Friday, 30 March 2007

The facets of terror

Throughout this month, I will be posting excerpts of my lengthy paper "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox", as mentioned in this post. Here is one such excerpt...

The facets of terror

How can a rogue group or ideology commit acts of terrorism with major state reaction, but state terrorism yields no such reaction? Is fighting in something you genuinely believe in a crime? How is Islamic extremist recruitment for terrorism different from recruitment to a state military?

Whether fighting the foreign occupiers in Iraq, fighting the western menace from within its own borders, or abroad, there is a new kind of terrorism and no one seems to know what to define it as. Call it an insurgency against the West, call it a rebellious movement, call it pure terrorism.*

They fear the west; westerners fear them. The middlemen? The governments of the West, namely of the US, and the extremist Islamic groups. Terror, terror, terror; fear, fear, fear; counterterrorism, counterterrorism, counterterrorism; fear, fear, fear; terror, terror, terror... We usually think of the extremists as the terrorists; the western governments as the fighters of terrorism.

[What the 'terrorists' (supposedly) do] — [what the US 'war on terror' response is].
They want to invoke fear with their terror — I invoke your fear to fight their terror.
They use terrorism to take away our freedom — I use (counter)terrorism to actually take that freedom away.
They use acts of insurgency against us (e.g. in Iraq) — we shall stay (e.g. in Iraq).
They use terrorism to scare you — I use fear-mongering to my gain to scare you using their terror as an excuse.

Political science expert John Mueller says the terrorist threat has definitely been hyped up since 9/11, no doubt to the political gain of the Bush administration. Not only that, but the endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed inflamed feelings in the Muslim world even more. Mueller calls the lack of terrorist response on US soil, in which reality has contradicted what those in the White House keep stating, a "myth of the omnipresent enemy". He starts his article, "Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?: The Myth of the Omnipresent Enemy", with:

Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.

Mueller boldly concludes his article with:
Although it remains heretical to say so, the evidence so far suggests that fears of the omnipotent terrorist…may have been overblown, the threat presented within the United States by al Qaeda greatly exaggerated. The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists.

The Bush administration dumbs down all terrorism by labeling it as the evil, generic masses of Islamic extremists that are against the United States in every way. Al Qaeda is seen as a great terrorist enemy, a diabolical organization with cells all around the world. In reality, many experts disagree with the Bush administration view; al Qaeda is more of a movement, an ideology even, than an organization (see Burke in "Think Again: Al Qaeda").

* For the sake of keeping things simple, I will keep the assumed label of 'terrorist' for the extremists — in this case the radical Islamic insurgent terrorists. However, both sides, whether led by George W. Bush or Osama bin Laden, are using fear tactics to garner political support for their respective causes. The ultimate definition of terrorism I will lead up to the reader. However, that is not to say I will not present my clear views on the subject.

See here for a look at terrorism from two different viewpoints: that of the White House and that of the jihad movements.

Uh, happy anniversary?

In case you missed them...

The EU's anniversary logo (no joke).

  • The European Union turned 50 as mixed feelings remain about one of the world's most powerful institutions. The Economist compiled a survey of the EU and came to several conclusions (some parts of the survey are available only to subscribers). My personal favorite article in the survey is a mock article on the EU's 100th anniversary, which offers some of the usual political wit of the Economist.
    See also EU website and, of course, Wikipedia article. The revered Economist also has more EU articles; as does the all-mighty BBC News and lest we forget The Guardian.

  • Oh Iraq. Always the news hog, for a good reason. Four years after the US-led invasion, Iraq is as close to a failed state as ever, with a civil war, political instability, meddling neighbors, a growing terrorist insurgency, ethnic rivalries, and, not least, foreign occupiers. The occupation continues — the Iraq war rages on. One major problem: who's on what side? The BBC offers some excellent articles and features on Iraq. Unlike with the EU's problems, Iraq does not look to have as many clear-cut solutions and is even more politically helpless than a large bureaucratic organization. Ouch. The Bush administration remains defiant on their thus-inflexable Iraq policies. However, are the tides finally changing against Bush & Co.? Congress, with its new Democratic majority, has hit back at the administration by passing a resolution (in both houses) to withdrawal troops sometime next year. The resolution was attached to a troop spending bill. Not surprising, the House of Representatives, which has more Democrats, has a stricter, binding timeline; whereas the Senate's is not. (The Senate vote was 51-47 with 48 Democrats, two Republicans, and an independent (not Lieberman) voting the affirmative.) The Iraq was has also tarnished the legacy of the British prime minister, Tony Blair.
    See Wikipedia; and basically every reliable news and reference outlet for more, developing news.

    Of course you can expect to read more on these two major topics on this blog.

  • Thursday, 29 March 2007

    On Hicks and military commissions

    David Glazier, a guest-blogger on one of my favorite blogs, a legal blog called Balkinization, wrote an insightful post on the confession of Australian detainee David Hicks and what it means for Hicks and the controversial military commission that tried him.

    Australian David Hicks' guilty plea to providing material support to terrorism at Guantanamo Monday should ultimately prove to be a brilliant defense maneuver. The Administration will seek to portray it as a victory for the military commissions, but in the longer run it should produce even greater pressures, both at home and abroad, to terminate these tribunals entirely. Although the confused proceedings lasted only a few hours, that was enough to establish that changes mandated by the Military Commission Act of 2006 (MCA) are insufficient to produce the "full and fair" trials promised by the President when launching this process a half-decade ago.

    First, and most importantly, the crime Hicks pleaded to, providing material support to terrorism, is a felony triable in regular federal courts, but not a law of war violation military commissions can lawfully try. The inclusion of this offense in the MCA could allow future commissions exercising hybrid jurisdiction over law of war and statutory offenses to try acts committed after that law was enacted. But retroactive jurisdiction is only permissible over acts clearly violating international law at the time they were committed. Jurisdiction over Hicks, whose conduct dates back to 2001, would be unlawfully ex post facto. The Government bears the burden of proving that this offense violates the law of war, for which I have found no precedent in five years of academic research into military justice and the law of war. If the commission lacks jurisdiction over the charge, any court reviewing the decision per se, or Hicks' subsequent incarceration, should be obligated to set the conviction aside or order his release from custody.

    The brilliance of Hicks' plea is that rather than spending months of additional Guantanamo incarceration contesting this point before a tribunal biased against him (more on this below), he can quickly pursue his claim in U.S. and Australian civilian courts more committed to the rule of law.
    There is good reason for concern that Hicks' case is going to further damage perceptions of U.S. adherence to the rule of law although it does not implicate some of the more egregious aspects of post-MCA commission procedure. Those factors include the likelihood judges will admit coerced testimony and potential that sufficient details about classified sources will be concealed from the defense that they are unable to properly challenge its admissibility or credibility.

    Although the MCA did improve the commission process, Hicks' treatment suggests that the government is still not credibly committed to the faithful application of the rule of law in Guantanamo proceedings. Any effort to portray Hicks plea as vindication of the tribunal process is thus both shortsighted and erroneous. At the end of the day, Hicks' plea may even hasten their demise.

