Where Do Little Terrorists Come From #2 - Power?

Terrorism: politics by other means.

The first article in this series attempted once again to put to rest the false notion that terrorism is caused by poverty.  Unfortunately, the mere fact that terrorists all over the world have considerably more education and more wealth than the average citizen of their societies won't stop liberals who want to make themselves feel good by claiming that spending our money fighting poverty will also fight terrorism.

Terrorism, like so many other human activities, is a means of gaining power, wealth, or both.  It's well known that liberals can persuade themselves not to worry about harmful consequences of their actions - many more people have died because of the banning of DDT than from terrorism.  This is also true of businessmen - many more people have died from tobacco-related illnesses than from terrorism.

There should be no difficulty in accepting terrorism as a means of self-aggrandizement provided that it can be shown that in certain circumstances, terrorism is a plausible means to achieve power and/or wealth.

Terrorism Worked in Israel

The British government had a mandate to administer Palestine from 1920 until they gave it up in 1948.  On July 22, 1946, the Irgun, a militant Zionist organization led by Menachem Begin, a future Prime Minister of Israel, planted a bomb in the basement of the King David Hotel.  The explosion killed 91 people and has been cited as a major reason why the British ultimately decided that ruling Palestine was not worth the cost.

After they left, the Zionists had to fight a war against the Palestinians who also claimed the territory, but they ended up in control.

Terrorism played a major part in helping Menachem Begin and his associates take power in Israel.  Terrorism worked splendidly for Menachem Begin, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and their generation.

White Supremacist Terror Failed in the United States

The United States has a number of white supremacist groups who believe that white citizens are being abused by members of minority groups. They are convinced that the only way to protect the white race is the violent overthrow of the United State government which has been hopelessly infiltrated by non-white groups.

David Lane, one of the founders of the White Supremacist movement, stated their goal: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."

The White Supremacists used armed robbery to raise money for the cause and engage in bombings and other terrorist acts in an attempt to wake up the "Sheeple," their term for people who do not recognize the conspiracy to eliminate the white race and were like "sheep to the slaughter."

Their groups have been infiltrated by law enforcement officials and most of the active members have been convicted and jailed.

Their behavior during their trials revealed some of the thinking behind their acts of terrorism - they claimed to be soldiers in a race war.  To them, their acts of violence were necessary acts of war, not criminal acts.

The government, in contrast, worked hard to convince everyone, especially the jury, that these people were common criminals.  Being branded as criminals in the popular mind always destroys a terrorist's credibility.

Terrorism Failed in Ireland

Difficulties between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants go back to the landing of Protestant King William of Orange (William III) of England at Carrickfergus, and his defeat of the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, more than 300 years ago.  The final Catholic surrender came at Limerick in 1691.  Protestant forces have ruled in Ireland ever since, much to the dissatisfaction of the Catholics.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood was founded in 1858 to redress Catholic grievances, and down through the years, they committed acts of terrorism too numerous to mention.  Ireland was eventually split between a largely Catholic south that became independent of England and a mostly Protestant north which was and is still under English control.

In 1951, the Irish Republican Army began a campaign of terrorism in the North.  They tried to kill enough Protestants to make them angry enough to take revenge on Catholics.  Protestant violence against the Catholic minority would force Catholics to rely on the IRA for protection, leading to increased power and influence for the IRA leadership.  IRA leaders described their goals in somewhat loftier terms, of course.

Disorder increased to the point that the British sent troops to Northern Ireland in 1969.  Various riots, marches, and killings ensued.

The turning point was a hunger strike by IRA members who were incarcerated in a prison called The Maze.  Instead of convicting IRA members in open court as the US authorities had done with the White Supremacists, the British "interned" suspects, which put them more or less in the category of prisoners of war.

In 1981, the prison administration changed the rules so that these prisoners were now treated as common criminals.  They had to wear prison uniforms instead of their own clothing, for example.

