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A Brief Note

One word about the conclusion of the aforementioned piece:

The experience of countries in different regions makes clear that terrorist groups can operate for sustained periods even in successful democracies, whether it is the Irish Republican Army in Britain or the ETA (Basque separatists) in Spain. The ETA gained strength during the first two decades of Spain’s democratization process, flourishing more than it had under the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. In fragile democratic states—as new Arab democracies would likely be for years—radical groups committed to violence can do even more harm, often for long periods, as evidenced by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, or the Maoist rebels in Nepal.
I don't have a clue about Maoist rebels in Nepal, but it strikes me that the important common element between the other cases here is that, from the perspective of the terrorists in question, the countries in question weren't democracies in a meaningful sense because the didn't allow the relevant political community to self-govern. Spain is a democracy, but to a Basque separatist the Basque Country isn't governed democratically because it's governed by Spain rather than by the Basque community. Similarly, the IRA regards London's control over northern Ireland as preventing the Irish Catholic political community from exercizing sovereignty over the whole of its territory. The Tamil Tigers and Abu Sayyaf, too, are political manifestations of minority ethnic and religious groups. That doesn't make the quoted passage wrong, but it's important to get a sense of the scope of its validity.

These considerations give us good reason to believe that holding elections in Iraq won't bring violent political conflict to an end there, or even mitigate it in any substantial way, since a very large (circa 40 percent) proportion of the Iraqi population seems to regard itself as outside of and separate from the dominant Iraqi political community. For broader "war on terrorism" purposes, however, the people we're mainly worried about are overwhelmingly Sunni Arabs living in countries with Sunni Arab majorities that are disempowered simply because their states are undemocratic.

December 14, 2004 | Permalink


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So what do we do we these people? (Not that I don't agree with you.)

You can't have a bunch of a autonomous regions in a country, that's just begging for breakup into mini-states.

Posted by: Mimiru | Dec 14, 2004 10:23:12 AM

Both the Mafia (which had a significant side-line in political assassinations) and the Red Brigades (ditto, but more their main product) "flourished" under Italian post-war democracy, the former much more than under Mussolini direct represstion, the latter because they felt that the post-war Italian democracy was rigged for insiders, a facade for capitalism, the Mafia and American foreign policy interests (not altogether wrong).

On the example of the Red Brigades, it seems quite possible that there will be terrorism against even elected Arab leaders motivated both by flaws (of which there will be many) in the process of election and any contribution elected Arab leaders make to enabling American foreign policy goals, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, etc.

Posted by: Otto | Dec 14, 2004 10:36:49 AM

the countries in question weren't democracies in a meaningful sense because the didn't allow the relevant political community to self-govern

maybe misses the fact that to groups like, say, the Tamils, democracy per se is less the value than Tamil "self"-government, thus the concern with where the borders of the governing entity fall rather than the elections. That self-government could (and often has, in separatist politics) taken the form of one or more ethnic group strongmen, which would be regarded with far more legitimacy than elections in a heterogeneous population. (ie not the competitive but the representative pole of Dahl's framework for democracy)

Posted by: Ruth | Dec 14, 2004 10:48:28 AM

Item 1: Yitzhak Rabin
Item 2: Oklahoma City
Item 3: Unabomber
Item 4: Pim Fortuyn

Sometimes terrorism is a tactic used
because other means of political
expression are forbidden. Sometimes
it isn't. I wish everyone would stop
fetishizing "democracy" - democracy is
a good thing in itself, and we should
favor it and promote it, but it doesn't
solve all problems. If the whole
world magically turned into democracies
overnight, we would still have to deal
with nuclear weapons, AIDS, war,
famine, the federal deficit, the
meltdown of the US healthcare system,
the coming oil shortage, global
warming, and (at the bottom of the list
in scale and imminence of threat)

[Note: Social Security is not a problem
- though it might be once Bush gets his
hands on it]

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Dec 14, 2004 10:56:04 AM

Re. the perception of rigging the process for insiders encouraging opponents to look to non-democratic methods of influence, it would help if Allawi loses power (and goes back to the farm etc) through the upcoming elections in Iraq, and on that score it would have been useful if Karzai had not been elected President of Afghanistan.