    There have been several such 'confessions' by major detainees, like that of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and none of them can be taken seriously. Guantanamo and similar US detention facilities used in the 'war on terror' are the site of means of interrogation on unverified enemies of America; often that interrogation includes torture. After being locked up, tortured, and the works, for years, anyone could say anything. No matter how much the White House spins it — and the mainstream media only follows along — in no way are many extracted confessions credible, not least because they are not reported or witnessed by a third party (i.e. someone not in the government).

    Counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, counterintuitive

    Throughout this month, I will be posting excerpts of my lengthy paper "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox", as mentioned in this post. Here is one such excerpt...

    Persuasive essay
    To-the-point: counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, counterintuitive

    Why do many current counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency, policies only make it all worse? US Global War on Terror and the proliferation of the radical, fundamentalist Islamic ideology in a terrorist insurgency relate to and feed on each other. One of the main causes of insurgent terrorism — modern and historical — may well be the fight against terrorism: counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. Battles launched in the name of terrorism or against the name of terrorism often have the same affects: causing both sides to recruit for their pro- or counterterrorist causes.

    One of my main doctrines, if you will, of the Middle East and elsewhere is that vengeance leads to vengeance. An eye for an eye is a ludicrous notion; why would one what everyone to be blind, including one’s self? This all relates to something called the fire paradox. This paradox is often used to describe how the fight against naturally reoccurring wildfires just leads to more of them — in greater number and voracity. I also apply it to counterterrorism, especially in the Middle East. Not to say we should not try to slow the rise of terrorism at all, but the way countries like the United States and Israel go about their anti-terrorism efforts is self-defeating and creates more destruction on both sides.

    The fire paradox can be applied to the Middle East situation. The Gaza and West Bank problems will not go away until Israel and the US stop trying to destroy what they see as the problem, thus elevating the real problem. It is like with wildfires. Scientific data shows that the more people try to stop and put out wildfires, the greater in extremity and number those fires will be. The term — which I just found out existed after I wrote it down as the title a blog post — "fire paradox" was coined by European scientists launching a project to work on the ecological problem related to fires. This paradox applies to aspects of the situation in the Middle East, especially to what is going on in Iraq and Israel-Palestine. What Israel's decades-old policy does is destroy "terrorists", but the way they go about doing so creates a greater number of these "freedom fighters" who fight harder than ever. In fact, Israel’s policy directly affects perception in the Muslim world of America and, thus, relates to the so-called war on terrorism. The policy also spawns more terrorist movements and support for Islamic extremism.

    The Israel-Palestine issue is a central fissure between the Muslim world and the West (i.e. N America and Europe) and connects policy to perception — especially since the US strongly supports Israel in an open manner — to terrorism, then resulting in counterterrorism/war on terror policy and more terror. One thing people can agree on is that "perceived threats to Islam create support for terrorism" (Fair, Haqqani "Think Again: Islamist Terrorism"). Because of the preemptive doctrine of the GWOT, nations and their peoples are even more apprehensive over American military action.

    In discussing terrorism and the war on terror, one must also mull over insurgency, especially in areas tied politically to the war on terror, i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan. Those two countries are now hotbeds for terrorist recruitment. Between the sectarian militias fighting each other and the US in civil war-stricken Iraq and the resurgence of the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan who knows how long the battle with insurgent terrorists will last — whether local to where the insurgency is, or even carried by a movement abroad. A notable article on counterinsurgency, which is directly related to counterterrorism and the fire paradox, is "Dead End: Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice" by Edward Luttwak.

    True, there are the alternative methods and tactics of counterinsurgency warfare, but do they actually work? Insurgents do not always win, but their defeats can rarely be attributed to counterinsurgency warfare, as we shall see.
    [There's an] essentially political nature of the struggle against insurgents. ... amid the frustrations of fighting a mostly invisible enemy
    a necessary if not sufficient condition of victory is to provide what the insurgents cannot: basic public services, physical reconstruction, the hope of economic development and social amelioration. The hidden assumption here is that there is only one kind of politics in this world, a politics in which popular support is important or even decisive, and that such support can be won by providing better government. ...many people prefer indigenous and religious oppression to the freedoms offered by foreign invaders [in Iraq or Afghanistan].

    Instead, they obeyed…who summoned them to fight against the ungodly innovations of the foreign invader. ...That was all that mattered to most…not what was proposed but by whom it was proposed.

    The vast majority of Afghans and Iraqis naturally believe their religious leaders. The alternative would be to believe what for them is entirely unbelievable: that foreigners are unselfishly expending blood and treasure in order to help them.

    Altruism isn't something people can easily be convinced of, especially if the source is a long time 'enemy'. Contrary to popular belief, support for terrorism and jihad may not correlate with poverty as much as previously thought (see Fair, Haqqani), although education and willingness to believe things other than what religious or political authorities tell people does matter.
    [Insurgents] must have at least the passive cooperation of local inhabitants. …out of sympathy for their cause or in terror of their vengeance...

    The essentially political advantage of the insurgents in commanding at least the silence of the local population cannot be overcome by technical means no matter how advanced.
    All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principled and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents, the necessary and sufficient condition of a tranquil occupation.

    Wednesday, 28 March 2007

    America dethroned from top tech rank

    When it comes to information technology, America is king... right? Everyone from Cisco to Apple to Google to IBM to Microsoft to GE is based in the United States and got their start in the country with the famed Silicon Valley. Hardware, software, ideas — many designed by some of the world's most innovative people — all gravitate towards the world's superpower. For all its political and societal faults, the US is an innovative haven, the dream land for technological entrepreneurs. Yes, at the end of the 20th century Japan was making advances in the robots and other technological industries. But the United States has largely still held the real gold: the products and ideas that have transformed our lives. On the back of an iPod, in fine print: "Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China." Western European and East Asian nations still lag behind America's technological and innovative supremacy.

    Actually, not anymore. According to the World Economic Forum's Global Information Technology Report (summary), the US has dropped from first place in the Networked Readiness Index (ranks) in 2005-2006, to seventh place in the most recent 2006-2007 report. In 2004-2005, the US was at fifth place. The UK's average rank is 10 or so, nine this year; Germany's at 16; China is down nine places to a poor 59. India is also down to 44th place, that's four positions worse than in the previous index. Korea, home to LG and the most integrated broadband Internet infrastructure and usage, ranked 19th. Denmark took first place, and its fellow Nordic countries also did well: Sweden, Finland, Norway, placed second, fourth, and 10th, respectively. All four of the Nordics were up from last year.

    BBC News:

    The US has lost its position as the world's primary engine of technology innovation, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.

    The US is now ranked seventh in the body's league table measuring the impact of technology on the development of nations.

    A deterioration of the political and regulatory environment in the US prompted the fall, the report said.
    Countries were judged on technological advancements in general business, the infrastructure available and the extent to which government policy creates a framework necessary for economic development and increased competitiveness.

    The Networked Readiness Index, the sixth of its kind published by the World Economic Forum with Insead, the Paris-based business school, scrutinised progress in 122 economies worldwide.

    Despite losing its top position, the US still maintained a strong focus on innovation, driven by one of the world's best tertiary education systems and its high degree of co-operation with industry, the report said.

    The country's efficient market environment, conducive to the availability of venture capital, and the sophistication of financial markets, was also given recognition.

    So, the US still has good colleges and a very stable tech business foundation. The question is: how will that change with EU countries showing signs of diversifying industry and Asian nations moving forward, despite their poor rankings in this report. In addition, what about the seemingly inevitable (at this point) effects of globalization on tech services?

