Sunday, July 10, 2005


More doubts

In a comment to my post below, a reader suggests that the corollary to doubting war is also doubting peace. If anything I said gave the impression that I never doubt peace, let me dispel that idea immediately. I doubt peace all the time, and especially in the wake of violence like last week's bombings in London. The murder of innocents always leaves me riddled with doubts about any commitment to nonviolence of any kind. I find myself clutching at convictions that suddenly seem slippery, and I intended to convey the experience of spiraling from doubt to resolution and back to doubt in my post. Immediately after I had posted, in fact, I wished I had not, and the only thing that kept me from taking the post down was the knowledge that it had already been released into the wide world of RSS.

Timothy Burke has written an eloquent and powerful response to my post, and Ralph Luker has added some more powerful thoughts and links to the conversation. I'm still pondering all that has been said, including the things that I said, and because this discussion is so wide-ranging I won't pretend that this post is a satisfactory or sufficient response. But I'm thankful for the conversation.

The more I read Burke's post and some of the comments to my post below, the more I see how imprecise and misleading certain parts of my post were. For instance, a large part of Burke's response is devoted to establishing that violence is always an expression of human agency, and that no explanation of the "root causes" behind terrorist acts diminishes the personal responsibility of terrorists for their murders. I could not agree more. I agree that acts of violence are never forced or totally determined by a perpetrator's social environment. I do think, of course, that agency is constrained in significant ways by complex social and political structures, structures created in part by the acts of other agents. But I don't hold that terrorists are driven ineluctably toward violence in such a way that absolves them of guilt.

I think I caused unnecessary confusion by referring back to my post on the tsunami. My intention in that post was not to compare terrorism to the tsunami, or to imply that a terrorist is forced to commit violence in the same way that tidal waves are forced to move by the shifting of tectonic plates. I think such comparisons between natural processes and social relationships are almost always misleading, precisely because they do tend to efface human agency. Rather, in that post my intention was to compare the international responses to the tsunami with responses to terrorism, and to argue that the choice to respond violently to innocent deaths is also always a choice, an expression of human agency.

So, far from wishing to deny that murder is a deliberate act, for which the murderer alone is ultimately responsible, I agree that violence is always a deliberate act, no matter which party commits it. That is the limited sense in which I mean that there is no difference between our acts of violence and those of terrorists: both are choices, neither are necessary. We are responsible for our acts of violence as surely as terrorists are responsible for theirs.

* * *

A brief detour is in order here: Burke suggests that my particular doubts about war lead down the garden path to concluding that our antagonists have no agency, no capacity to make choices other than the ones they actually make. But I often find the reverse to be the case. Those who are most confident that we must make war with terrorists usually imply that we have no choice. We have no choice, the argument usually goes, because if we do not liquidate our enemies, they will liquidate us. We presume, in other words, that terrorists are sui generis as purveyors of violence. We could choose to spare them, but they are automatons who will continue to kill even if we refuse to kill in return. (Often lurking behind this view is the idea that religious belief represents the surrender of personal agency to some suprahuman force; religion is what makes them robotic and places them beyond the pale of instrumental reason, so that even if we modified our actions to the extent that absolutely any grievance they had would be totally irrational, they would continue to kill in the name of their god.)

The reasoning behind critiques of nonviolence or pacifism is often counterfactual: if we were to lay down our arms, they would not. A pacifist response to violence would thus lead to nothing but dead pacifists. In some cases, no doubt, that is, has been, and would be the case. There is a horrifying scene in the deuterocanonical Book of First Maccabees, in which a group of Jews fleeing Greek armies stationed in Jerusalem is massacred because they refuse to fight on the Sabbath.
The enemy quickly attacked them. But they did not answer them or hurl a stone at them or block up their hiding-places, for they said, ‘Let us all die in our innocence; heaven and earth testify for us that you are killing us unjustly.’ So they attacked them on the sabbath, and they died, with their wives and children and livestock, to the number of a thousand people.
There was a reason why that story was included by the authors of the Maccabees, who were essentially writing a glowing chronicle of those Maccabean revolutionaries who resolved instead to fight back, even on the sabbath. See, say the defenders of violence. You don't fight back, and your enemies massacre you.