Posted by: Otto | Dec 14, 2004 10:57:23 AM


Good point. But one thing that springs out at me from your list is that these are all isolated incidents rather than wider terrorist movements.

Now I am open to the view that there will be more Israeli nationalist terrorism if Israeli government acts against, rather than enables, Israeli settler-nationalist goals, and that, on the same grounds, there may be more assassinations of Fortyns in Europe if there are more Fortyn-type political movements, but nevertheless, so far these are isolated incidents, not like the IRA or Tamils.

Posted by: Otto | Dec 14, 2004 11:04:37 AM

A good point. An often forgotten fact is that in most European as in American countries the construction of the political community was frequently done in a non democratic, violent way.

Posted by: Carlos | Dec 14, 2004 11:06:59 AM

You don't have to go to foreign countries to see terrorist organizations operating freely. The Ku Klux Klan and affiliated groups controlled a significant part of this country from the end of reconstruction until the late 1950s. Between 1880 and 1960 there were almost 5000 documented lynchings in this country. They also controlled the government and the courts which led to countless legal lynchings by law enforcement and the courts where being in the wrong neighborhood or looking at a white woman the wrong way could draw a young black man a long prison sentence that turned into a death sentence as he was shot while "trying to escape".

And between the 1920's and 1970's the Mafia controlled a large portion of many of the major cities in this country, infilitrating the courts and government and neutering the FBI (by blackmailing J. Edgar Hoover). Only when Hoover died did we finally crack down on the Mafia. While not exactly terrorists, they were just as damaging to the country.

Today we tolerate numerous terrorist groups in our midst. Google "Christian Identity" or "Arayan Nation" if you want a good scare.

Posted by: Freder Frederson | Dec 14, 2004 11:15:48 AM

Otto: "isolated incidents"

Partly true. The Unabomber was certainly
a lone crazy. But Oklahoma City was just
one manifestation of the very alarming
right-wing militia movement - and just
last year a militia group in Texas was
found to have a large stockpile of
weapons including lethal chemicals
(is they'd been Muslims this would have
been all over the news).

The IRA is an obvious example. Less
well known are the activities of Welsh
nationalists who burn down English-
owned weekend homes.

In fact I think you can make a strong
case that the best form of government
to reduce terrorism is a competent
dictator, as in Singapore. But
a) most dictators are incompetent
rulers (the skills needed to take
power by force are not conducive
to good governance)
b) liberty is good in itself, even
though it makes terrorism easier

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Dec 14, 2004 11:28:58 AM

Nepal is a pretty atypical example, even compared to Sri Lanka or the Phillipines. It is also a very nasty time bomb. Think Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Gwynne Dyer is on the case:

The Maoists of Nepal

among his many other interesting articles, found here.

Posted by: Wrye | Dec 14, 2004 11:41:54 AM

Silly post. What does any of this have to do with 'democracy'? Absolutely nothing.

Yeah, and they all are in the Northern hemisphere - chew on that, why not?

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 14, 2004 11:49:25 AM

"But Oklahoma City was just one manifestation of the very alarming right-wing militia movement"

A common slander, which the left found effective as a tool for delegitimizing it's enemies; The OK bombers' only connection to the militia movement was that they'd tried to join, and been shown the door. They shared some complaints with the militia movement, yes, but you could say the same of the enviromental movement, and any number of left-wing terrorists.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 14, 2004 11:50:04 AM

OK bombers' only connection to the militia movement was that they'd tried to join, and been shown the door

was it because they didn't want to blow up the NTY building?

Posted by: cleek | Dec 14, 2004 11:55:05 AM

NYT, of course.

Posted by: cleek | Dec 14, 2004 11:55:50 AM

No, it was because they wanted to kill people.

You folks, because of your ingrained tendency to atribute malign motives to people who don't share your politics, fail to understand the militia movement. That movement arose as a result of some really nasty abuses by the government, which led quite a few people to conclude that we were sliding into a police state. The goal of the movement was to organize and train so that, if it did happen, they could effectively resist. And so, to deter such a development. It was never about attacking first, nor about terrorist attacks on innocents.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 14, 2004 12:00:28 PM

Come now, Brett. Slander through association is quite effective. The Unabomber was "just one manifestation of the very alarming [left-wing environmentalist] movement." Don't you agree? You know: Sierra Club = Unabomber? Oh, OK, we'll just stick with the evidence: Earth First is linked to the Unabomber.

