will be able to go back to leading normal lives, and roll with the punches.
posted by furtive at 10:12 AM on July 13, 2005


Thanks for the clarification, warbaby...

Digging a little deeper, maybe another way to view the motivations for suicide terrorism are psychological. In another thread, someone tried to suggest a connection between the rise of the Internet and suicide terrorism. While I don't think there's any substantive causal relationship there, I have been thinking for sometime now that a lot of modern (or if you prefer "post-modern") problems we encounter could be at least partly related (not causally, necessarily) to the rapid development of various information technologies. Here's why I think that: Human identity formation is very likely a non-linear (i.e. recursive) process. Our individual sense of identity is informed by our sense of collective identity as members of the human race and of various ethnic, ideaological, political, and other groups that are a subset of humanity as a whole. Now, I think that identity formation is a dynamic process in which an individual's sense of self is a construct of one's personal experience and knowledge of the outside world (with all that such knowledge implies about who the individual is as a member of various subpopulations). With the rapid accumulation of technologies like print media, television and the Internet, we've all started taking in information about ourselves and the various groups we consider ourselves as belonging to much more rapidly. Anyone who's studied complex systems a bit knows what happens when you dramatically increase the rate at which the system's output is fed back into the system: All hell breaks loose (chaos). I'm oversimplifying some of these ideas, but that's pretty much how it works in a nutshell. Now, supposing that due to these new technologies, we have increased the rate at which we take in new information about the outside world, ourselves, and the various groups we (rightly or wrongly) believe we have moral committments to, and assuming that our sense of personal identity changes over time to align itself with the information we take in from the outside world, doesn't it stand to reason that our individual sense of personal identity would become increasingly unstable? The reason I think this is significant is that once one's sense of personal identity has been sufficiently destabilized, one becomes extremely passive and compliant, willing to follow any orders one is given. Essentially, I've just described the process used in brainwashing, only in this case, there's no real intentional agent behind the brainwashing process; it's just an unintended biproduct of the increased information flow. Beyond the whole issue of Islamic extremism and suicide terrorism, I've noticed a huge increase in cultism in general over the last few years--Islamic, Christian, pagan, etc. I think it's possible that it all somehow relates to the destabilizing effects of increased information flow. Remember, before the printing press (in other words, for the bulk of human history), information traveled very slowly. It doesn't seem at all unlikely to me that humans simply haven't yet adapted to the challenges that increased information flow pose to stable identity formation, and that's having all sorts of chaotic consequences at this particular point in history.

My two cents worth from high above the clouds....
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:15 AM on July 13, 2005


actually, on review, my previous comment (sorry it was so long) relates less to the "motivations" for suicide terror, than the processes whereby individuals are conditioned to carry out such acts.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:26 AM on July 13, 2005


Although I have no dog in this race, this hugely complex topic has another face....found trawling around ---
“We had this hand grenade at our window, sitting there for a whole winter, and when I heard the Russians were coming, I taped it to my body under my left breast, because I knew if they started taking away women it would be the end of me, and I didn’t want to end by being raped and dying in this way,” she says. “For four days, I slept, I worked. The grenade was a part of my body, a part of my body—and if they touched me, I swear to God, I’d have pulled the ring.”
posted by peacay at 10:57 AM on July 13, 2005


peacay, scary excerpt but a different situation. Her response was one of protecting herself from being raped to death and having the option to end her life quickly and to take some of the occupiers with her.

The people strapping bombs to their chests are willfully and intentionally looking to cause the most harm and pain possible.
posted by fenriq at 11:01 AM on July 13, 2005


True fenriq, but maybe I pulled up the wrong quote.
"She is one of the so-called Black Widows, women responsible for bombings in Russia’s biggest cities who are fuelling the fear that Chechen women are now prepared to fight in place of their dead husbands. The fear is well-founded: female suicide bombers in Russia have accounted for more than 260 military and civilian deaths in less than five years. They have downed domestic flights, blown themselves up near restaurants, in subway stations, at rock concerts, and they were involved in both the Dubrovka theatre hostage-taking and the Beslan school massacre."
The article is on topic. I think as a counterpoint, it demonstrates the risk of a reductionist approach to this phenomenon called 'suicide bombing'. Meaning that each movement producing bombers have their own intrinsic reasons and methods and that trying to understand it as a single phenomenon of guerilla groups or religions or relationship to the west etc is fraught with generalizations.
posted by peacay at 11:21 AM on July 13, 2005


peacay, scary excerpt but a different situation. Her response was one of protecting herself from being raped to death and having the option to end her life quickly and to take some of the occupiers with her.

The people strapping bombs to their chests are willfully and intentionally looking to cause the most harm and pain possible.


I don't think that's the way they see it, Fenriq. I think they believe we intend to very slowly and deliberately (and furtively) wipe out their entire culture, as we've done historically with other non-technologically oriented cultures in the past (Native Americans, Australian aborigines, etc.), and there's ample historical precedence for our aim being just that, regardless of how we rationalize our "containment policies" to ourselves at the time. The West does have a long track record of very gradually killing off large populations of non-Westerners and laying claim to their resources. Sure, this might not seem like the same kind of immediate threat to you when you're group isn't on the receiving end of the treatment, but when you are, it's a pretty fucking nightmarish prospect to see your culture being gradually extinguished--rightly or wrongly, that's how I think a lot of these extremists see it.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 11:23 AM on July 13, 2005


With the rapid accumulation of technologies like print media, television and the Internet, we've all started taking in information about ourselves and the various groups we consider ourselves as belonging to much more rapidly. Anyone who's studied complex systems a bit knows what happens when you dramatically increase the rate at which the system's output is fed back into the system: All hell breaks loose (chaos).