    With 3G technology and, a while back, even things as simple as SIM cards, Europe and East Asia were beating the US in mobile phone technology. America is still trying to catch up. The latest computing craze or game console may first hit in the US, but many other technologies are more evolved in other developed countries.

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    The original 'fire paradox'

    Throughout this month, I will be posting excerpts of my lengthy paper "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox", as mentioned in this post. Here is one such excerpt...

    The original 'fire paradox'
    From the Fire Paradox project website:

    The fire paradox is visible on every continent. … In Europe, a few years later than North America, it became apparent that a systematically implemented policy of fire exclusion in fact often produces the opposite of the desired effect. It aggravates the overall fire risks, due to an increase in the "protected", accumulating biomass. Based on the experience of a few practitioners and the results of past fire ecology research, the aim of this project is to develop new policies for fire management and forest fire risk reduction, adapted to European constraints.

    Many counterterrorism/counterinsurgency efforts just lead to the spread of terrorism and the movement’s growth, much like how the efforts against natural fires only worsens them in the future. Osama Bin Laden is not a tree; but you get my point. Also, the real fire paradox sometimes calls for intentional fire-starting; prescribed burning, if you will. In no way am I saying we should promote terrorism, but many counterterrorism efforts do just that.

    While one might be able to lessen the chance and extremity of future wildfires by not using counterintuitive preventative measures, the fight against terrorism is different — and, albeit, more complex. If one does not try to fight (per se) terrorism at all, the terrorism could be about just as bad. That’s why measures other than the ones being used by the Bush administration are needed. Nonetheless, many counterterrorism or moderate counterinsurgency efforts end up feeding into the basic premise of the fire paradox: the counter- efforts only make the original enemy, the thing being countered, worse.

    Want a rough background on the paradox? See my first post on it.

    Meet our next police state: Egypt

    Authoritarian police states are all the rage — or at least they must be, with Egypt and others becoming only more undemocratic. Some of the terrorism-fighting provisions of indefinite length 'passed' in the probably-rigged vote are similar to those the US passed after 9/11 (though that vote was not rigged: it was not even a vote by the people but a decision by the executive to use terrorist attacks as an excuse to expand powers). Of course, it is much worse than that...

    BBC News:

    Controversial amendments to Egypt's constitution have been approved by 75.9% of those who voted in Monday's referendum, government officials say.

    Turnout for the vote was 27%, the justice ministry said, although some independent groups put it at 5%.

    The country's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the vote and criticised the amendments as paving the way for a police state.

    A senior Muslim Brotherhood official said the result was forged.
    President Hosni Mubarak hailed the result on Monday.

    "The people are the real winners in this referendum. What has been achieved does not represent the end of the road," he said.
    Officials say the changes will allow the drafting of a new anti-terrorism law to replace the emergency legislation in place since 1981, giving police wide powers of arrest and surveillance.

    Article 5:
    Bans political activity/parties based on religion
    Article 88:
    Removes judicial supervision of elections
    Article 179:
    Invokes special powers to fight terrorism

    In addition, the amendments ban all religious-based political activity and parties, a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood - an Islamic party banned in Egypt which represents the strongest opposition force.
    The amendments also allow the adoption of a new election law and do away with the need for judicial supervision of every ballot box.

    Opposition groups have voiced fears about the wording of the articles on the new anti-terrorism law because it will be possible to bypass the constitutional guarantees protecting basic freedoms.

    Human rights group Amnesty International has called the changes the greatest erosion of human rights since a state of emergency was declared after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat 26 years ago.

    For a great article on Egyptian politics and Islamic democracy, see this Harper's article.

    Russia is also making a steady and swift transition to an authoritarian police state under President Putin. Egypt is one step ahead of them, but Russia does have a larger organized crime element — often with political allegiances — that sprung up after the collapse of the Soviet state's tight security. However, they are both receiving foreign criticism.

    Just as Putin and Mubarak are moving up the power ladder, another dictator, Pakistan's Musharraf, is facing plenty of opposition over his demanding a revered judge step down. The reason? Because the judge often ruled against the undemocratic Musharraf regime; he was a beacon of light in Pakistan's judicial and political darkness and corruption.

    Not only does Musharraf look like a puppet of America to his own people, but to the US he is looking less and less like an ally, not least because of his recent agreement with the same tribal militants who are likely creating a haven for Taliban forces near the Afghani border, thus increasing Afghanistan's troubles.

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    Tuesday, 27 March 2007

    Hoping for the best

    A much talked about summit is about to take place. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, not to mention the Quartet of Russia, the EU, the US, and the UN, which is steering these diplomatic talks, will be in attendance.


    Arab leaders arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday ahead of a summit set to revive a five-year-old plan to end decades of Israeli-Arab conflict at the heart of the region's problems.

    The two-day Arab summit, due to open on Wednesday, is expected to renew an offer to the Jewish state of normal ties with all Arab countries if it withdraws from all territories it occupied in the 1967 war, accepts the creation of a Palestinian state and agrees to a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Israel to seize on the Arab offer, describing it as a last chance for Israel to live in a "sea of peace" across the Arab and Islamic world.
    The meeting will also tackle other crises, including the Iraq conflict that has divided Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims across the region and a political standoff between the Western-backed government and the pro-Iranian opposition in Lebanon.
    The Arab summit will also encourage the international community to end a political and financial embargo on the Hamas-led Palestinian unity government.

    Sounds all fine and well, right? Arab states recognize Israel if Israel returns to its legal borders. If only the world, and its politics, was that simple. Possibly the biggest problem is that of the Palestinian refugees.

    There was some good news in Palestine a while back about rival political factions Fatah and Hamas finally coming together and forming a unity government. So far, the government has worked, with one still-outstanding problem: lack of international recognition. That breakthrough took place in Saudi Arabia, which has been a keen diplomatic player because, as is the case with Egypt, it is an ally of the United States as well as an active Arab state. Expect to see more Saudi diplomatic action, and continued action by long-time Israel-Palestine peace actor Egypt, as there seems to be another spurt of sluggish — or superficial — progress in Israel-Palestine peace talks.

    Although the State Department seems to be taking the Middle East diplomacy with stride, many are cautious of the Bush administration's new found diplomatic furvor. Between Bush's tour of Latin America, a peaceful deal being made with North Korea, and US Secretary of State Rice shuttling back and forth, trying to promote dialogue among Arab states, much seems to have changed in the Bush administration's often militant foreign policy outlook. However, policies on Iraq, Iran, and recognition of the new unity Palestinian government remain stubbornly static.

    Cheney: the outspoken master of myths

    After attacking Congress for challenging the White House — again — the US vice president continued, over the weekend, to further his ideological cause: make Iraq the battle against terrorism it isn’t while still holding on to the greatest vice presidential power America has ever seen.
    Chicago Tribune:

    There are a few “myths’’ about the war against terrorism that Vice President Dick Cheney wants to refute.

    “The most common myth is that Iraq has nothing to do with the global war on terror,’’ Cheney said last night at a dinner in Manalapan, Florida, addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition. “Obviously, the terrorists have no illusion about the importance of the struggle in Iraq… They know it is a central front in that war.''

