Tuesday, July 12, 2005


The London bombings have got me thinking about global terrorism, and the "war" we're fighting on it. To all my readers, I extend my sincerest apologies if I ramble.

First of all, I hesitate to attach an "-ism" to terror. It's a tactic, not a rigid system of thought or conduct. Communism, fascism, Nazism, those all make sense, but to put "terrorism" in their company seems to liken it to them, when terror has none of the hallmarks of those larger systems of thought. Terrorists merely employ tactics to cause fear and confusion in their target, but that tactic doesn't in any way describe their belief structure. Timothy McVeigh, the IRA, Hamas, all of these have been "terrorists," but they sure haven't all subscribed to the same school of thought. We can talk about Islamic fundamentalist terror, and that's what most people mean when they say "terrorism," but we've got to make sure to keep the distinction clear in our minds.

After seeing that London had been bombed, my initial thought was a question: What have our efforts in the military arm of the war on terror done to stop the people in England who planned that bombing, and people like them who are doubtless setting up all over the world? The answer came depressingly immediately: nothing. Those guys in England (or, pre 3/11/2004, those guys in Madrid) were there with a mission. They had already committed to their courses of action, I'd assume, and the military action in the Middle East wasn't stopping them from operating in England.

The problem is that we're fighting a decentralized enemy when we're fighting Islamic fundamentalist terror. They're not attached to one state or another. They operate where and when it's convenient, and they export willing collaborators to lie in wait and strike when the opportunity presents itself. Military action against a state where terrorists are operating may shake them up, but they don't necessarily depend on the state for the sustenance of their operations. Again, to bring Timothy McVeigh back into the picture (appropriate, as his was the greatest example of domestic terror until 9/11), he was not at all dependent on a state for his operations. His was an ideology taken to the extreme, and he employed the tactic of terror for effect.

My depressing conclusion this weekend is that there's nothing we can do to stop those already committed to the path of terror, short of catching them in the act. Not all Iraqis are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Iraqis. These are, often, citizens of the countries in which they carry out their acts of terror. They're exploiting globalization to full effect, and quite well. We've got to be vigilant, but their very nature makes it impossible to root out all of them.

The war on "terror," though, must be fought in the hearts and minds. We've got to be able to know that an ideology will not be able to override the abhorrence of the concept of killing innocent civilians simply to cause fear. If the tactic is seen as viable and effective, and worth it, they'll keep using it. People in general (and this one includes all of us) need to respect the primacy of human life over their petty political and religious squabbles.

I don't know what the solution is, but I know for sure that it doesn't involve dehumanizing your enemy (again, this applies to either side) or isolating yourself from the rest of the world. Sorry to have rambled so much.