FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Terror and Empire

by Robin Blackburn

It often seems that the more spectacularly successful an act of terror is, the more counter-productive its consequences. This is especially the case when the terror is expressive rather than instrumental, inspired by religion and not politics. The actions undertaken by the activists that bin Laden has trained have been notable for a wanton disregard of human life and apparent obliviousness to context. When he has allied his networks with communities that are oppressed–whether Palestinians, Chechens, Bosnian Muslims or Kosovan Albanians–his terror tactics have often weakened and compromised them. But it would be wrong to conclude that terror is always ineffective. The cases cited had a front line character, where Islamic populations live commingled with those of other faiths or none. In states with an overwhelmingly Muslim population matters could well be different.

Nationalist movements have sometimes used terror to undeniable effect–the FLN in Algeria, Irgun in Israel. This was because they were linked to an over-arching political strategy, using terror to raise the cost of continuing occupation by the colonial power, and because there was a complex of social forces–summoned up by the national movement – which could take advantage of the confusion. The terror operations of Islamic jihad in mixed, secularised or ‘frontline’ zones lack this characteristic since they energise rather than disrupt their opponents, and since the community of believers is not a plausible social basis upon which to construct a new power. The terror actions of Hamas have divided rather than united Palestinians, leading to some Israeli ‘quiet toleration’ of the group in earlier days. Religious terror sets off reactions which, at least in many parts of the modern world, it cannot itself profit from. However in the more unstable and autocratic Islamic states themselves the terror tactics could work – even if most believers are thoroughly alienated by them. In these cases the implicit political project is that of creating a more virtuous and representative state, something that could well seem appealing in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, and possibly in countries like Egypt and Algeria as well.

These dangers could be much reduced by democratic progress in the Islamic world and the disabling of Al Qaeda, two objectives that could re-inforce one another. But if the US puts itself at the head of a coalition to smash bin Laden comprising Russia, its client states and its most pliant European allies, then this will cast him in the role of a new Saladin and perilously exacerbate dangers that are anyway quite acute. This doesn’t mean that the US should do nothing. Its huge influence over Saudi Arabia and Pakistan give it the opportunity to undo at last some of the damage of the past. If the Taliban’s sponsors now undertook to weaken bin Laden and Al Qaeda by withdrawing all financial, material and human support this would be not only positive but long overdue. But the authorities in Riyadh and Islamabad may well not feel strong enough to do so, or will comply with the policy in a half-hearted and ineffective way, allowing Al Qaeda to escape with most of its resources.

So at a moment when the US president has unprecedented opportunities for waging war his best policy would have been to act only indirectly, by turning off the money flows that have sustained the terror machine, and allow Afghanistan’s Muslim neighbours to take the lead. Bush instead opted to bomb, and to send US and British forces. This has been the easy bit. But some leaders and militants of Al Qaeda are likely to escape and regroup elsewhere, whether in Afghanistan’s mountain fastnesses or, via Pakistan, the wider Islamic world. Washington knows that even if the first phase of the operation is successful in military terms, and the Taliban driven out of the main Afghan towns, the war is not over and the terrorist threat barely diminished–and US success in Afghanistan could prepare the way for future setbacks elsewhere.

Chapter 5

Coming to Terms with the Revolution in the Islamic World

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 24, 2017
Paul Street
Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics
Daniel Read
Powder Keg: Manchester Terror Attack Could Lead to Yet Another Resurgence in Nationalist Hate
Robert Fisk
When Peace is a Commodity: Trump in the Middle East
Kenneth Surin
The UK’s Epochal Election
Jeff Berg
Lessons From a Modern Greek Tragedy
Steve Cooper
A Concrete Agenda for Progressives
Michael McKinley
Australia-as-Concierge: the Need for a Change of Occupation
William Hawes
Where Are Your Minds? An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU
Steve Early
“Corporate Free” Candidates Move Up
Fariborz Saremi
Presidential Elections in Iran and the Outcomes
Dan Bacher
The Dark Heart of California’s Water Politics
Alessandra Bajec
Never Ending Injustice for Pinar Selek
Rob Seimetz
Death By Demigod
Jesse Jackson
Venezuela Needs Helping Hand, Not a Hammer Blow 
Binoy Kampmark
Return to Realpolitik: Trump in Saudi Arabia
Vern Loomis
The NRA: the Dragon in Our Midst
May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail