Monday, March 15, 2004
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit
I don't know if terrorists are themselves insane, but I do know that their attacks create a kind of madness. The world was crazy enough before; now it's certifiable.
One of the things that made those attacks tragic was the utter impossibility that the grievances which spurred them would be furthered in any way. Could Mohammad Atta really have thought that flying a plane into the World Trade Center would make the United States less likely to throw its weight around in the Muslim world? If he did, it was one of the greatest miscalculations in history.
There can be no doubt that there will be other terrorist strikes on the United States. And you can be sure that when they come our gorge will rise and we will again be driven towards berserk attacks and questionable policies.
So it seems especially important now, in this moment of relative calm, to ask what can be done about the roots of terrorism. Some on the right may be content to assume that terrorists are just crazy, that they have no legitimate grievances. I'm not so sure. But even lefties might be reluctant to, so to speak, reward terrorists by addressing their concerns. Consider:
Evidence has also been piling up that it really was al-Qaeda behind the bombings, not ETA. So another possibility is that the voters (or at least some of them) were upset that Aznar's support for the Iraq war was responsible for al-Qaeda targeting Spain, which seems to be the theme of this Washington Post story. This would be a considerable victory for al-Qaeda and would reflect very poorly indeed on the Spanish electorate. It also doesn't smell right to me. [calpundit]
The worry here is that:
The goal of terrorism is to affect public opinion and to scare people into not opposing the terrorists' aims. If (if!) the Spanish electorate was punishing Aznar solely because they perceived his actions as being anti-terrorist enough to provoke an al-Qaeda attack, the terrorists have accomplished their goal: the Spanish public has shown that if they are attacked they will vote against a politician who strongly opposed the terrorists. [calpundit]
If you believe that some terrorists are sometimes responding to real grievances, then there is a serious dilemma here. The problem in those cases is that the terrorist is trying to get you to do something you ought to do anyway, but is using impermissible means to get you to do it. There is a worry that if you respond to the terrorists' grievances you will be, at the same time, legitimizing the means that they used. At the very least, you show those means to be effective.
The simple solution is to deny that the obligations are in tension. Consider the Spanish case. If you believe, as I do, that the invasion of Iraq was seriously immoral, then you should also believe that Spain ought not to support it, and so ought to withdraw its troops. Although this is what the bombers sought, it's okay to endorse it as long as your motivation isn't fear of terrorist reprisals. Combine this with a commitment to pursue terrorists and the problem is solved, right?
Well, no. Motivations are fickle things, and are difficult to detect under the best of circumstances. Besides, we're talking about policies, not people. Even if we knew what motivated people, policies aren't the sorts of things that have motivations.
So there isn't a simple answer. When it comes down to it, we have to look at particular cases and evaluate them on their individual merits. Sometimes the fact that terrorism has been used in support of an end will be enough to vacate our obligation to pursue that end. Sometimes it won't.
This much seems clear: the problem arises because of a previous failure. That is, real grievances were left unattended and real obligations were left unfulfilled. But I've already said my piece about that.