Juan Cole (Informed Comment, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) has been scrambling to assemble available information on the two most prominet recent terror attacks in London and Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt. I've also skimmed through John Robb's essays (Global Guerrillas, 1, 2, 3). So here's my review.
I have to say that I am really glad I read those International Crisis Group articles last week. I especially recommend "Islamist Terrorism in the Sahel: Fact or Fiction?" (PDF; free registration required) for an introduction to the Tablighi Jamaat and its impact on the recruitment of jihadis. "The Networks of the London Bombing: Shehzad Tanweer and Jaish-e Muhammad" outlines the Kashmiri roots of London's Pakistani community; I was flabbergasted to read that 70% of the Pakistani-heritage population of the UK comes from Mirpur in Kashmir (via JC).
The evident second installment of Prof. Cole's analysis of the London perpetrators addresses several additional topics, viz., a political analysis of the Iraq War. I feel this essay merely iterates points he has made many times before: failure to stop Israeli seizures of land from the Palestinians, failure to resolve the Kashmiri dispute, failure to concentrate on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and the invasion of Iraq all have stimulated recruitment efforts on the part of al-Qaeda-inspired organizations.
I was, however, disappointed at Prof. Cole's failure to more beyond these by-now trivial observations. Yes, he is absolutely correct that these four items, plus intensified Western presence in Northern Africa (since 2002) have probably improved the recruitment efforts of factions that claim al-Qaeda as their ideologue. However, as the pattern of terrorism in Iraq illustrates, there is a huge divorce between an ideologically coherent response (a guerrilla war against collaborationist Arab states) and terrorism, in which the population of Arab states are themselves the targets of violent attacks in order to net some form of enhanced collaboration.
It is not surprising that there is a great pool of resentment in the Islamic world toward the USA in particular, and Western nations (and India) in general, for assaults on sovereignty; anyone who has read The Trench (Abdulrahman Munif) will learn in the first few chapters that Western interaction with the 3rd World is frequently humiliating and aggravating in ways that are not even discussed in most radical publications, let alone the New York Times or Washington Post. However, a response that has not emerged, until the end of the Cold War, has been massive terrorism endeavors directed against the West itself.
I had serious issues with Mahmood Mamdani's book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim; despite his command of nuanced concepts, Mamdani falls prey to a crude "Good Muslim-Bad USA" schematic, ignoring the arbitrary and silly characterization of nation-states as actors. Likewise, he is rather slutty about sources; practically anything will do, as long as it validates his premise that the USA is singly to blame for absolutely everything wrong that has ever happened in the world. However, on several matters, Mamdani has a compelling point: that many of the concepts and strategies of terrorism as a political tactic emerged from the Cold War (What Mamdani seems to overlook, in his haste to demonize the USA, is that these tactics were inherited entail from totalitarian states, such as the French Revolutionary Committee for Public Safety), and were pioneered by falangist regimes waging a pro-state insurgency (explained further here). In the fullness of time, these tactics were embraced by residues, international communities of war such as the "Afghani Arab" veterans of the Afghan war against Soviet occupation.
Without mentioning this, Prof. Cole falls into the technocratic argument that poverty and instability stimulates terrorism. I don't think he believes that, and I think he's tried to disabuse readers of this at various times, but unfortunately misses this particular opportunity.
Mr. Robb is a defense consultant whose website, Global Guerrillas treats terrorism as a type of technically-empowered guerrilla warfare. The technical empowerment consists of the ability of guerrillas to use superior tools to kill or disrupt, and the increasing importance of networks to the functioning of the global economy. According to Mr. Robb, the value to terrorists of being able to disrupt or embarrass nation-states is an unrecognized new asset that the global guerrilla can be expected to use in the future. In the case of follow-up bombings, he refers to a previous article he wrote on swarming, which I'll quote briefly here:
A good place to start an analysis of swarming is Sean Edwards' "Swarming on the Battlefield (PDF downloads). Here's his excellent definition of swarming: a primary maneuver that results in an attack from multiple directions (all points on the compass) by 5 or more (semi) autonomous units on a single target/unit.The attack on London is seen as an application of this new paradigm to the networks that connect the world. At this time, I'm trying to think of a way this premise can be falsified. Otherwise, so what?
It's easy to see the advantages of this type of maneuver:
- It cuts the enemy target off from supply and communications.
- It adversely impacts the moral of the target.
- It makes a coordinated defense extremely difficult (resource allocation is intensely difficult).
- It radically increases the potential of surprise.
The deadly attacks on Sharm al-Sheikh are, in Prof. Cole's opinion,
probably unrelated except at a high level with the attacks in London; the London attacks were tied to the Pakistani community, while the Sharm al-Sheikh attacks are Egyptian (see update below). I would gratuitously add that I think the Pakistani and Egyptian attacks claim al-Qaeda inspiration, but are in fact class struggle carried out in the name of Islam: the Sharm al-Sheikh attacks probably reflected anger at the "corruption" of Egyptian society via the tourist trade (with petit bourgeois classes serving foreigners), while the London attacks reflect a lumpenproletariat rage at the crowding of the bottom substrate of London's crowded labor market. Al-Qaeda is, of course, a junker movement.
UPDATED (Tuesday, 26 July): As of yesterday morning, the allegation that the Sharm al-Sheikh bombersd were members of an indigenous Egyptian group has lost favor (Juan Cole). Sunday night, when I composed this post, I was under the impression that there was a connection between the Taba Bombing and the Sharm al-Sheikh attacks. In point of fact, there is a lot of conflicting information: the Khaleej Times Online reports that the bodies of the suicide bombers have been found and one's identity has been conclusively established as an Egyptian national; it adds that there is controversy over this corpse was that of a bomber or a bystander. Naturally, a plethora of groups have claimed responsibility, while the governments of Egypt and Pakistan have issued statements denying Pakistani nationals were involved (IHT, Hindu, Dawn). However, the Egyptian police are seeking six Pakistanis (FT). The Egyptian authorities have denied they are seeking the men in connection to the bombing, but it looks like they are.