    I must say, Cheney is indeed a myth-master. In trying to dispel myths, he actually spreads them! The only reason Iraq is now so important in the so-called fight is against terrorism is the insurgency provoked within Iraq, and the outrage blossomed from throughout the Middle East and wider Muslim world — which only helps the extremists recruit more and point to the US as the evil occupier.

    Cheney was the one, after all, who pushed with his pal Donald Rumsfeld for the Iraq invasion. He was one of the first linking Saddam Hussein's Iraq to al-Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein to nukes, thus connecting a dangerous terrorist organization/ideology to the most destructive weapon known to man. His chief of staff, you may remember, was convicted of perjury when the White House was being investigated following the ousting of a CIA agent's identity; her husband was a war critic who tried to dispell the Saddam Hussein-nuclear weapons material connection.

    Cheney never stops speaking his mind, which is, I'll admit, an admirable, if not courageous, quality of someone on Capitol Hill. I also hear he has great marksmanship; amazing that he got the friend that he shot to apologize to him — Cheney, the shooter. Cheney also cannot resist swearing every once in a while. On the Congressional floor, he told the then-ranking member (now chair) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Lehey (D-VT), to "fuck yourself". He has also locked horns with world leaders, namely Russia's President Putin.

    Cheney thinks he's above everyone. Somebody needs to bring him back down to earth.

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    Monday, 26 March 2007

    Warping facts and rewriting history: 9/11 conspiracy theories

    Even as the American public seem to be getting smarter about politics — albeit slowly — public belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories seems to be on the rise. A partial explanation may be the public’s annoyance with their government, which they could help solve if people took more action in national politics and voted.

    These conspiracy theorists think everyone is against them and employ pseudo-fact to support their flawed claims. These people cannot be swayed by verifiable video footage or eyewitness accounts — nothing can stop their irrational conspiracy speculation about what happened on 11 September 2001.

    The only 9/11 theory that has any merit is, unsurprisingly, the official version of what happened. Pearl Harbor, no doubt, was also not a conspiracy, but the John F. Kennedy assassination is up for grabs, but no one on either side (official or conspiracy) can garner enough evidence to support their claims.

    Yes, there are plenty of accounts to confirm US intelligence services knew of the impending 9/11 attack, but did not take action because of bureaucratic incompetence. Intelligence services did not get the correct data or relay it, and gave the tips of an attack the benefit of the doubt, like what happened with Pearl Harbor (the radar station knew Japanese planes were coming but did not know whether they were Japanese and were not notified to be on the lookout). It was a failure of imagination, as the 9/11 Commission put it, in the US intelligence services. However, they did not ignore data on purpose because they wanted 3,000 people to loose their lives in a massive terrorist strike.

    The BBC investigated many conspiracy theories and, eventually, debunked them, including the 9/11 one.

    These theories have gotten more media coverage and analysis, some of which has been good, as of late.

    A Scripps Howard poll gave some disturbing data:

    Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."

    The poll also found that 16 percent of Americans speculate that secretly planted explosives, not burning passenger jets, were the real reason the massive twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed.

    Conspiracy groups for at least two years have also questioned why the World Trade Center collapsed when fires that heavily damaged similar skyscrapers around the world did not cause such destruction. Sixteen percent said it's "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that "the collapse of the twin towers in New York was aided by explosives secretly planted in the two buildings."

    Twelve percent suspect the Pentagon was struck by a military cruise missile in 2001 rather than by an airliner captured by terrorists.

    The level of suspicion of U.S. official involvement in a 9/11 conspiracy was only slightly behind the 40 percent who suspect "officials in the federal government were directly responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy" and the 38 percent who believe "the federal government is withholding proof of the existence of intelligent life from other planets."

    A Zogby poll found:
    People are completely divided on whether they believe President Bush exploited the 9/11 attacks (44%) or justified an attack on Iraq (44%). Approximately one in ten (11%) is not sure.

    Close to half (48%) agrees the U.S. government and 9/11 Commission are not covering up anything, yet nearly as many (42%) believe the government and 9/11 Commission are covering up. One in ten (10%) is unsure.

    Curiously enough, conservatives, according to this poll, gave the media a negative score in its 9/11 coverage. Why is this so interesting? The media was acting patriotic and very loyal in every way to the Bush administration for the weeks following. The media did not sufficiently do its job in the aftermath of 9/11: they did not question what the government was saying, analyze why the attacks happened, report a lot of important news, or challenge Bush in his exploitation of the attacks. This led to an overall media support of the Iraq war as war critics were drowned out and not put on air nearly as much as talking-point ridden war hawks.

    I remember nearly every television channel had a flag design at the bottom of the screen, and there was nonstop talk of the war on terror. Most everyone was following along with the government’s policy, a dangerous thing to do when the people are confused and scared and need facts and rationality now more than ever.

    Ignorance is ignoring all true evidence and thinking the evil government was the sole perpetrators of 9/11. You know what, deniers of the terrorist attack on US soil on 11 September 2001, it's all going too far. Some people, myself included, lost friends and relatives in 9/11 and don't need people like the 'Truthers' spreading warped and pseudo-factual conspiracy theory views of historical events when there is plenty of evidence to support the mainstream view! They use architectural evidence like they know anything about the topic; how could explosives blow up the towers then? How could they fall the way they did when it was clearly a structural breach when two of the largest commercial aircrafts in existence (at the time) crashed head on into buildings not designed for high-speed air crashes?!

    Enough is enough. I see the loss of rationality is as evident in the 9/11-deniers as it is in the followers of the Bush administration's 'war on terrorism'. Both sides are messing with history and fact in order to advance political, ideological motives. Shame on both the 9/11 exploiters (e.g. Bush) and the 9/11 fact deniers (e.g. Truthers). There is a time for reaping political capital, and there is a time to question and attack the mainstream view of things, but with things like 9/11, either action is a dangerous one leading to a slippery slope of exploiting every terror case and holding a revisionist, paranoid attitude of every event.

    Some conspiracy theorists think of their spreading of their false notions as their duty to society; their spreading of ignorance and fallacies only hurts society. On the other hand, the spreading of ignorance and possible fallacies by people who believes everything an authority (e.g. the government) says is also produces a negative impact on society.

    We must question things presented to us, but not become paranoid and use the same pseudo-facts politicians may be using. 9/11 conspiracies are just as invalid as Iraq prewar evidence: one came from the conspiracy theorists, the other from the government. Those of us stuck in the middle should never cease from questioning what we see and what we are told, but there is a point where people question too much and form a false reality.

    I think at least one thing myself and the radical right-wing can agree on is that these 9/11 conspiracy theorists hold false notions and use unbelievably invalid facts to support their almost non-existant argument that the government of the United States of America was the sole perpetrator of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and the third, failed, attack (Flight 93) on 11 September 2001.

    Just as the conspiracy theorists blame the government, the Bush administration holds the ambiguous general terrorist movement  — as if it were one concrete force — as its scapegoat and poster-child for evil.

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    Sunday, 25 March 2007

    Nothing to fear but fear (terrorism) itself?

    The source of terror is a matter deeply debated between scholars. Terrorists generally view themselves to be above any laws or authority — after all, that’s what they are fighting. Terrorism is political violence; violence is used to incite fear and change; intimidation with either the fear of violence or the direct connection between violence and the resulting fear.

