"Thus it is said that one who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements."
Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
War on Terrorism
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The Problem Presenting Itself Today
Nearly half a century ago, Raymond Aron made an observation that was as prophetic as it was poetic, “Strategic thought draws its inspiration each century, or rather at each moment of history, from the problems which events themselves pose.”
What are the problems presenting themselves to us today? Most obviously, there has been a spike in violent attacks. What do these attacks have in common? With few exceptions, they were all committed by Islamic State, or at least that’s what the media is telling us. No doubt, some of them were committed by IS. But to automatically assume that every violent attack is Islamic terrorism and that Islamic State is behind them all, is symptomatic of a much larger problem.
This approach is dangerous because it’s creating a society in which anyone can become an instant celebrity by going on a killing rampage. We regulate other activities that incite violence. The promotion of violence should be more closely regulated as well- as should the selection of violence that the media promotes.
However, the problem presenting itself today isn’t just sensational reporting and an utter lack of responsible feedback from politicians and terrorism scholars. The greater problem is the human tendency to divide reality into an “us vs. them” framework. The media is simply reflecting the assumptions that we all make, and those assumptions are grounded in the subjectivity of the way we view the world. This same subjectivity is blurring our understanding of Islamic extremism and terrorism.
First of all, we’re asking the wrong questions. Terrorism attempts to coerce political concessions. If there are no political concessions demanded, then our first assumption should not be terrorism. That’s comparable to the police filing every single missing person report as a kidnapping, whether there’s a ransom note or not.
Second, rather than assume that the majority of violent attacks are committed by Islamic extremists, we need to be realistic about the fact that many of these “terrorist attacks” are nothing more than random acts of violence carried out by copycats and other misguided souls who, for whatever reason, crave their moment in the spotlight.
Once we have sufficient reason to conclude that a particular incident was indeed a terror attack, we still need to ascertain who committed it and then we can begin to address why. Unfortunately, we’re in the habit of putting the cart before the horse. This is by no means new, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any particular religion or demographic group. Instead, it’s entirely political. It used to be that al Qaeda was behind everything, and before that it was the “communists.” Before that it was the “Jews.”