The force of such evidence and such arguments is certainly hard to deny, and it is the primary reason why I also doubt peace. But I wonder at the fact that the same kinds of evidence never seem to tell as strongly against war. A thousand deaths, suffered by those who refuse to retaliate, is usually accepted by everyone as prima facie evidence against the rationality or virtue of nonviolence. But tens of thousands of deaths suffered in wars do not similarly discredit the logic of retaliation--or at least, do not discredit it enough to sway the burden of proof to the critic of nonviolence.

At this point, the defender of war might say that once violence is committed, more violence will occur either way, so we might as well fight back to reduce the number of deaths. In the Maccabeean story, the refugees who abstained from violence on the sabbath might have died to the number of a thousand, but if they had fought back, maybe they would have only suffered half that many deaths. That's the basic logic, it seems to me, behind many defenses of the decision to wage war: fewer deaths will occur if we fight an implacable foe than if we lay down our arms. But in order for that logic to hold absolutely, we really do have to assume that the foe is absolutely implacable--so implacable that no overtures we make toward peace, no decision we make to refuse to fight, not even a utopian campaign to shock and awe our enemies by completely destroying our weapons instead of deploying them, would alter their decision to fight. In the end, it seems to me that the logic of war requires a more fundamental denial of the enemy's agency than the logic of nonviolence. It even ultimately results in the denial of our own agency and responsibility. We cannot choose other than to fight, because they will not choose other than to fight. War therefore is not chosen: it just is.

* * *

But to get back to Burke's post: I certainly do not want to deny the agency of terrorists, because neither do I want to deny our agency. They choose to attack us; we choose our response. They alone are responsible for their acts; we alone are responsible for our acts. How, then, should we act in response to their acts?

That's the question, and one possible answer is the one that President Bush gave from the G8 conference: when terrorism continues, the "war on terrorism" continues. My post was an expression of doubt that a war--systematic violence that by definition includes a willingness to kill--is the proper response to terrorism.

Burke's post attempts to assuage my doubts in two ways:

First, he argues that at some point violence--a departure from the rules of civility--is required because, to borrow his metaphor, someone refuses to play by the rules of the game of civil society, or even refuses to acknowledge that the game exists. When terrorists throw the game board across the room, to borrow Burke's metaphor again, the game of civility is suspended. The pieces are scattered on the floor, the rules are not in force, and we are left in a position where the only way to right the board and get back into the game is to subdue the malcontent by force. If I understand the game metaphor, it is a version of the metaphor of a social contract. Both imagine civilized society as something to which different parties mutually consent. One of the rules of the game--or stipulations of the contract--is that parties will not do sociopathic things like detonate bombs in a London subway tunnel. When someone does do that, Burke suggests, they have in some sense alienated themselves from civilized society, "seceded" from "modernity," and thus forfeited whatever right they have to appeal to the rules when we detonate a bomb in their Afghan cave.

This metaphor of civilization as a consensual social agreement obviously has a great deal to recommend it, and because it does, it is worth being very precise about when the game has been thrown across the room, when we've gone off the map, when the contract is null and void, when the rules are no longer in force. But it's not clear to me from Burke's post where that bright line is--the line where we have crossed from a civilized state of society into a state of war.

For instance, is it simply the murder of innocents that means the rules of the game are waived? Does any act of murder constitute a forfeiture of a person's right not to be killed? If you believe in capital punishment, you believe that it does, but even in that case, you don't believe all the rules are suspended. You probably believe, for instance, that even a murderer deserves due process before being executed.

But a rationale for war has to accept that even those rules are temporarily waived. Burke, for instance, says that while military action is not the only or even the primary way to prosecute the war on terrorism, a successful missile strike on Osama bin Laden's hideout would be an acceptable--indeed, desirable--outcome of such a war. Burke therefore seems to imply that there must be something about terrorism that is fundamentally different about "ordinary" acts of violence or murder: those ordinary acts of murder break the rules of civilization's game, whereas terrorism constitutes a failure to even acknowledge the game, making it acceptable--indeed, desirable if necessary--to kill a terrorist even without due process.

