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I have no idea what to write about the London bombings. Yesterday,… - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
I have no idea what to write about the London bombings. Yesterday, if I'd started typing, I'd have probably gotten myself into trouble for expressing cultural insensitivity to terrorists, because my inclination is not, quite frankly, to try for some kind of cross-cultural understanding.

Most of the folks I know online from the area (or that I know are from the area) have checked in. I'm not sure where butterflysteve/Octavia Snape is from, though... has anyone heard from her?
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Comments
phylogenetics From: phylogenetics Date: July 8th, 2005 02:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Trying to understand terrorists' beliefs, while currently not a popular opinion, might help to mitigate terrorism in the future. It is NOT a way to excuse the behavior of said terrorists, not anymore than analyzing child molesters is a way to excuse their behavior, but rather as a way to prevent future child molesters from being created, as well as a way to catch them in the future.

I believe the biggest problems in today's world is that we try to react with emotionally rather than rationally. It makes us feel better if we just try to 'hit them back', but without knowing the whats and whys of 'they', we may end up creating more problems than solving. Without understanding what creates a terrorist, we end up in a continous cycle of violence. I guess I see this 'take no crap from terrorists' in the same vein as the 'tough on crime' and 'say no to drugs' crowd---they make sound bites (and win elections), but offer little in the ways of solution to a complex problem.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 8th, 2005 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I understand them. I was a comparative religion major and have a pretty strong background in religious history. Heck, I even get the whole Andalucia reference. But the walking on eggshells approach we've been using hasn't gotten us anywhere. The plain fact is that it has no rational roots--this is a Hollywood diva throwing a temper tantrum because her co-star got a higher billing. Can her.
akashasheiress From: akashasheiress Date: July 8th, 2005 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have to respectfully disagree that we've been ''walking on eggshells''.
sophonax From: sophonax Date: July 8th, 2005 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
The problem, though, with the "if we understand them, we can change them" idea is that it ignores the issue of what we're going to have to do in order to change them. So we understand their motives and have a clear idea of what we'll need to do in order to get them to stop being terrorists--what if what we need to do is something morally reprehensible? Do we give in to anti-democratic demands solely because "it stops terrorism"? Figuring out "what creates a terrorist" isn't a solution to the problem if we can't also figure out how *not* to create terrorists in a free society.

Also, there's the question of timing to be considered. Sure, psychological probes into the terrorists' mindset are important and have their place--but immediately after fifty innocent people have been brutally killed isn't the time to bring up the feelings of the people responsible for killing them.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 8th, 2005 03:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
So we understand their motives and have a clear idea of what we'll need to do in order to get them to stop being terrorists--what if what we need to do is something morally reprehensible?

This is the biggest problem of all. I'm not against waging a war just to keep them on the run, but it's not ultimately going to solve the problem. The only solution I can think of is a concentrated and effective campaign of psychological warfare. That means reams of propaganda (both against them and for us--our typical, knee-jerk western self-hatred is not helpful here, and makes us very vulnerable the exact kind of attack I'm talking about), it means shutting down their presses and suppressing speakers, and yes, it means things like removing tax-exempt status of any religious institution where preaching of this is going on. The problem we have is that we have to kill an idea--kill it good and dead.

And the problem with that, is that we rightly recoil from the thought of doing any of this... even though it's exactly the strategy that's being used against us, and quite effectively. We can't use it because it's a corrupting kind of power to employ, and no one can employ it without ulimately being taken over by it--it's a dilemma known perfectly well by the myth community: there are powers you just don't use. I don't know if it's possible for a morally decent, democratic world to wage effective psychological warfare. I'm not even sure how such a society is supposed to defend itself, because shutting down the propaganda mills is already a step in a bad direction. I could see maybe not letting them in--the notion of Al-Jazeera's proposed Enlish-language version being broadcast here without consequences bugs me a lot... but at the same time, what happens to us if we start thinking that way? Who do we become?

And yet, it's never going to be reciprocal. If the enemy doesn't hesistate to do the things that it morally horrifies us to contemplate, then what do we do? The world has become too small to isolate the region, and even if we did, we'd spend the next century hearing people talk about how we're starving little innocent children. We can't successfully bar immigration, because borders are already porous. We apparently can't ask immigrants to have any ideological connection to the country in which they live, because it's culturally insensitive. (Okay, that one, I'm not against doing. I'm all for having people actually prove that they want to live in a place because it's a place they value and love, not just a place to make money, though not in such a way that they have to sacrifice individual values.)

