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Terrorism (and the psychology of resistance)
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grufty jim
grufty jim
1940 posts

Edited Jun 07, 2017, 18:03
Re: Terrorism (and the psychology of resistance)
Jun 07, 2017, 17:59
phallus dei wrote:
Agree that it's an interesting argument, but I don't find it very persuasive when dealing with lone-wolf terrorists inspired by radical Islam / Wahhabism. The author makes the mistake of interpreting contemporary religious terrorists through the lens of the political terrorists of the 70s and 80s. But whereas political terrorists, for the most part, aimed to hit symbolic targets that they thought would "inspire" the broader population to join their cause, religious terrorists are mostly interested in getting a ticket to "paradise." Their actions aren't carried out in accordance to any semi-rational plan that might bring about social change, because they don't care if they change society or not. They're just following the rules of their death cult to get their reward. Perhaps at the time of death "All the blowing themselves up motherfuckers will realize that they are suckers", but I fear that they are going to be continuing to blow themselves up for quite some time... unless the funding for radical Islam dries up, the Arab nations that have been destroyed are rebuilt, and progressive secularism again gains a foothold within the community.

We may be talking at cross-purposes here. The motivations of these murderers is an important subject to discuss and understand. I'm happy to have that discussion. But I don't actually think it plays a major role in what O'Toole is talking about here. You may disagree, but that's my view, and here's why...

Well part of the reason is because O'Toole is clearly using The Troubles in Ireland as his template. And with the greatest respect, your characterisation of the "political terrorists of the 70s and 80s" is extremely wide of the mark if you meant it to describe Northern Ireland. As someone who grew up in Ireland during the 1970s, and later lived in England during a couple of the more sustained IRA bombing campaigns over there (wasn't always comfortable being a dude with an Irish accent in London in the late 80s / early 90s) I can assure you there really are remarkable similarities between "then" and "now"; just as there are startling differences.

One of the big differences is -- exactly as you point out -- the self-image of the attackers... their immediate personal motivations, and how they view their role. The terrorists in Northern Ireland saw themselves as soldiers. From the language they used ("field commanders", "Army Council", "battalions", and so on) -- to their "ceremonial uniforms" -- to the great lengths they took to ensure they physically survived any "engagement".

The Islamist attacks we've seen in the past couple of decades have not been carried out by men who see themselves as soldiers (even when they use that word; even when they may consciously believe it). These guys at their core see themselves primarily as "weapons". And that makes a major difference in how we combat the threat... how we find and overcome those already committed to violence, and how we prevent others reaching that point.

HOWEVER... to return to O'Toole's article; I'm not sure the collective psychology of the population under attack is significantly affected if the lived experience is roughly the same.

And it kind of is, in my view.

Again, to use Ireland as the illustrative example, you really aren't close when you talk of "symbolic targets that they thought would "inspire" the broader population to join their cause". The vast majority of casualties in Northern Ireland were the result of car-bombs in shopping centres and remote-controlled backpack bombs in pubs in provincial towns. The high-profile ones... horseguards parade, canary wharf, etc... were exceptions to a very grim rule. And everyone from both sides acknowledges this... it was the very mundane nature of the targets that characterised The Troubles. It was three wet-behind-the-ears army cadets being brutally murdered at a rural checkpoint, followed by some nutter chucking a pipebomb at a Catholic funeral in some windswept housing-estate "in reprisal". It was fucking senseless. It was far from "symbolic targets" and attempts to "inspire".

And I say that as a committed Irish republican who has always felt that the best thing for this island (long-term) is reunification as a single sovereign state (within the EU ;-). I've always believed that. I believed the tactics used by Irish Republican groups during The Troubles were barbaric and contemptible even as I whole-heartedly believe their cause was just, and their grievances real. Christ! I've only gone and spilt nuance all over the discussion.

But to again return to O'Toole... we're talking here about how the local population experiences what's happening. And right now, what Europe is actually experiencing isn't a million miles away from a low-intensity 1983 in Armagh. Pubs and clubs (London, Paris, Manchester), shopping districts (Berlin, Stockholm), parades (Nice)... replace the city names with cities and towns in the North and it really is like switching on the news in Ireland in the 80s. Except it was one a week back then. Literally. And as O'Toole points out, people were not quaking in their boots. It really was just integrated into everyday life by that point. It's grim and unsettling to admit it, but that's what happened.

Yes, people were downtrodden by it, and a bit apprehensive in crowds from time to time. It was a fetid grey cloud hanging over the entire place. Those bastards -- the men with guns on both sides, but especially the car-bomb-pub-bomb maniacs -- they made life miserable for everyone. Really fucks me off when people do that for any reason... but especially when they do it in the name of a worthy cause.

And lest anyone accuse me of suggesting our ability to adapt to this situation -- to integrate the most vile of atrocities into our lives -- means I'm saying that terrorism isn't a problem, or is somehow "acceptable"; please get a grip. O'Toole's piece is savage, depressing and grim. If you view it otherwise then we're not on the same page. No sane person wants to live under the cloud that covered Ireland for most of my life. We need to work very hard to prevent that... to combat the terrorists and maybe look at addressing the issues that create them in the first place. O'Toole's point is that if the goal of the terrorist is to destroy the west, then Ireland demonstrates that regular low-level terrorism is fundamentally incapable of doing that. I don't believe he's making a wider point than that. And it's really the only point I'm making (at the moment).

Anyway, that's just some rambling thoughts on the subject. I'm not recommending repressive legislation or anything.

[Edited for spelling]

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