But what is it about terrorism that makes it so extraordinary as an act of murder? "The consequence of [terrorists'] actions," Burke says, "is a non-consensual, non-democratic constraint on the freedom of individuals to do what they like, a deprivation of their rights." But isn't any act of murder that? Burke says that the terrorists who committed the recent subway bombings have probably "been living in London for some time, breathing its air, seeing its people. Whatever the first steps they took on the path to setting those bombs, the path ends at war with freedom itself, in consciousness of innocence of their victims." Is that true of every murderer in London? Is every murder an act of war with freedom itself, that therefore frees us from the ordinary rules of civility that require us not to kill? (Perhaps Burke would place stress on the idea that terrorists kill "in consciousness of innocence of their victims," but for all we know about terrorists, I doubt we can speculate with any confidence about their internal states of consciousness regarding the innocence of their victims.)

I guess what I'm coming around to is this crucial paragraph in Burke's post:
To play a game, both parties consent to play by the rules. Yes, sometimes one party cheats, but there is a big difference between the kind of cheating that preserves the game’s essential terms and the kind of systematic contempt for the game that ultimately destroys it--or the spoiler who throws the board across the room when they’re going to lose. If one party sits down at the table to play, and obeys the rules, and the other person won’t even acknowledge the game at all, then there are no constraints on either player. There is no game.
I'm just not clear what the difference is between the cheater and the spoiler, or how we could define this with precision.

What I'm about to say may open up a bigger can of worms than saying that I have doubts about war. But I might as well say that I also have doubts about a utilitarian vision of society as a contract or consensual game. The problem with such metaphors is that they don't give us a good answer for how to preserve civility if the fictive "consent" they imagine is withdrawn. At the very moment when we are in danger of running off the map--the moment when we most need a map to avoid getting lost--the map fails us. We walk around with what we think are stable ideas of where the edge of the map is and where it is not--school shooting: punishable by life imprisonment, serial killer: punishable by death with due process, terrorist attack: war--but on closer inspection, any definition of what makes terrorism a total withdrawal of consent seems to make anyone who commits a "non-consensual, non-democratic constraint on the freedom of individuals" seem like a spoiler too.

There are virtues, therefore, to a vision of civility as a kind of assent to certain rules, rather than a kind of consent, because on such a view the rules continue to guide us even when not everyone consents to them. Suppose one rule of civilization to which a civilized person must assent is that it is always wrong to kill another human being. In that case we would have no problem figuring out where to draw the line, no problem finding the edge of the map where we no longer have rules to guide us. The rule is simply and finally that we do not kill, no matter what is done to us. On this view of society, there would be no distinction between an "us" and a "them" that is relevant to the rule.

Burke says he sees no reason why forswearing violence should be a categorical imperative. He wants a world where there is no more Al-Qaeda (so do I), and he argues that one way to get to that world would be (among other things) to kill Osama bin Laden and some of his lieutenants. This is the second point at which Burke tries to assuage my doubts about war: it is an expedient to advance the Al-Qaeda-less future.

This comes close, in my mind, to saying that the end justifies the means: if we can get back to the game more quickly by exterminating spoilers, then we should. Burke doesn't say that, of course, and he offers a much more subtle account of the limited role of violence in our conflict with terrorists. But I worry that any argument in favor of violence--however limited--ultimately reduces to the argument that the end justifies the means. Moreover (and this is why it's dangerous to say that the end justifies the means) we don't even know that the means of violence will secure the end of a world without violence. A utilitarian rationale for war requires making a bet that war will produce peace, but thus far in the world's history, the house has won that bet every single time. So why do we keep going back to the same dealer's table?

Ralph Luker's post points to Randolph Bourne's "War is the Health of the State.". That essay was published posthumously after it was found wadded up in Bourne's trash bin, and frankly, I've been tempted to treat this post the same way. But if war is the health of the state, posting is the health of the blog. So I'll post despite my better judgment and ask for your further thoughts. I really am listening.