We understand the underlying psychosis very well. It's a bit disingenuous to pretend we're in the dark about it. But, like you said... what we do with that understanding is the great mystery. We know it has to do with injured cultural pride, but returning self-esteem doesn't seem to be the problem, as they're absolutely convinced that G-d is on their side and will vindicate them. So... what? Bring them to their knees to kill hope and make them realize that they're their own worst enemies? Or at least make the people they're trying to impress see that? Undermine their approach to religion by pumping the culture full of tempting alternatives? Shut down the governments that support it? To go to the child molester example, what if the more we understand, the more we find out that it's an irreversible problem that begins in childhood. Do we medically castrate a twelve-year-old kid because we understand that it's inevitable that he'll become a child molester?

Sure, psychological probes into the terrorists' mindset are important and have their place--but immediately after fifty innocent people have been brutally killed isn't the time to bring up the feelings of the people responsible for killing them.

Exactly. There's also that point.
phylogenetics From: phylogenetics Date: July 8th, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
We understand the underlying psychosis very well. It's a bit disingenuous to pretend we're in the dark about it. But, like you said... what we do with that understanding is the great mystery. We know it has to do with injured cultural pride, but returning self-esteem doesn't seem to be the problem, as they're absolutely convinced that G-d is on their side and will vindicate them. So... what? Bring them to their knees to kill hope and make them realize that they're their own worst enemies


You might understand the underlying psychosis very well, but I don't believe many do (other than 'they hate us for our freedoms etc').

It seems everytime I bring up the idea of understanding why terrorists act the way they do, people automatically assume I mean we have to 'walk on egg shells, or 'understand terrorists' feelings'. I'm not saying we need to find justification or excuse for what criminals have done, but the most effective way to fight this is to look at the root underlying cause of this issue.

And I disagree that we know what that is....because judging from what people have written on various boards, from what my (supposedly well informed) former co-workers have said, and from Bush's actions/words, most don't really know, nor do they wish to know.

One of my co-workers in fact couldn't see the connection between the radical Islamic schools in places like Pakistan and current Islamic radicalism. To her, terrorists are just crazy fanatics with no real reason or source. It's as if terrorists just appear out of thin air and you just kill until they are gone. Personally, even if we kill every terrorists in the world today, there will always be more waiting in the wings until we get to the source...as in the root of this discontent.

Perhaps this means we see about pressuring Pakistan to clean up their acts so they can actually fund their educational systems and so poor parents won't be so dependent on radical clerics to educate their kids and turn them into suicide bombers.

Ronald Reagan wasn't my favorite president but he had a great quote which I think could also apply here:

"How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin. "

Unfortunately, most people I talk to don't see it that way. They figure, once we get Osama, we win the 'war against terror'. Al-Queda will collapse and everyone will melt back into their black hole. However, terrorism doesn't come from a black hole, they come from poeple who are brought up that way.

Of course, as you pointed out, do we then start bombing homes? schools? Start killing mislead kids? But at least at that point, we can acknowledge that fighting terrorism isn't just sending trooops to shot at the bad guys who do the actual dirty work, that terrorism has source and a reason for its existance.
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: July 9th, 2005 03:16 am (UTC) (Link)
It seems everytime I bring up the idea of understanding why terrorists act the way they do, people automatically assume I mean we have to 'walk on egg shells, or 'understand terrorists' feelings'.

I think the only way to understand why this is happening is to understand their feelings. A couple of years ago, I read Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God, which is about fundamentalism in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. I mentioned it to a friend because I felt I better understood the religious right in the US, and I did have some sympathy, even though I don't agree with their political aims. But my friend didn't really want to hear it, because they wouldn't be trying to understand him. And if everyone feels that way, where does understanding start? With "them" or with "us"?

The problem I see is in the assumption that understanding will necessarily lead to a solution. It may not. In fact, it may cripple us. The more we sympathize with someone, the harder it is to act against them. This is not a bad thing, but it could be a problem if we must act against them.

The crime in NYC is a good example. When my aunt worked in Times Square 30 years ago, prostitutes gathered on the pavement outside her building, and she'd get harassed by their johns as she left work. A coworker of mine saw a man get stabbed there when he was 13. And now? I'm a small woman, but I feel no concern for my safety if I leave a theater in that area at 11 at night and walk to the train. The crackdown was controversial, but it did work.

It's never good to be rash, but hesitation can be costly too; the death toll in Hamlet would have been much lower if he'd made up his mind to kill Claudius in the first act. I'm not against understanding, obviously, but we must recognize that at some point, we will have to decide how to act, even if our information and understanding are imperfect.
akashasheiress From: akashasheiress Date: July 9th, 2005 10:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Besides, if we ''kill until they are gone'', we're only clearing the way for new, young fanatics who want to follow in the foorsteps of their martyrs.
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phylogenetics From: phylogenetics Date: July 8th, 2005 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Come visit NYC sometime. Notice how you can walk the streets--even in "bad" neighborhoods with little fear? Not the case 10 years ago... Trying to treat poverty as a "root cause" of crime did nothing. Stopping the Squeegee Men did.