    The Bush administration's "war on terror" has proven to be a perfect utility for the reaping of political capital and the submission of the American people. I've argued that since day one of this blog. Since then, I've branched out and have been writing a paper on "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox", while posting excerpts (the final, edited copy will be posted as a PDF and text file once it is finished).

    Naturally, I am not the only person who believes the 'war on terror' is a tool of a diluted sort of terror in itself — but not in the pejorative sense we often think of when we hear the word "terrorism". A great opinion piece in the Washington Post was published today that echoes many of my arguments:

    The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

    The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants.
    The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being "at war."

    To justify the "war on terror," the administration has lately crafted a false historical narrative that could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By claiming that its war is similar to earlier U.S. struggles against Nazism and then Stalinism (while ignoring the fact that both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were first-rate military powers, a status al-Qaeda neither has nor can achieve), the administration could be preparing the case for war with Iran. Such war would then plunge America into a protracted conflict spanning Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and perhaps also Pakistan.

    The culture of fear is like a genie that has been let out of its bottle. It acquires a life of its own -- and can become demoralizing. America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor; nor is it the America that heard from its leader, at another moment of crisis, the powerful words "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"; nor is it the calm America that waged the Cold War with quiet persistence despite the knowledge that a real war could be initiated abruptly within minutes and prompt the death of 100 million Americans within just a few hours. We are now divided, uncertain and potentially very susceptible to panic in the event of another terrorist act in the United States itself.
    Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum.
    That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable.
    The record is even more troubling in the general area of civil rights. The culture of fear has bred intolerance, suspicion of foreigners and the adoption of legal procedures that undermine fundamental notions of justice.
    In the meantime, the "war on terror" has gravely damaged the United States internationally. For Muslims, the similarity between the rough treatment of Iraqi civilians by the U.S. military and of the Palestinians by the Israelis has prompted a widespread sense of hostility toward the United States in general. It's not the "war on terror" that angers Muslims watching the news on television, it's the victimization of Arab civilians. And the resentment is not limited to Muslims.
    The events of 9/11 could have resulted in a truly global solidarity against extremism and terrorism. A global alliance of moderates, including Muslim ones, engaged in a deliberate campaign both to extirpate the specific terrorist networks and to terminate the political conflicts that spawn terrorism would have been more productive than a demagogically proclaimed and largely solitary U.S. "war on terror" against "Islamo-fascism." Only a confidently determined and reasonable America can promote genuine international security which then leaves no political space for terrorism.

    I talk about perception and the 'war on terrorism' in this post and examine why we are so attracted to terrorism here.

    Fresh sanctions on Iran

    Iran is receiving more punishment by the international community over its stubborn diplomacy and inability to halt its un-inspected nuclear (weapons) program.

    The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to approve a resolution that bans all Iranian arms exports and freezes some of the financial assets of 28 Iranian individuals and entities linked to Iran's military and nuclear agencies.

    The 15 to 0 vote came one day after President Mahmoud Admadinejad canceled plans to travel to New York to confront the Security Council, leaving his foreign minister to speak in his place. It unfolded as 15 British sailors and marines seized by Iranian naval forces were transferred to Tehran, escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
    The measures adopted Saturday fell far short of the punishing trade, travel and military sanctions initially proposed by the United States and its European partners. But they insisted they were pleased with the outcome.

    More penalties may be coming in 60 days unless Iran allows IAEA inspectors to examine its program and provide proof it is not developing a weapons program — a common belief among... well everyone. When will the straw (sanctions) break the camel's (Iran) back? President Admadinejad is already facing enough political pressure over economic and nuclear issues at home. Like US President Bush, I think he will push the envelope of presidential arrogance and defy the public and other branches of the government for as long as possible.

    Even though the situation is worsening diplomatically, the EU insists the door is still open for further talks. Whenever it is presented with a good deal, Iran turns it down. However, the US also needs to be less stubborn in its diplomacy; opening the channel of dialogue on Iraq is a step in the right direction.

    Are sanctions accomplishing their goals? It's anybody's guess. With Iraq under Saddam, sanctions made everything worse, and argably made Saddam even more powerful while killing many of his people. Some experts think Iran is feeling the pressure of financial sanctions, though. Remember many Iranians are young and globalized; many like their western goods too.

    Iran is more likely to go the way of North Korea and accept a deal. Like with N Korea, the world will just have to wait until Iran has enough leverage to get what it wants. Diplomacy is slow, often tedious process, but it is better than, say, the policy the United States held for Iraq. Personally, I would rather have a proto-nuclear state than a failed state whose conflict could spill out of its borders and breed international terrorism. Experts view the Iran threat as somewhat hyped-up too.

    By the way, the Iranian capture of 15 British soldiers off of its coast has to be one of the dumbest political moves its made in recent history. The capture is unwarranted and stupid anyways. The UK is a UNSC power with ties to all the other great powers; Iran is not. Now the UK may join the US in having harshly negative feelings for Iran, only worsening the diplomatic measures on several fronts.

    Russia: the next top police state?

    In the 21st century, there are still plenty of police states around — Syria, Turkmenistan, Lybia, North Korea, Sudan, Burma, arguably Pakistan, and Zimbabwe, to list a few. But can Russia be counted among them? We have seen more and more undemocratic reform and authoritarian power-grabbing — not to mention, journalist and dissident intimidation and killing — by Russian President Putin. Putin seems to think he can never have too much power, and the Russian secret police (FSB, etc.) seem to share that view, as do the many organized crime gangs.

    The restriction of freedoms in Russia is only getting worse...
    Luke Harding of The Guardian reports:

    Supreme court ban on liberal party wipes out opposition to Putin
    · Republicans accused of violating electoral law
    · Protest rally planned amid fears of a police state

    Russia's next parliament is likely to have no genuine opposition after a court in Moscow yesterday banned a leading liberal party from standing in elections.

    Russia's supreme court announced that it had liquidated the small Republican party, claiming that it had violated electoral law by having too few members. The party is one of very few left in Russia that criticises President Vladimir Putin.

    The move against Russia's opposition came as pro-democracy activists prepared for the latest in a series of anti-government rallies that have infuriated Russia's hardline authorities.
    Critics say the legislation is designed to kill off smaller parties that oppose the Kremlin.

    Russia's tiny opposition is represented in the current Duma by four or five MPs. Pro-Kremlin parties predominate among the 447 deputies. The small opposition Republican party, banned yesterday, was formed by defectors from the Soviet Communist party. It emerged in 1990 on the wave of liberalism encouraged by then-Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The Republican party has one MP, Vladimir Ryzhkov; its other attempts to win seats have repeatedly failed. But it has played a solid role in the liberal opposition. The liberal Yabloko party also has two MPs. Two other anti-Putin MPs sit as independents. In theory, the opposition includes Russia's Communist party and the far-right Liberal Democratic party. In reality, they rarely if ever voice opposition to the Kremlin, observers point out.

    John Bolton gets owned

    BBC Newsnight's all-mighty Jeremy Paxman interviews neocon former US ambassador to the UN and Bush-buddy John Bolton; and crushes Bolton's false notions about Iraq (watch Bolton turn red).

    BBC News, including Newsnight, has been focusing on Iraq this past week ("Iraq Week") four years after the US-led invasion. Bolton led the charge for that invasion.