Collective Improvisation:
Great stuff. To stay focused, I'll say this first: the game being ignored here has to do with states, law, citizenship, and it's being ignored in such a way that it makes the limited use of military power a productive complement to a conflict of ideas, aspirations, and so on.

What is it, after all, about the prospect of bombing Osama bin Laden's headquarters, should we locate it, that is any different from apprehending a murderer? It is that in this case, we do not follow our own rules of criminal justice, of due process. I suppose you could stretch the analogy of a policeman shooting back at an armed criminal, an act of self-defense, but I think that muddies rather than clarifies the situation. I think we need to be clear: that particular use of military power, and uses like it, do not have analogies to criminal justice. They are something different: the use of violence to deliberately kill enemies and deliberately impede their military capacity to make war.

Why? Because al-Qaeda and similar organizations are making use of the architecture of national sovereignty and the interstate relation to carry out targeted violence against the citizens of particular nations.

A murderer still operates within the society whom he violates, and is still subject to its laws. He's still in the game, and subject to its rules. The sanctioned form of violence that the state uses in its criminal justice system--apprehension, trial and incarceration of criminals whose criminality is defined by law--is completely available to the society.

It is not available with non-state organizations which commit murder that has a sustained ideology and objective behind it (whatever that is: I think we're all still in some uncertainty on that point), organizations which use states as a maquis within which they can hide. I think that's an attack on the game of civil society and democratic liberty that's entirely different from an "ordinary" act of murder, and that it's a mistake to regard the two as the same.


One other thought on the relationship between war and peace. If we do not know that the means of violence will secure the end of peace, then we also do not know that the means of peace will, either. I say this both because as a historian I'm generically skeptical about all claims, including my own, that we can reasonably know the end which our actions in the present will secure, but also specifically in this case because your skepticism about violence must extend to peace.

There is only one case I can think of in which peace secured peace, and it has been coming up a lot in these sorts of discussions: mid-20th Century uses of Gandhian nonviolence in South Asia and the United States. Many point out for one that this sort of nonviolence was "aggressive", which is important. But that's a relatively small matter. More important and often uncredited by the devotees of Gandhi and King is the nature of the state regimes that they opposed, that these were regimes which were bound in all sorts of ways to the game of modern liberal democracy. They might have denied that at points, broken the rules of their game, but they were capable of being shamed and they were bound by constraint. Moreover, the users of nonviolence in this case had a very public, very clear objective, a short-term and long-term end condition that would constitute peace.

In the case of al-Qaeda I see nothing that is analagous. Indeed, all the ways in which Islam intellectually and politically could serve as a limitation--for example, the Qu'ran's prohibition against suicide--appear to exert no force. On the other side of things, what would represent peace with al-Qaeda? If you concede my point that there can be no process of actual, physical negotiation or settlement, peace would only be the absence of terrorist attacks.

More to the point, if Gandhian nonviolence is a case of resolute peace producing peace, I think I'd be entitled to claim World War II as a case in which the bet against the house was won, where aggression was met with aggression and that counterfactually, had it not been met with aggression, the "peace" which would have resulted would have not been worthy of the name. This goes back to my unease about whether peace per se is a goal: peace under Nazi or Stalinist hegemony is not peace worth having, even if it were the absence of conflict.

We could trade off from there a number of examples. I could throw up the American Revolution as a use of violence which was a necessary first condition of something productive; you could throw up the French Revolution as an example of the use of violence which was the utter ruination of the best aspirations of that revolution. And about the here and now, we definitely agree about Iraq, if perhaps for different reasons: for me, it is not so much that it is the use of military violence at all as it is the wrong use, the profoundly wrong use. As Tallyrand said, "it is not just a crime, it is a mistake".

To some extent, this is an argument about modern states, modern laws, modern personhood: whether we are talking violence or peace, once you get back before 1750 or so, I think all the terms of the discussion become perpendicular to the practices of violence and peace in societies around the world.  

Posted by Timothy Burke

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/11/2005 08:38:00 AM : Permalink  


Thanks for your comment and for your tolerance for my doubts. As I said in the post, I really appreciate this conversation and feel honored by your interest in it.