I have been to NYC, and I still can't walk through the 'bad' neighborhoods without fear, so I'm not sure where you are referring to.

Are you saying there is no causation between poverty and crime? If you believe that, and see NYC as a good example of tough on crime, then come to China...lots of poverty, plenty of tough on crime....yet lots of criminals around. It's amazing how much people are willing to risk if they think they have nothing to lose. I'm pretty sure there's a tight connection between being poor and committing crimes, my mom used to live in a neighborhood that was filled with kids with little education, few job options and lots of time, perfect condition for criminal growth. The government didn't realize it, all they saw were lots of young kids stealing stuff, so they just decided to built more jails rather than more schools. Their idea of solving our problems were to 'get rid' of problems rather than confront it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 8th, 2005 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have been to NYC, and I still can't walk through the 'bad' neighborhoods without fear

You can't? I can. It's nothing like it used to be.

The point isn't that poverty and crime are unrelated, though it's offensive to make it a one-to-one correllation. Growing up poor does not mean you'll become a criminal, nor does fixing poverty eliminate crime. Fixing the elements of the impoverished neighborhood that contribute to crime--say, getting rid of the criminals--helps a lot more. A poor neighborhood can be decent and law-abiding if the thugs are removed from the picture.
phylogenetics From: phylogenetics Date: July 8th, 2005 07:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was in NYC a few years back, we were told by local friends to not stay out past ten...especially on the subways, we didn't exactly follow that prescription, ended up in some creepy places, so maybe it was safe, but I did not feel safe. Off course, I also used to live in St. Louis, across the river in east St.Louis is very dangerous and it could be my St.Louis radar going off....

My parents count themselves as growing up poor and they say that growing up poor can make it hard to *avoid* criminal behavior so if it's sound offensive...blame it on my upbringing ;) (don't worry, we are not a family of criminals, we're all biologists!).

The issue I take with 'tough on crime' isn't that we are locking away criminals, it's that it's the *only* solution offered to solving crimes. Sure, cleaning up a street makes it safer, but what about kids who are undereducated and unemployed? In order to prevent future crimes from occuring, and the streets from becoming a gangland *again*, something else has to be done. Merely locking up the criminals gives us the false impression we have solved crimes, but that doesn't mean the problem wouldn't occur again and again. Long term solutions takes more than a 'tough on crime' soundbite.
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litlefallofrain From: litlefallofrain Date: July 8th, 2005 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Octavia's still in Australia, actually. Although her family is in Liverpool, usually. She checked in with me yesterday.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 8th, 2005 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good, I wasn't sure where she was and couldn't find the info on her userpage. Thanks!
kokopelli20878 From: kokopelli20878 Date: July 9th, 2005 02:47 am (UTC) (Link)

poverty, root causes and other non sequiters

If I recall correctly, to a man, the September 11th crew were college educated sons of the middle class, trained as engineers, architects and the like. So much for the "poverty is the root of terror" argument. Now, the walking suicide bombers tend towards a different profile, but the fascinating thing is that the children of the leaders never seem to volunteer for these assignments.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 9th, 2005 04:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I feel like I have a fairly good understanding of some of the roots of terrorism, although maybe not as good as I'd like. Sometimes, I've seen the emphasis on understanding start sounding like an abusive relationship where the beaten up spouse feels - or is told - that he or she is the one who can (and should) control the abuse. What provoked the abuse? What was done wrong?

Part of the problem with abusive relationships is that this is a logical response. A practical approach to problems is to think in terms of the factors _we_ control and deal with them, not the factors we can't control. You can't control how another person reacts, only how you respond. These are all ways sound adults should respond. An abuser's trick is in exploiting this.

Can the same logic apply in groups of people? I'm not sure. Maybe this is just an oversimplification. But I am afraid of people "understanding" to the point of being like the neighbors who close the door in the face of a woman beaten half to death by her husband because she must have done something to deserve it. I'm also afraid of us not understanding to the point that we could cheerfully swallow a "final solution" to the Middle East.

And I'm upset that so little of what I've said here is about what happened in London. I've only been to London once but I fell in love with the city. All the words I can try and type about what I feel seem so trite and so short of the mark. This shouldn't have happened. I grieve for those who were hurt, for those who died, and for those who lost loved ones. And I look at these words and see them as so small compared to what I need them to say.
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