    Bolton is known for his endless anti-UN rhetoric and thinks the US should only act in its exclusive interest. He also criticized any sort of diplomatic deal with North Korea, even though there has been success, and seems to hate any sort of non-militant diplomacy (he does know the US is not the only power in the world, right?).

    Bolton's excuse for Iraq failure: blame it on the Iraqis. Paxman doesn't let him slip away with that kind of argument, but in the end Bolton stays firm and looks like an idiot — the idiot, frankly, he is.

    Journalists need to break through stonewalling politicians and get the real news, its their job and the BBC seems to do it well. If only American TV news was this good...

    Note: I uploaded this video.

    American rationality, RIP

    Throughout this month, I will be posting excerpts of my lengthy paper "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox", as mentioned in this post. Here is one such excerpt...

    This is a mock obituary lamenting the loss of sense in America. However, as blogged about here, there seems to be more of a loss of sense in those who take part in politics; the general population in America is fairly politically apathetic, and are actually gaining rationality in some instances. However political intelligence is not up too much.

    I must have a fancy for fake or fictional obituaries — a while back I mourned the loss of habeas corpus with a song.

    In memoriam: American rationality
    Born ?, died 11 September 2001 in Washington DC, United States. Rationality, RIP.

    In between the Cold War — when so-called communists were threatened and persecuted under a blanket of pseudo-security and patriotism by the government — and the 'war on terror', America enjoyed a relatively good dose of rationality. Whenever wartime came around, the government's ears perked up; the powers and freedoms of the people dumbed down.

    Whenever those in the corridors of American power declared some type of war against a largely undefined enemy for the sake of some undeclared goal, rationality was on the scene, defending sense and sensibility — and freedom. Rationality stood for that freedom, and she was violently attacked by politicians who's only duty was to themselves and their false premises for their actions.

    Why was she persecuted so? Rationality allowed people to think clearly, even about hyped-up matters. Special interests, inflamed causes, strong powers limiting freedom, lies, and especially fear were her worst enemies. She hated the 'us against them', 'with us or against us' mentality that often surrounded her, but fought until the end for the principles that defined her. Her friends — some of which died, in part, when she did — remember her hopes for governmental transparency, her clear, fluid, logic, and the spirit of common sense she carried with her wherever she went.

    Rationality was the ultimate patriot; she stood up for her country, even if that meant standing up against her countrymen. The George W. Bush administration is suspected of her murder. International Islamic extremist terrorists are wanted in connection of conspiracy of her murder. No matter how hard they try, however, she will live on.

    Terrorism, and often the fallout of terrorism, is the enemy of rationality. Fear presents as an adversary of rationality. At the time of her death, she was uttering the lyrics of "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who, and fighting, intellectually of course, the hordes of ignorant pawns praying for her demise. Rationality was and is like a phoenix. She may die out, but some day she will come back. Let's hope that day comes soon.

    Public opinion in America

    The sociopolitical fabric of a nation, as charted through a Pew study...

    The following is a summary of the findings of a Pew Research Center report on American public opinion and political trends, with my own insight of course. I skimmed the full 112-page report (the last 30 or so pages are just raw numbers), which you can find in PDF form.

    American public is changing for the better. However, the changing demographic and much of the population, is politically apathetic. The still-widespread apathy explains why more polarized thinkers take action; there are more conservatives than there are liberals when one gets to either side. The middle is the section that is shifting towards a less traditional, more secular, more rational mindset. The middle is also unsure of itself and is losing confidence over what power they can exercise over their own government. The solution is simple: actually do something. Instead of complaining about your unrepresentative government, elect a different one or push your current one. At the moment, the special interests or polarized politicos dominate Washington. It doesn’t need to stay that way.

    This latest Pew study is very informative and lays down some notions that most Americans — including the younger generations — are becoming more conservative, more intuitional, more religious, in a nutshell everything people like Rush Limbaugh, Sam Brownback, Dick Cheney, and James Dobson want them to be.

    Americans still have a long way to go. They need to regain confidence in the power of the people instead of just lamenting their poor government, which, inevitably, always happens in a developed democracy.

    Overall, this report projects good news and bad news about the course America and its people are taking and their views on such a course — for me at least. I've heard some say this poll is good news for Democrats; some say its good news for moderate Republicans.

    The study also points out that Republicans are largely more conservative than Democrats are liberal; and that there are more conservatives interested in politics than liberals. Still, roughly half (Democrats and Republicans averaged) of those polled think `immigrants threaten American customs`, only emphasizing a need for proper education, especially in politics and history. People must have forgotten that their grandparents or their parents or their parents were immigrants. For example, a large number of Americans are of Irish or German heritage, and have ancestors who immigrated to the US only relatively recently (late 1800s, early 1900s). More on the immigration issue here, and more coming soon.

    The government should help people in need and take responsibility of the needy, a good majority say. A lesser majority hold the above view, even to the point where debt is incurred from the government programs to help the needy (e.g. welfare, public health). In addition, many think a public health system is in order.

    In foreign policy topics, Americans now finally view "getting even", i.e. employing 'an eye for an eye' strategy just isn’t a good idea. This complements the downward trend in the number of Americans who think peace is best achieved through military force — another slightly counter-intuitive notion.

    There is also a decent dip in the overall percentage of people who think the US should remain active in world affairs, though the number is still in the 80s. The number who completely agree that America should keep active internationally has dropped from 50 percent in 2003 to 42 percent now. Bad news does come with that statistic: more and more Americans are developing isolationist sentiments.

    The falloff in strong support for an active U.S. role
    in global affairs is consistent with other Pew surveys over the past two years showing a decline in support for internationalism among the public. In “America’s Place in the World,” conducted in the fall of 2005, 42% said they believed the U.S. should “mind its own business” internationally – the highest percentage expressing that sentiment since the mid-1990s, after the Cold War, and the mid-1970s, following the Vietnam War.

    That survey found that the growth in isolationist sentiment was largely concentrated
    among Democrats. However, the values survey shows that both Democrats and Republicans are less likely to completely agree that the U.S. should take an active role on the world stage than they did four years ago. Similarly, the percentage of conservatives – regardless of party – who strongly favor an active U.S. stance in world affairs has fallen from 53% to 39% since 2003; this is comparable to the decline in strong support among self-described liberals (11 points).

    I myself am an internationalist. However, that does not mean I think the United States and other powers should be able to meddle in other countries affairs, especially if the results are negative and there is no sufficient reason for the interference. Between the expansion of global free trade — like it or not — and the international exchange of ideas being fuelled by the Internet and the rise of developing countries, and the need for international awareness to take action in and prevent things like genocides and civil wars with mass implications (even to a country’s interests), isolationism is less of an option now than it was in the American know-nothing era between the two world wars. For economic, humanitarian, political, and security reasons, a global mindset is needed and, because of the aforementioned, the United States needs to stay active in international affairs. People need to realize the activity is not the problem, it is what that activity is that is the real problem: failed policies and bad politic. America doesn’t need to be less involved in world affairs to prevent another Iraq, it just needs to change its policy and policy-makers.

    Americans are less confident, still patriotic but a bit less so, and still believe they should fight for their country, even if they don’t agree with what they are fighting for. Only a third overall believe torture is never justified, and the younger think it is more justified than the older. A majority still think preemptive force is justifiable. Americans are tough and fairly closed-minded on immigration, one of the few views kept constant since the Pew study of 1992. There has been a small boost in the number of people who view immigrants as a serious threat to traditional, all-American customs. Xenophobia is still popular, and, along with isolationism, are major sociopolitical threats to American progress in many ways.