The IRA internees went on a hunger strike during which 10 of them died because they knew that being criminalized would be fatal to their cause.  There was great sympathy for the strikers, and one of them was elected to Parliament just before he died, but the point was made that IRA members were criminals, not heroic patriots.

Indeed, when an IRA member later stabbed Robert McCartney, a Catholic, to death in a bar fight in 2005, the public finally turned against the IRA. The IRA leadership offered to kill the perpetrator themselves to atone for his crime, but they could not testify against him without undermining their mutual oath of silence on which their group solidarity was based.

Being revealed as criminals for all the world to see, the IRA withered away.  Its leaders now must strive for power by winning elections.

Terrorism Worked in Algeria

Algeria was once a French province which elected members of the French parliament.  Algerians were legal citizens of France.  Guerrilla warfare against the French began in 1954 and brought increasing violence until the French withdrew from Algeria in 1961.

Like the British, the French sent the military to restore order.  The movie The Battle of Algiers, which was based on a book written by one of the victorious terrorists, has the French military commander say:

We are soldiers and our only duty is to win.  Therefore, to be precise, I would now like to ask you a question: Should France remain in Algeria?  If the answer is 'Yes,' then you must accept all the necessary consequences. [emphasis added]

The film shows how the French efforts to protect the Catholic Algerians from the Islamic residents of the Arab Quarter infuriated the Arabs and helped the guerrillas recruit.  It also shows torture by all parties concerned, women planting explosives, the killing of innocents to provoke a military reaction to help recruiting efforts, and everything else we've read about in the news from Iraq.

In the end, the French people were unwilling to accept "all the necessary consequences" and the French withdrew.  Unfortunately for the Algerians, the guerrilla movement had split into several factions who have been fighting each other for power ever since.  Unfortunately for the French, many Muslim citizens of France left Algeria and settled in France where their integration into French society has not proceeded particularly smoothly.

Some Principles

Terrorism, like many other human activities, is about someone gaining power at someone else's expense.  Terrorism is inherently risky - we've reported how Barack Obama's friend William Ayers, a member of the American terrorist group Weather Underground, lost his girlfriend and several colleagues in an accidental bomb explosion; many members of the White Supremacist movement ended up in jail.  Thus, intelligent, motivated people don't tend to choose terrorism as a career path when other means of achieving their goals are available.

Terrorism is an act of weakness, not an act of strength.  It's what you do when nothing else will work for you.

The goal of the sort of terrorism we've discussed here is to cause the opposition to take violent action against people who ought to share your ambitions but who are so apathetic that they would rather live out their lives peacefully instead of joining your righteous cause.  If you can get your enemy to oppress your potential allies enough, however, you may be able to recruit enough terrorists to persuade the enemy that ruling your territory isn't worth the cost.

In effect, it's a form of social jujitsu that uses your enemy's own overwhelming military strength against his ability to govern.  That's what happened to British rule in Palestine and to French rule in Algeria.

The next article in this series defines terrorism in some detail and gives more examples to justify the definition; then we'll take another look at the Middle East.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
The Jews fought so hard for Israel because it was THEIR land originally. They had to before the Roman empire and faught to get it back. There is a valid argument to be made that by the time the 20th century rolled around the original Jews were no longer homogenous and were too mixed with other European cultures/races to have any right to the land. But they did not resort to terrorism simply to take over "some" land. They have a legitimate right to it as the original inhabitants, pre-Rome.
June 18, 2008 3:38 PM
You're throwing a lot of examples together as if they equate. They do not. The underlying rights of a particular group - be they human rights or sovereign, national rights - make up a great deal of the difference between justified revolution and criminal terrorism. I would hope that in the next part of your "series" you spend some time covering the differences between the two. To not do so in great detail is to justify what Al Queda does. Or, on the flip side, to criminalize what our founding fathers did. (I assume that neither of those is your intent)
June 19, 2008 10:21 AM
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