Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Excellent piece here laying out the backdrop of the Global War on Terror.

Required reading if you want to understand the larger context. And all of us should.

Thanks, John.
If the United States and coalition partners are to succeed in changing the way the world thinks about terrorism, we'll have to ensure that terrorism is punished rather than rewarded and that state sponsors of terrorism pay a price for their activities. The Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes have paid an especially large price.

But our efforts also have to target the recruitment and indoctrination of terrorists. No matter how successful we are at killing and capturing terrorists or intercepting their weapons or funds, we can't win the war on terrorism unless we can reduce the supply of new terrorists. So what are the circumstances that create fertile ground for the recruitment of terrorists?

I see many of the usual answers as off the mark.

Consider, for example, the phenomenon of suicide bombers -- terrorists who perform acts - attacks that they know they cannot survive. Many commentators have asserted that such terrorists don't calculate the cost and benefits of their action. Westerners commonly assume that only a person in deep despair could do such a thing.

This diagnosis implies its own solution, that the world should address what I call the root causes of terrorism -- the poverty and political hopelessness that many people imagine are the traits and motives of the suicide bombers. This diagnosis, however, doesn't correspond to our actual experience and it blinds us to the opportunities we have to confront terrorism strategically.

When we look at the records of the suicide bombers we see that many aren't drawn from the poor. Mohammed Atta, for instance, a key figure in executing the September 11 attacks, was a middle class Egyptian whose parents were able to send him to study abroad. His education meant that he could look forward to a relatively privileged life in Egypt -- hardly grounds for extreme despair.

Rather, what characterizes terrorists seems to be a strange mixture of perverse hopes. First of all, some bombers cherish a perverse form of religious hope. The promise of eternity in paradise is a tenet of many faiths. A noble incentive and consolation for millions of people. It's as typical as it is sinister that leaders of al Qaeda, Ansar al Islam, Hezbollah, Hammas, and other groups convince young people that eternity in paradise is available as a reward for murder.

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