Systematic terror is a routine instrument of political change. The Reign of Terror was a key feature of the French Revolution; so was the Red Terror of the Russian Revolution a century-and-a-half later. It's possible to call terror serving a cause we endorse by a different name, and we're often squeamish or hypocritical enough to do so, but one man's terrorist being another man's freedom fighter is adolescent sophistry. Terror is what terror does. It's as easy to identify the historic "zealots" of Judaism as terrorists on the basis of what they did as it is the "assassins" of Islam or the "provos" of Irish independence. They're all terrorists. It's means, not goals, that define an act of terror.
If so, what about carpet-bombing? Wasn't what we did over Dresden, Hamburg, or Tokyo terrorism? I've no room for a long answer. The short answer is: Terrorism, yes, but not a licence. It doesn't mean it's OK.
What's the mechanism of politically successful terror? What's the clockwork inside al-Qaeda and its cousins, Hamas or Hezbollah? Is it just a matter of scaring people badly enough?
Scholars who have studied terrorism as a phenomenon don't think so and neither do I. For terror to work scaring people is necessary but not sufficient. Even all powerful, naked, totalitarian terror requires more than fear to function. For the asymmetric terror of the weak — Basque, say, or Chechen or Uighur secessionists — fear serves as kindling to ignite an illusion of sympathy.
No one likes to think of himself as a coward. People resist admitting that they're afraid. Simply scaring them might even get their backs up. People prefer to think they end up yielding to what the terrorists demand, not because it's safer or more convenient, but because it's the right thing.
Jerusalem Hebrew University scholars Eric. D. Gould and Esteban F. Klor looked at terrorist incidents between 1988 and 2006 in Israel (their 2009 study is entitled "Does Terrorism Work?") to conclude that "terrorism appears to be an effective strategy in terms of shifting the entire political landscape to the left." Bingo! Asymmetric terrorists hit the jackpot when they manage to convince their targets that they haven't been swayed by fear of injury or inconvenience, but by a desire for justice.
Once he has frightened his victim enough to do his bidding, what clinches the terrorist's triumph is salvaging his victim's self-esteem. Terror is victorious when it persuades the terror-stricken that they're motivated by a sense of equity. When victims meeting the terrorists' demands think they're acting out of an abundance of goodwill rather than an abundance of caution, terror is triumphant.
Terrorism's great achievement isn't hijacking jetliners, but hijacking the debate.
"I'm not worried about Hezbollah blowing me up," says the new convert to terrorist-apologia. "I simply believe that Iran has as much right to nuclear technology as France."
Terrorism's great achievement isn't hijacking jetliners, but hijacking the debate. Successful terrorism persuades the terror stricken that he's conscience-stricken. Once adapted and internalized by its targets, asymmetric terror can be as powerful as totalitarian terror.
Ultimately, terror triumphs when it allows perpetrators to masquerade as victims. It's the intolerant demanding tolerance that bedevils Western civil liberties and anti-defamatory organizations (as some commentators, myself included, have been suggesting for years.) From diverse Holland to multicultural Canada, the story is the same. Institutions, churches, universities that stood up against the kind of anti-Semitism that doesn't dare speak its name, are being thrown for a loop by the kind that shouts its name from the rooftops.
Let old-style, Western, guilt-ridden, camouflaged, code-worded, Teutonic, WASPish or pure laine anti-Semitism rear its head, chances are it will be slapped down even today. Ferocious B'nai Birth types will pounce and pulverize it. Social consensus will wring its neck, burn it to a cinder, and what's left of its ashes will be dispersed by the "human rights" police. I shed no tears. But when post-modern, robust, Third World, self-righteous, grievance-fuelled, boisterous "liberation" anti-Semitism browbeats, disrupts and intimidates — as it has, from universities to trade unions to book stores — chances are, the same anti-defamatory organizations will look the other way. As for the Jewish targets of a new, in-your-face, mid-Eastern style anti-Semitism, they'll be lucky if the state's "human rights" commissars don't turn on them. That's bad. Anti-Semitism may be advancing on the right again, but on the left it's gaining the field.
It's not unusual for calamity to come out of left field. A popular saying from the Vietnam-era goes: "Grab 'em by the short hairs, and their hearts and minds will follow." It has become the story of asymmetric terrorism and the United Nations. Also, in a big way, the European Union, the ad hoc predecessors of the International Criminal Court, even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Despite pessimistic expectations, it hasn't been the story of the White House so far. If it ever becomes that, God help us all.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
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