    Around one in ten is agnostic, atheist, or non-religious.
    The survey also finds steady – if slow – declining support for traditional or conservative social values, in such areas as homosexuality and the role of women in society. This movement has been apparent on most of the six different measures of attitudes on social values, but is more evident when looking at the questions collectively (these values measures do not include opinions about abortion).

    In 1987, about half of the survey’s respondents (49%) gave conservative answers to at least four of the six questions. In 2007, just 30% did so.

    Keep in mind this is just a poll: one public study. It is a study put together by a reputable source, yes, but its results, like the results of many similar reports of public opinion and politics, should be taken with a grain of salt.

    This report states the number of social conservatives is declining from the levels of the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, there have been studies that suggest otherwise, including those looking at an increasing number of evangelicals and members of the religious right. No doubt the religious lobby is as powerful now as ever and the evangelical vote is more likely to be captured than the moderate vote because of the rampant apathy and feelings of a lack of options in the mind of the general public.

    A majority of people still oppose gay marriage in any form. The death penalty also still has public support by a good majority. For the first time ever recorded in one of these Pew studies, a majority of people (51 percent) completely agree with the idea of interracial relationships. The number who agree (but not "completely") is at 83 percent, compared to a meager 48 percent in the 1987/1988 report. The government does not benefit people, its programs are usually inefficient and don’t have good outcomes, elected officials do not care about me or what I think — these are three statements most people, according to the study, agree with.

    Most think governmental regulation of business is bad; the statistic is up dramatically for Democrats and down a bit for Republicans, possibly because of scandals similar to Enron. Companies have too much say in government, make too large of profits, and do not usually act in the public interest, say a majority of people polled. There are corporate skeptics of `evil` companies like Halliburton and ExxonMobil. On the whole, more young people view the success of business as a direct correlation to the success of America as a country. We are seeing less ethical, more commercialized young people (i.e. Gen Y), who are, at the same time, less religious and socially conservative. On socioeconomic issues, like government helping the needy and prevention of warrantless activity, blacks are more progressive than whites.

    People view the political intelligence of the people as down. Also, most believe in the obligation to vote and interest in local politics is at a high. Far more people are afraid of personal information collected by business than government. Nearly 40 percent think warrantless searches should be allowed of "people like me" who may have terrorist leanings. 40 percent believe some civil liberties must be put aside in order to fight terrorism.

    A very large majority of people believe in "stricter laws and regulation" to protect the environment.

    Saturday, 24 March 2007

    Chart of the fire paradox

    Throughout this month, I will be posting excerpts of my lengthy paper "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox", as mentioned in this post. Here is one such excerpt...

    Here is a simplified chart showing the cycle of the fire paradox.

    See posts relating to...

  • terrorism
  • the fire paradox
  • the war on terrorism

  • Defining 'terrorism'...

    Throughout this month, I will be posting excerpts of my lengthy paper "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox", as mentioned in this post. Here is one such excerpt...

    We spend so much talking about terrorism — including on this very blog — yet the word itself has many definitions. What are they? Which do we follow? Which should we follow? Before we delve further into the hotbed that is terrorism, maybe we should examine what terrorism is.

    'Terrorism', 'terror', 'terrorist'...
    The term 'terrorism' originated from the state-led Reign of Terror following the French Revolution. It is commonly applied to political violence by insurgents, that is, unless the terrorism is perpetrated by the state, in which case it is state terrorism. However, terrorism is a generic word with many applications of acts wishing to incite fear, hence my usage of "terrorist insurgents", "insurgent terrorists", or the like, even if the movement is not concrete (most aren’t).

    In addition to its practical usage, the philosophical meaning of 'terrorism' is disputed. One delves into semantics and linguistics, as well as politics and psychology. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy's entry for "terrorism" states it as "a highly emotive, pejorative label" (Gilbert). There are two sides to the broad label. Terrorism can be considered as an "unjust war model", like that of 'freedom fighters' or militant rebels, neither as state actors, for a justified reason, or as a crime that is unique only in the fact that it is politically motivated — to cause fear.

    The United Nations, the global body, offers several definitions for terrorism on their UNODC website:

    The question of a definition of terrorism has haunted the debate among states for decades. A first attempt to arrive at an internationally acceptable definition was made under the League of Nations, but the convention drafted in 1937 never came into existence. The UN Member States still have no agreed-upon definition. Terminology consensus would, however, be necessary for a single comprehensive convention on terrorism, which some countries favour in place of the present 12 piecemeal conventions and protocols.

    The lack of agreement on a definition of terrorism has been a major obstacle to meaningful international countermeasures. Cynics have often commented that one state's "terrorist" is another state's "freedom fighter".
    4. Academic Consensus Definition:
    "Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought" (Schmid, 1988).

    The standard dictionary definition for "terrorism" is the use of force or violence to accomplish political motives of change, often against an authority; or the state of fear from the use of terrorism. There is disagreement between the dictionaries — whether it be Webster or American Heritage or Oxford or Random House or WordNet — over the status of 'terrorism' as a criminal act. One issue is that conventional militaries and insurgent forces (the most common use for "terrorist") both use violence as a method of change and to create fear in the enemy, or otherwise.

    Terrorism is not of conventional war as we think of it, which defies the premise of a ’war on terror’, which is a political term, even more. By definition, there cannot be a war on terror; and if there is, you cannot fight an ideology. You can fight a specific group or movement of individuals, though using the term ’war’ in that case would still be a big stretch, misleading at least. Justification — not legitimacy — defines how we see terrorism, and how the word is used.

    Wikipedia's "Definition of terrorism" entry quotes some convenient texts:
    Few words are as politically or emotionally charged as terrorism. A 1988 study by the US Army...counted 109 definitions of terrorism that covered a total of 22 different definitional elements. Terrorism expert Walter Laqueur in 1999 also has counted over 100 definitions and concludes that the "only general characteristic generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence".
    The Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism as "a policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorising or condition of being terrorised."

    Webster's New International Dictionary defines terrorism as the "act of terrorizing, or state of being terrorized; specif.: a The system of the Reign of Terror. b A mode of governing, or of opposing government, by intimidation. c Any policy of intimidation."

    The definition of the term in the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics (2nd edition) begins: "Term with no agreement amongst government or academic analysts, but almost invariably used in a pejorative sense, most frequently to describe life-threatening actions perpetrated by politically motivated self-appointed sub-state groups."

    The American Heritage Dictionary defines terrorism as "The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons."

    The Online Etymology Dictionary refers to terrorism as the "systematic use of terror as a policy" and describes the word's origin in the specific sense of "government intimidation during the Reign of Terror in France".

    Random House via
    ter·ror·ism –noun
    1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
    2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
    3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
    [Origin: 1785–95; terror + -ism]

    Encyclopedia Britannica defines "terrorism" as:
    the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective. Terrorism has been practiced by political organizations with both rightist and leftist objectives, by nationalistic and religious groups, by revolutionaries, and even by state institutions such as armies, intelligence services, and police.