UPDATED (Tuesday, 2 August): "Europe Meets the New Face of Terrorism" (NYT): the perpetrators of terrorist actions are less likely now to be seasoned veterans of the insurgencies in Afghanistan, Kashmir, or elsewhere; increasingly they are recruited in Britain and indoctrinated there as well.
In the case of the London attacks of July 7 that left 56 people dead, including the four bombers, three of the attackers were ethnic Pakistanis born in Britain, the fourth a British citizen and convert to Islam born in Jamaica.I would suspect these organizations that perpetrate attacks are short-lived, perhaps even mission-specific; they are organized and funded by two different people, one an ideologue/cadre (i.e., someone who "educates" the recruits in how some oppression can be defeated by direct action, and guides them in that direct action; a cadre is a cell leader), the other a contact with a network for funding direction action with laundered money. The latter polices the former, and can potentially replace him if he is arrested or killed.
The strike that followed two weeks later, in which the four bombs did not explode, was carried out by an intriguing crew that the police say included a British resident born in Somalia, an Ethiopian who apparently posed as a Somali refugee to gain legal residency in Britain and a British citizen born in Eritrea who acquaintances say was radicalized in prison. The nationality and legal status of the fourth would-be bomber has not been disclosed.
What does this say about the relationship of perpetrators to social problems? A common liberal analysis of terrorism is that it is in direct response to social injustice; young people, harassed by the authorities and shunned by society, are more prone to join terrorist movements than those who are well-served by the state. This analysis has never been sustained by the facts; often, the biographical miseries of terrorists are entirely personal (Timothy McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef, Carlos the Jackal, and others seem to have adopted causes that made no sense, and suffered from character flaws, not class oppression). The interesting thing about the 9/11 attacks is that those attempting to explain the motivations of the perpetrators are usually attributing their own, entirely irrelevant, frustrations to "anybody"; for example, the passages I read from Why Do People Hate America? are directed at European readers and motives, not those of (say) South Asia or Africa. Moreover, the authors of these and other screeds do not waste their time wondering if sometimes hatred is motivated by invalid motives (it often is, you know), or if it really makes any sense to personify a country and hold its entire population culpable for anything that happens as a result of its existence. Finally, and this is important, it is altogether stupid and arbitrary to imagine that crimes are perpetrated in revenge for other crimes; Lynette Fromme didn't attempt to assassinate Gerald Ford because of Jack the Ripper's series of murders in Victorian London. The fact that both the alleged killer and Gerald Ford were men who spoke English, might be advanced as justification by, say, Valerie Jean Solanas; but it's not a good one.
Another NYT article ("Seething Unease Shaped British Bombers' Newfound Zeal") suggests that the NYT authors are either having a difficult time assimilating this information, or else, assume their readers are.
But the question asked since their identities were revealed after the bombings continues to resonate: what motivated men reared thousands of miles from the cradles of the Muslim world, without any direct experience of oppression themselves, to bomb fellow Britons, ushering in a new chapter of terrorism[?]Sorry, this is insipid. Old stone churches are not comparable to hooligans. Racial resentment, stimulated by a segmented and crowded labor market, might be; and a perception of smugness about their white neighbors' European civilization might also be vexing, but social conditions don't create terrorists: terror organizations do.
The young men here grew up brown-skinned in white Britain, in a blighted pocket of Leeds straddling their parents' traditional values and the working-class culture around them. [Urm, and a very yawning gap that must be!—JRM] They have been reared shoulder to shoulder with old stone churches and young hooligans, and face to face with attitudes toward family and morality different from those taught by their parents.
"They don't know whether they're Muslim or British or both," said Martin McDaid, a former antiterrorist operative who converted to Islam, taking the name Abdullah, and worked in the neighborhood.This sounds like the writers are trying very hard to understand why Muslims living in the UK "turn into terrorists." The poor dears can't help it.
They are alienated from their parents' rural South Asian culture, which they see as backward. Reared in an often racist milieu, they feel excluded from mainstream British society, which has so far not yielded to hyphenated immigrant identities as America has. They have come of age in an era marked by conflicts between Muslims and better armed powers - India, Serbia, Russia, Israel, America and Britain - and the rise of an ideology that sanctifies terrorist attacks against the West in response.
This is a variety of sympathy Muslims can live without. Americans occasionally turn into killers, and it's unconvincing to say it's because of social malaise (Nathan B Forrest knew who he was!). It urges readers to equate the customary vices of the underclass with terrorism, when , in fact, the suspects and identified perpetrators were not from among the underclass. Racial resentment can indeed motivate people to join terrorist movements, but the effect of Islam on these members of the Pakistani-born community in Leeds tends to demand a structured, directed life (as the article itself points out). The extreme disdain with which such people are trained to hold their host country, while stupid, is analogous to mystical Christian sects that claim this world is totally depraved. Violent action against any one target is pointless.
I have to level a parting shot at the contention that we US nationals somehow "do race relations" very well. The USA has special problems in this regard, and they are unusually difficult, but our society has handled them with a perversity and incompetence that is positively appalling.
The article was discussed favorably on NPR yesterday morning ("On the Media") so I thought I would read it. It is worth reading, and readers are likely to get a taste for the painful conundrums that shaped my world view. There are defects in the character of British and American societies as well as our respective economies, that are getting worse; and our way of life is perversely training the more prosperous among us to be less compassionate, less restrained, less self-governed, and less self-aware. However, the solution to these problems is most assuredly not "too much democracy."