If I understand the first part of your comment correctly, what distinguishes terrorism from other acts of murder is that "it has a sustained ideology and objective behind it" and that it uses "the architecture of national sovereignty and the interstate relation to carry out targeted violence against the citizens of particular nations." These distinguishing markers make it necessary to suspend the rules of criminal justice we would normally abide by in dealing with murderers.

But I still don't see the first distinguishing marker as unique to terrorism. The Redemption-era KKK had a "sustained ideology and objective" behind its terrorizing and murderous crimes, but I presume you think those acts should still have been prosecuted under the laws of criminal justice. Organized mafia crimes are systematic and potentially ideological, as are the activities of right-wing militia groups. So I still think there's some slippage here that makes it hard to draw a bright line around terrorism as an act of organized violence that uniquely suspends the rules of the game.

I also think that as long as we're still uncertain about the precise objective(s) behind terrorism, we cannot say certainly that the ideology behind is "sustained" or even shared by all terrorists. If some terrorists see their violence as strategic attempts to force policy changes by western democracies, then that's significant, because it undermines the logic that says they will not stop killing if we alter our posture towards them. Moreover, the procedural rules of criminal justice are valuable precisely because motives for crime are often murky and not necessarily modular: we recognize, for instance, that even though the prison guards in the Abu Graib scandal committed the same crime, they might have done so for different reasons--reasons that have bearing on their culpability in the eyes of the law. But viewing the war on terrorism as a deliberate attempt to kill enemies requires that we presume all terrorists do have the same sustained motives, a position that (as I suggested) not only takes a small view of their individual agency (since they are presumed to be under the sway of a static and impregnable ideology) but also flattens their individuality. War always does that: every German is Hitler, every Southerner is Jeff Davis, every Russian is Stalin, every terrorist is bin Laden.

Your second reason for distinguishing terrorism from other acts of murder has to do with the way that terrorist organizations use nation-states as shields, hiding behind host nations. I'll have to think about this more, but I'm not sure how the fact that terrorists cross national borders to commit murders makes them more culpable than if they commited murders within the borders of their own nation-states. A question I would pose is this: Is a Chinese human rights activist who seeks asylum in the United States attacking the game of civil society? If not, isn't it because the refugee is not a murderer? And doesn't that show that it's still really the act of murder itself that constitutes an attack on the game, not the use of national architecture to launch that attack?

My point thus far is that I still think your argument is in some sense as "uncontainable" as mine. Even if you view civil society as a set of consensual or contractual relationships, I find it difficult to see what constitutes such an egregious crime against that contract that the entire fiction of the game crumbles, freeing us from our own rules of civility. And as I suggested at the end of my post, I think this is a weakness in a view of civility as define dby contractual relationships: it leaves us without guidance precisely at the moment when we need it most, which is when the contract has been breached.

A related problem is that you seem to see "consent" to the rules of the game as amounting, finally, to nothing more than the accidental fact that one lives in a particular place. Your argument about why Al-Qaeda is uniquely insidious seems to suggest that so long as Afghan terrorists (say) confine themselves to killing and terrorizing Afghans, they have not broken the rules of the game in such a way that justifies us in targeting them with military action.

Re: the second half of your comment.

As Ralph has suggested over at Cliopatria, I think WW2 can be flipped rhetorically, as long as we're using it as a counterexample in a highly abstracted debate about war and peace. You see it is a case where we won the bet against the house; I see it as evidence that the architects of World War 1 lost their bet. Moreover, if you see nothing analogous between Al-Qaeda and modern liberal states, then surely the analogy also breaks down if we compare Al-Qaeda to modern totalitarian states. (I think we both agree that the administration's approach to Iraq fundamentally confused terrorism with totalitarianism, by (for instance) casting Saddam as Hitler or framing the reconstruction as similar to the reconstruction of Japan.)

I think your point about Gandhi and King operating within democratic states is a strong one, but I've tried to be careful about saying that my primary doubts about war do not stem from a strong belief that nonviolence would always work as well to achieve certain objectives. Rather, as I said towards the end of the post, I also have doubts about a moral calculus that is resolutely pragmatic and utilitarian. When I make arguments to the effect that nonviolence might  work, I don't intend those arguments to be decisive.

