The Strategic Effects of 9/11, Part 4: The Strategy of Laudable Terrorism

Continuing… The meaning of “terrorism” is extremely contentious. Terrorism is a type of political violence.  Western researchers say that political violence is of four types: violence between states, state violence against its citizens, violence between individuals, and the violence of citizens against the state. State violence against citizens is of two kinds: violence to compel obedience to laws and extrajudicial violence to compel political opponents to submit. The most common form of violence between citizens is criminal acts that have no political motive.  Other types can be social or political, like ethnic or ideological violence. The violence of citizens against a state can be organized or spontaneous.  The latter may not have political goals.  But organized violence against the state is classified as a rebellion that aims to overthrow the government.  The forms that these rebellions take reflect different strategies. Terrorism and guerrilla warfare are usually used synonymously because they

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Cold vs. Hot Terrorism

Hesbah pundit `Abd al-Rahman al-Faqir has been writing a series of essays he collectively calls “Real War vs. Symbolic War.” The point of the essays is to explain the difference between terrorist attacks (symbolic war) and other types of military violence (real war). One of his essays, “Cold Terrorism,” examines the decision-making of groups choosing between killing for the sake of eliminating enemies without drawing attention to themselves (cold terrorism) vs. killing to provoke a response against themselves (hot terrorism). The following quotes are from a recent English translation: * Can we afford not to take the responsibility of the operation? * Does the safety of the performers take precedence over the attack or otherwise? * The ease of performing the operation and the available means * Are we ready to tackle the retaliation of the enemy or not? If the aim is to get rid of the enemy without

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AQ Inspires Grand Theft Auto 4

Ekhlaas member `Abd al-Wahhab alleges that the programmers of Grand Theft Auto 4 have been inspired by al-Qaeda. To prove his point, he posts a series of links to clips from the game in which al-Qaeda’s terrorist tactics are employed.  `Abd al-Wahhab then asks: “Is the West preparing its next generation in the mode of  Muslim fighting?” The post is in Arabic, but the links are easy to make out: 6-3-2008-ekhlaas-grand-theft-auto-tactics

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Smackdown! Sageman vs. Hoffman

That’s how the New York Times sets up the Sageman/Hoffman argument today: Two powerful academics are feuding over whether al-Qaeda is a leaderless movement (Sageman) or a hierarchical terrorist organization (Hoffman). There are billions in federal dollars hanging in the balance. And best yet, the two guys can’t stand each other. There’s a lot more agreement between Sageman and Hoffman than the Times piece portrays. Both men accept that there are grassroots Jihadi groups popping up without any operational connection to AQ and both men believe that AQ Central (Bin Laden, Zawahiri, et al) is alive and well in the FATA region of Pakistan. The main difference is over how strong AQ Central is and what relationship it has to those who fight in its name. In his latest book, Sageman says AQ Central is not that strong outside of Pakistan/Afghanistan and that it doesn’t have any operational links with

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Measuring the Terrorist Threat

Daniel Benjamin has an excellent piece in Slate on the difficulty of measuring terrorist threats. The common way to measure it is body count: if the number of people killed annually by a terrorist group goes down, then the threat from that group is reduced. This measurement also allows people to say things like, “Only 100 people died in the United States this year from terrorism, whereas 3,000 died from gang-related deaths. So gang-related deaths are more of a problem and we should shift resources accordingly.” As Benjamin points out, the problem with the body count metric is that it does not capture the real danger of terrorism: severe economic dislocation and government overreaction. Of course, both are predicated on people and officials reacting in ways that are way out of proportion to the actual physical threat, but that is precisely the response that terrorism is designed to provoke.  Books,

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