Monday, January 21, 2008

Hardly Normal

Hardly what we would consider normal people, terrorists are in a class of insanity all to themselves. They believe that, through their extreme actions and horrendous displays of disregard for their fellow man, they can actually bring about lawful change through unlawful measures. The US military released records of al-Qaeda recruitment in Iraq of foreigners to fight for their beliefs. These documents, seized in Sinjar, remind us of how well organized international terror actually is. They also point to some hopeful signs for Iraqi development.

First, the papers have forced a revised estimate of not only where the terrorists are coming from, but also which kind of attack is perpetrated by whom. The revision of the nationalities of suicide bombers from 75% foreign to 90% is a glimmer of hope for that troubled country. Suicide bombings are probably the most effective killer in the jihad-ist's arsenal and the fact that the vast majority of those willing to perpetrate such acts are not Iraqi speaks volumes for the Iraqi peoples' commitment to the emerging government and the faith they put in its ability to improve their lives.

Second, the demographic distribution of the recruits should not be terribly surprising. A large number were students. Think about demographics here in the United States; which one is the most likely to adamantly and vocally support ideological causes? Students, being younger, less experienced, and more likely to arrogantly believe that they are the only ones able to see the "truth" and must therefore be the voice of whatever their cause is, are more prone to becoming activists the world over. They are young enough that they still search for role models, and old enough that they can be manipulated into making foolish decisions without fully considering the ramifications of their actions. In the case of Islamic terrorism, this demographic can be molded into the perfect martyr, someone who blithely believes in the twisted ideology of the terrorist network, someone who can be convinced to put their life on the line for the teachings of an extreme sect of one of the world's largest religions.

Finally, the documents point to the level of organization that the largest Islamic terrorist organization in the world really has. As the article (linked above) points out, bin-Laden was a businessman before he was a terrorist, a very successful one at that. That background, as well as a need to coordinate strategy, lends itself to a structured approach to terrorism. I believe that the papers found in Sinjar do more for our intelligence networks than merely identifying areas to keep an eye on. We already knew that areas where there is conflict centering on Islamic fanaticism are areas to watch for those same fanatics becoming terrorist leaders elsewhere, using the strategies they implemented at home. Recruitment records may also help us focus on not only where, but who and how terrorists are enlisted. Records of any organization help us to understand how it works, and if al-Qaeda really does operate more like a corporation than we originally thought, that makes it that much more predictable and easy to track. Unfortunately, as we have learned with the drug cartel, it also makes it that much more effective.

My food for thought for the day, however, is a reflection on the mindset of a terrorist. The now famous saying "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" offers insight into what really drives a terrorist. Belief. No man willingly fights for a cause he does not believe is right. No amount of "focusing on the root causes" of terrorism will stop certain groups from forming. When people talk about alleviating the economic disparity or the foreign policy of western nations being the cause of the rise of terrorist cells, they ignore the fact that many terrorists (especially the leaders) are from affluent backgrounds and highly educated, many through the western university system. Most people are uncomfortable with the idea that to really stop terrorist growth, you must stop the belief that gives rise to it. To do this however, would also lead to the ability to stifle any beliefs that run contrary to what the governing authority wants you to believe. I am in no way supporting the radical thoughts that give rise to terrorism, nor am I supporting the groups themselves. I am saying that unless we as a culture change our way of thinking, there is no feasible way to end terrorism.

This essay offers an interesting and fairly accurate insight on why we are unable to end our generations plague. Many of my generation are hung up on the concept taught to most of us in government schools that we must tolerate everyone else's beliefs. What is not discussed is when it is appropriate to stop tolerating and confront a dangerous ideology, when toleration of others leads to compromising one's own beliefs because the others believe they need not tolerate your beliefs. People in our country need to remember the words of John Stuart Mill, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling that thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

Then again, deep down I think all of us understand the idea of dieing for a cause.

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