Posted by: Al | Dec 14, 2004 12:10:42 PM

About autonomous zones in countries: Canada has a French speaking autonomous zone, with few serious problems. China has the "Weegars" (misspelled) in western China, with few serious problems, and the US has states with a certain degree of autonomy. I can't see a good reason why Iraq shouldn't have three major provinces, a Shia one, a Sunni one and a Kurdish one, with success. Of course the Iraqis have to want that, and it doesn't appear that they do, but it could work if they want it to.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Dec 14, 2004 12:14:31 PM

You folks, because of your ingrained tendency to atribute malign motives to people who don't share your politics...

yeah yeah, us folks. sheesh.

Posted by: cleek | Dec 14, 2004 12:15:54 PM

Yes, Brett, because all radical right-wing groups are exactly identical. There are no right-wing groups that are more radical, than, say, the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Wait, except for the KKK. And you could probably put Koresh's group in there.

And how many people does it take to make a 'radical right-wing group'? A bomber and a getaway driver? That is a group, albeit a small one.

Is there some sort of official wing-nut registry? A social club? Is there a secret handshake?

Posted by: Chance the Gardener | Dec 14, 2004 12:28:34 PM

I think an important point that was missed here is that these groups eventually develop political arms which generally overtake violence as their main modus openrandi. As is the case with Batasuna in Spain and Sinn Fein in Ireland. Hamas has a very strong political wing but it still resorts to violence constantly because it doesn't have the legitimacy to exercise political power with the Israelis or in the West Bank.
This is what's happening in Iraq. The insurgents don't have political access. The question that remains to be answered is, if Iraqis develop an egalitarian political system that is fair and welcoming, will these people choose to play?

Posted by: Andy | Dec 14, 2004 12:28:35 PM

I think that the outcome where there are still lots of right-wing/left-wing/religious extremist nuts/movements but these are not terrorist movements is the goal which we are hoping democracy will help. The aim is not, I think, to get rid of the extremist movements, but to channel their activities. So even if it were true that "Oklahoma City was just one manifestation of the very alarming right-wing militia movement", the aim is to have get other alarming movements to indulge in terrorism just as little. I'll take a Hamas with only one terrorist incident!

Posted by: Otto | Dec 14, 2004 12:40:40 PM

I'm hardly an expert on the land one of my ancestors left 150 years ago, but it's certainly my impression that the "Irish Catholic political community," whatever that means, comes after the IRA and the 1916-1923 civil wars.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady | Dec 14, 2004 12:41:33 PM

The known history of the world is one of constant terrorism by today’s definition. The Jews were terrorists under the Romans as were the Greeks, Egyptians and Scots. There have been terrorist acts committed by every major religion and every government. Waco and Ruby Ridge are just recent examples. And please do not confuse terrorism with guerrilla or freedom fighter. Terrorism is primarily directed toward civilians with the aid and abetting of the “press”, with the primary objective of instilling terror and fear. Freedom fighters and guerillas are generally patriots-there are exceptions-who desire to make a better life for themselves and their neighbors and/or to throw off oppressive rule and occupation. They target military or government support activities. The French, Greek and Dutch underground of WWII are good examples.

Posted by: Dan from Cos | Dec 14, 2004 12:50:00 PM

"The Jews were terrorists under the Romans as were the Greeks, Egyptians and Scots... Terrorism is primarily directed toward civilians with the aid and abetting of the “press”, with the primary objective of instilling terror and fear."

Interesting. What was the involvement of the "press" or its functional equivalent in aiding and abetting terrorism in the Roman empire?

"I have no idea" is an acceptable answer.

Posted by: Otto | Dec 14, 2004 12:54:01 PM

Chance, et all, you may be very thankful that there was a militia movement. They're largely responsible for the fact that our government no longer regards burning (It's own, anyway...) people to death as a legitimate law enforcement technique, for instance. It's very healthy for a government to know that there are lines it can't safely cross. Too bad they only come to know that by crossing them, and getting bitten.

I think that's what that bit about having to water the tree of liberty occasionally is getting at.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 14, 2004 12:55:28 PM

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