If a nonviolent approach to dealing with Al-Qaeda were to work, I admit that it would almost certainly result in the deaths of innocents in the meantime. But I think we're more likely to make people like Al-Qaeda extinct in a future world by extinguishing violence now than by exterminating a particular set of people who will only live temporarily anyway. The pacifist has to accept the possibility that the violence of the enemy will sometimes succeed in taking its terrible course, but of course, the non-pacifist accepts this possibility too, and further accepts that we ourselves will produce "collateral damage." Violently dealing with Al-Qaeda, though, makes me think that it will only become easier for Al-Qaeda to recruit people to fight for their objectives, just as their violent attacks on us make it easier to recruit people to fight for our objectives. Perhaps--not immediately, but eventually--a creative, non-violent approach to terrorism would succeed: not by shaming Al-Qaeda's current leaders to relent, but by convincing their putative successors to relinquish their desire to kill us and by reducing their ability to instil the same hatred in others. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/11/2005 08:52:00 PM : Permalink  

A thousand deaths, suffered by those who refuse to retaliate, is usually accepted by everyone as prima facie evidence against the rationality or virtue of nonviolence. But tens of thousands of deaths suffered in wars do not similarly discredit the logic of retaliation--or at least, do not discredit it enough to sway the burden of proof to the critic of nonviolence.

The quantitative analysis you use here has a fatal flaw: the greatest number of deaths in history have been inflicted (in three tranches) upon those who did not fight back. These are: Mao's state killings; Stalin's Terror, in purges, famine and deportations; and of course Hitler, lagging some way behind. Even a conservative estimate would yield somewhere north of 35 million deaths total here, from the non-combat deaths involved.

You say that critiques of nonviolence are based around counterfactual arguments. Well, these  killings represent the true counterfactual argument here: how many lives might have been saved had people had the chance or the ability or inclination to fight back, hard and soon? 

Posted by Endie

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 06:50:00 AM : Permalink  


I think there is a fundamental difference between people in a position of absolute weakness who can't  fight, and people in a position of disproportionate power (like the United States presently) who choose not to fight. In the examples you give, I think it would stretch the meaning of the word to say that those who were killed chose nonviolence when they could have chosen violence.

Your argument seems to imply otherwise, that the victims of Hitler, Mao and Stalin lacked the "inclination" to fight, not just the ability, and that therefore they serve as a warning to those who don't fight back.

On the other hand, Hitler, Mao and Stalin chose to inflict those deaths, on the basis of some perverted calculation that they were deserved, so I think they instead serve as a warning to those in positions of power who choose to assault the weak.

At any rate, my point here was not primarily to make a quantitative comparison. I just wanted to suggest that the advocates of nonviolence are usually held to higher standards of evidence than advocates of war. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 07:39:00 AM : Permalink  


I'd certainly not criticise the victims of the three terrors for "lacking the inclination": indeed, I hummed and hawed about whether to delete that third element of the list for some time. But there were  those, in each case, with ability and the chance to oppose, but who did not (particularly in the case of the German officer corps). I wouldn't have any illusions about my own bravery in that situation, though, so the comment was not intended as at all perjorative.

But I think the parallel sticks better than you suggest. Were we to destroy our means of projecting force, and even of fighting defensively, we would be in just the situation of defenseless victims that you describe.

This leads me to another part of your response to Timothy that I had trouble with (oh, to have blockquote html available!):

If some terrorists see their violence as strategic attempts to force policy changes by western democracies, then that's significant, because it undermines the logic that says they will not stop killing if we alter our posture towards them.

Well yes. I agree that if we grant the Wahabbist terrorists what they want then they will stop blowing us up (though beating to death with staves for adultery and stoning for homosexuality will be at an all time high).

Of course, what you are postulating is demonstrating the fallibility of your own theorem: they would have proved that violence, not pacifism, is the best means to success. Al'Qaeda seeks a Caliphate. So long as they are peaceful, they will not get it. But if they bomb us, and our response is that we do as you suggest and "alter our posture" in the only way they will be ultimately satisfied with (a minimum position of a Caliphate ruling all of Islam, plus the Balkans and Spain), then violence will have demonstrated its worth. And other terrorist organisations will then be beating a path to our undefended door.