Paging Dr. McLuhan...

all-seeing eye dog, I think your comment is well said. And while it does speak to the processes affecting our world as a whole rather than the motivations of suicide bombers in particular, it is IMO more useful than trying to psychoanalyze individual terrorists. The "systems perspective" for lack of a better term says something for both the actions of terrorists, as well as the zealotry of radical fundamentalists in America, and the radical neo-con agenda. I know it makes some people uncomfortable to talk about so many things all at once in such a simplistic manner, but recognizing the larger pattern is in my opinion the first step towards understanding. Our technology in this regard is very much at the root of terror and war. As Marshall McLuhan would say, terrorism and war is an "identity quest".
posted by jimmy76 at 11:48 AM on July 13, 2005


jimmy76: my interest is piqued; any links or other resources on McLuhan you can point to?
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2005


Here's a policy response to the London bombings: HS has shifted emphasis and needs to tell people about it. What the hell have they been doing up to now? Rearranging the deck chairs? The chair warmers need to look busy for a while.
posted by warbaby at 12:11 PM on July 13, 2005


all-seeing eye dog: Check out Marshall McLuhan: The Playboy Interview for a good overview on what he was all about. The McLuhan Program Blog often has good observations about the world through the "McLuhan lens". Also the documentary McLuhan's Wake is really great, and was my starting point in looking at terrorism as a function of technological advances. Reading his books can be frustrating at first, because his writing is intended to be provocative rather than clear and understandable. People often dismiss it as being overly fast-and-loose and impractical, but his words from forty years ago are remarkably prescient now that we're in the information age.
posted by jimmy76 at 1:34 PM on July 13, 2005


jimmy76, you'll probably like noopolitik then.
posted by warbaby at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2005


Allow me to totally reject the central thrust of your post, if you'd be so kind.

First you feel nervous about riding the bus.

No, you don't. Not unless you're a gutless coward with no sense of proportion.

Then you wonder about going to a mall.

No, you don't. Not unless you're a gutless coward with no sense of proportion.

Then you think twice about sitting for long at your favorite café.

No, you don't. Not unless you're a gutless coward with no sense of proportion.

Then nowhere seems safe.

Yes, it does. Unless you're a gutless coward with no sense of proportion.

If, on the other hand, you are not a gutless coward with no sense of proportion you recognise that terrorist attacks are just another daily risk in life, like getting mugged, getting knocked down by a bus or an asshole sidewalk cyclist, or having a cardiac arrest. And you recognise that the chance of being the victim of a terrorist attack is still much smaller than most of the other everyday risks you run. And then you get on with your normal life without fear. Like a decent, reasonable human being.

Remarks like those highlighted in this post help terrorists think that their vile tactics work.
posted by Decani at 2:04 PM on July 13, 2005


Well, decani, I guess you don't live near the Old Central Bus Station, but then you don't seem to RTFA, either.
posted by warbaby at 2:19 PM on July 13, 2005


While it probably is true that Israel's policies are directly responsible for the creation of suicide bombers, it isn't stupid to look at their prevention methods. Considering the number of bombers they have to deal with they probably have some pretty effective policies in place to hinder them, and they can't ALL be shallow excuses for the continuation of ethnic strife, (right?)
posted by SomeOneElse at 4:39 PM on July 13, 2005


Bombing Without Moolight: The Origins of Suicidal Terrorism:
http://masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/moonlight.htm

By Islamic scholar Sh Abdal Hakim Murad (Tim Winter).

Dictionary may be required..
posted by Mossy at 4:47 AM on July 14, 2005


decani: And you recognise that the chance of being the victim of a terrorist attack is still much smaller than most of the other everyday risks you run. And then you get on with your normal life without fear. Like a decent, reasonable human being.

If wishes were horses... In reality, we react by jailing people for years without charge, spending 5.5 billion on airport security, and installing 500,000 security cameras in public spaces, building procedural and physical barriers between our neighbours, with regular calls for more.

Contrary to any "sense of proportion", we've decided to spare no expense in search of an ever-fleeting feeling of "security", even when the costs far outweigh the risk.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:50 PM on July 14, 2005


security, and installing...
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:54 PM on July 14, 2005


Seems to me that people who kill indiscriminately should not be called "terrorists" because the act itself does NOT cause as much terror as anger. In my book, suicide bombers and those who groom them are "angerists".

The real "terrorists" are those who continually reinforce the unstated assumption that we are all supposed to be frightened witless by these exploding shitheads.

Fuck suicide bombers.

Fuck anybody who tries to tell me I'm supposed to be more scared of being blown up by a bomb than I am of being mown down by an SUV.

And fuck anybody who rides roughshod over the civil rights of any group of people on that totally spurious basis.
posted by flabdablet at 6:57 PM on July 14, 2005


If wishes were horses... In reality, we react by etc.

Well, I was talking about how we should react as individuals. The reaction of our governments has been, as you rightly point out, absurd and horrible.
posted by Decani at 11:45 AM on July 15, 2005


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