    Thursday, 22 March 2007

    Executive versus legislature

    A subcommittee on judicial affairs in the US House of Representatives authorized subpoenas for a myriad of senior Bush aides yesterday, including Karl 'The Architect' Rove and Harriet ('Nominated for Supreme Court but failed to even get a hearing because she is basically Bush's personal lawyer') Myers, regarding the Congressional probe into the politically-motivated firings of several US Attorneys at the Justice Department.

    Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been connected to this brewing scandal and one of far more serious — yet less covered — extent involving the FBI breaking the law (specifically provisions in the Patriot Act, as if that didn't give them enough power).

    Congress finally began flexing its muscle by issuing subpoenas for documents earlier this month. The evidence from the documents directly contradicted statements made by Gonzales and the White House, and linked Gonzales, Rove, and the attorney firings from a number of emails between Rove and Golzales.

    Politicians from both sides of the aisle have called for the attorney general's resignation. However, President George W. Bush has given Gonzales his steadfast support.

    This is a White House known for its secrets and opposition into investigation. It has stonewalled any questioning — by the press or Congress — on plenty of major issues, not least Iraq and the 'war on terror', and is continuing to do so with these latest events involving the Justice Department.

    Congress, with its yet-to-dazzle Democratic majority, has, however, been sticking it to the man lately. The man being the Bush administration and sticking it meaning politically threatening but still not exercising full oversight powers. Progress is being made, albeit sluggishly, on the evening of powers over Iraq policies between the White House and Congress. There are also signs of actual debate (gasp) of American policy in Iraq.

    What makes the attorney firings odd is that at least one was fired not because of his political views, but because of his failure to politicize his legal work, something lawyers are usually taught against.

    One must wonder: if Libby was the supposed fall-guy for Plamegate and FBI Director Mueller was for the FBI law-breaking, who will fall in the US Attorney scandal? Will it be Gonzales for political reasons, much like Rumsfeld left after the election? Or will it be a lower-level crony who will lose their job to gain props from the Bush administration?

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    Slavery and more

    Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. See here (official UN site) for more details.

    "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms." Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    It's been about 200 years since the abolition of slavery in Britain and the British Empire, and an odd altruistic sort of crusade against slavery by the British. It's also around two centuries since US President Thomas Jefferson signed an act banning the slave trade, though slavery continued for years to come.

    Of course, slavery and similar practices are still around today.

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    Wednesday, 21 March 2007

    A tale of two viewpoints

    Throughout this month, I will be posting excerpts of my lengthy paper "The War on Terror and the Fire Paradox", as mentioned in this post. Here is one such excerpt...

    From the White House press briefings to the Mujahideen spin machine, there’s one thing both sides have in common, besides exploiting their own people’s fears and insecurities and irrationality: propaganda.

    Jihad for the masses: Mujahideen
    The following is an article called "Fundamentalism" from a jihadist website of a group who call themselves Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. This Mujahideen group was active at its inception during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that spurred the Taliban, which the US meddled in, and in the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir. The groups advocates jihad and that Muslims do their duty and fight against the menace — whether it be Zionist or western satanic groups.

    We are under threat from the Fundamentalists!
    The Fundamentalists are a threat to the worldwide peace mission!
    We should unite in our efforts against [the] Fundamentalists!
    There is no existence of such a thing in Islam called Fundamentalism!
    If the wave of Fundamentalism is not stopped,
    nobody will be saved from becoming it’s next target.

    The word terror has been mentioned which is used today as a swear against Muslims. Therefore, those Muslims who have gained Islamic strength are branded as terrorists. What need is there for the Muslims to be ashamed of this swear? Allah (sw) has ordered the Muslims to terrorize their enemies, who are also the enemies of Allah (sw). Whosoever will fulfill this obligation will be classed as a terrorist. So to be a terrorist is a source of blessing and not shame. To cast terror upon the enemies of Allah (sw) is an act of worship and not an act of crime. Muslims should not be hesitant in fulfilling this obligation.

    In conclusion, Muslims are not being branded as Fundamentalists because of a major change, they are being branded because of returning back to the roots of their Religion and this title is a blessing for the Muslims.

    Political statement in the aftermath of terrorist attack
    The following is an excerpt from a statement by President George W. Bush following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania on the morning of 11 September 2001.

    Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes, or in their offices; secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers; moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.

    The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong.

    A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.

    America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

    See also "Why are we obsessed with terrorism?"

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    Monday, 19 March 2007

    Fighting over a (fictional) war movie

    Iran, among others, are quite peeved of the historical representation of the Persians in the Frank Miller graphic novel-turned-movie, 300 (which won at the box office again this past weekend).

    The hit American movie “300” has angered Iranians who say the Greeks-vs-Persians action flick insults their ancient culture and provokes animosity against Iran.

    “Hollywood declares war on Iranians,” blared a headline in Tuesday’s edition of the independent Ayende-No newspaper.
    Still, it touched a sensitive nerve. Javad Shamghadri, cultural adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the United States tries to “humiliate” Iran in order to reverse historical reality and “compensate for its wrongdoings in order to provoke American soldiers and warmongers” against Iran.

    The movie comes at a time of increased tensions between the United States and Iran over the Persian nation’s nuclear program and the Iraq war.

    But aside from politics, the film was seen as an attack on Persian history, a source of pride for Iranians across the political spectrum, including critics of the current Islamic regime.

    It's just a movie! Fiction, for heaven's sake. Is there any free speech left; or are we to let our entertainment outlets be bullied by fundamentalists or people who can only think in one mindset?

    Terrorism is the fear of violence. Many extremists fighting against the Muhammad cartoons or 300 are using violence to try to scare the newspapers or movie studios into not publishing or releasing what they have the right to release. It is their judgment that decides what is put out — not that of the government, the radicals, or any other people. I think they should exercise good judgment for the greater good (and thus their own), as should anyone, and should not be pressured into not releasing contented some deem offensive.

    It's just like when Catholics, among others, protested against the Da Vinci Code. Amazing waste of time and energy on both sides — the side protesting and the side (if there is one) trying to subdue and be submissive of the protesters.

    Religion, not least Christianity, is built on faith, not facts. If people thought the facts surronding Jesus Christ were contorted in a work of fiction, which the Da Vinci Code was, then they were overstepping the bounds from faith to fact. A classic rebuttal by Christians to sceptisizm from non-believers is that it takes faith to believe in Jesus Christ; faith and fact are entirely different concepts. Therefore, the protests against the Da Vinci Code — even if it was presented as fact (which it wasn’t) — lack merit. Just the fact that the movie, like 300, is fiction is enough to argue people are fighting against a demon that should pose no real threat to them other than contort the pop culture of them, which is tarnished more by their protesting, whether it be hunger strikes or shooting a newspaper editor.

    No doubt the choice of representation of the Persians in 300 was a poor choice by the film's makers indeed. There is obviously a political angle to framing the Persians as evil in every way and the Greeks as noble, like how the Bush administration views its own foreign policy ventures.

    As Slate's Dana Stevens puts it:
    If 300...had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war. Since it's a product of the post-ideological, post-Xbox 21st century, 300 will instead be talked about as a technical achievement, the next blip on the increasingly blurry line between movies and video games.
    The comic fanboys who make up 300's primary audience demographic aren't likely to get hung up on the movie's historical content, much less any parallels with present-day politics.

    See also "Bong hits 4 Jesus" student free speech case.

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