In fact, if everyone else is sworn to pacifism, then I think I will set up my own terrorist organisation, demanding secession and a lot of money for me. Low risk, high gain. 

Posted by Endie

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 09:17:00 AM : Permalink  

Here's a story that complicates both of our views , I think.  

Posted by Timothy Burke

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 07:36:00 PM : Permalink  

Since that link isn't working, my guess is that you meant to link to the story linked from this post .

Posted by eb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/13/2005 01:00:00 AM : Permalink  

Whoops! Yup, sorry about that.

Posted by Timothy Burke

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/13/2005 07:39:00 AM : Permalink  


I think you misunderstand: by "alter our posture towards them" I don't mean "agree with them" or even "do nothing to try to stop them." What I'm doubting is that war is justified; I have no doubts that what many terrorists want is unjustified. Not all nonviolence is equivalent to appeasement.

I know you speak in jest when you say that if everyone were a pacifist, you would be a terrorist because the benefits would outweight the costs. But let me use this opportunity to again point out that I've been questioning the moral value of just such cost-benefit analyses when it comes to the use of violence.


That is indeed a complicating--not to mention horrifying--story. I'm not sure what conclusion you mean me to draw from it ...

It seems to me like a case where a terrible murder was justly prosecuted and punished. The fact that Van Gogh's killer expressed no remorse doesn't persuade me that his motives are the same as all terrorists; indeed, I'm not sure whether we can even meaningfully speak of him as a terrorist. (But maybe that's part of the problem I'm trying to get at: when do you think a murderer is not a terrorist, and thus entitled to the kind of due process that Van Gogh's killer received? Clearly this was a murderer who viewed his crime as a blow against the "freedom" for which Van Gogh was an advocate, and who thought that despite having lived in Dutch society for some time. As I see it, he fits your description of what makes terrorists unique "spoilers" of the game.)

Sorry for the brief responses to both of your comments. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/14/2005 09:24:00 AM : Permalink  


Of course, you are right: not all nonviolence is appeasement. But what nonviolent route would you suggest might work in the face of this particular, Wahhabist brand of terror? That's not rhetorical or a debating point: I am genuinely intrigued as to what you think might work (beyond abandoning the secularist experiment in Turkey, eliminating Israel, and handing over once more those unlucky Poles of the middle east, Lebanon). 

Posted by Endie

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/18/2005 05:13:00 AM : Permalink  

Endie, I don't know for sure what would work. I'm not trying to be coy; there's a reason why I've been framing my posts as doubts about war, because I'm aware that I don't have an alternative suggestion whose effects would be indubitable.

I have suggested, though, that I think the question of what "works" is not the only relevant ethical question here. In fact, when it comes to debating the ethics of war, it may be the most misleading question of all. (See this recent post by John Quiggin at Crooked Timber  for a much more eloquent elaboration of this point than I have given here.)

I've also suggested that pragmatic responses to the threat of terrorism ought to focus more on weakening long-term support for terrorists among the populations that they target for recruitment. (See these recent posts at Chapati Mystery and TPM Cafe.)

Finally, I'm not certain that we should make terrorism one-dimensional by reducing all acts of terror to what you call "Wahhabist" ideology. Coming up with responses to terrorism that are more multi-dimensional than war will require being open to the possibility that not all support for terrorists or motivations for terror acts are ineluctably entailed by a particular "evil ideology."

I also think that many of the non-military tactics that have already been used against terrorists, like freezing assets, do not require the threat of war to be effective, and might be more effective if pursued with the kind of energy and resource commitments that are devoted to military options.

But I offer these thoughts only to honor your request for them; I don't claim to have a clear idea about what to do, as I've repeatedly said both in my posts and my comments. I'm grateful for your comments, but I feel like I've come close to exhausting what I can say on this thread without giving it more time and reflection. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/19/2005 06:18:00 PM : Permalink  

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