Friday, May 13

Wordsmiths

Howie Kurtz trades meaningful glances with John Tierney, whose column about how reports of Iraqi violence are so Last Week had already been knocked into a cocked hat by Scott Rosenberg, whose piece I'd forgotten to link to. Heeeeere's Howie:

And that's the point. Why give terrorists the publicity they crave? Why try to divine the motivation of psychopaths who are willing to kill innocents along with themselves? Of course such attacks can't be ignored, but can a totally accurate article, correct in every detail, still contribute to a warped view of the dangers in Iraq, or Israel, or other places plagued by suicide bombers?


After I'd read Scott (and TBogg) I found I didn't have anything to add about Tierney's piece. But why do we have this national tic about calling terrorists madmen? Not all psychopaths kill people, not everyone who takes innocent lives is a psychopath, and the majority of people who invoke madness to explain things have no idea what they're talking about. It would be one thing if the exercise was intended to assuage our consciences about the innocents we kill in response, but most people who invoke the term seem rather willing to accept the notion of "collateral damage" and go on with their daily lives. Look, terrorism is a tactic, like it or not. It's an effective use of manpower when faced by a vastly superior foe. The United States has used terrorism and has sponsored terrorism elsewhere. The modern state of Israel was founded by a group of people who used terror as a weapon. It's madness because war is madness, but if it's psychopathy then we're buying $400 billion a year of it.

And what's with the notion of terrorists craving publicity? Are they keeping scrapbooks, do you imagine? How far up your ass does your head have to be to think the rest of the world could point to St. Louis on a map, let alone worry about what people there are seeing on the morning news? The Iraqi insurgency exists because we invaded the country. It's not Afghanistan, it's not Grenada. It's the middle of the fucking Middle East, and what happens there is international news. Sticking your head in the sand may be preferable to its present location, but do it on your own time.

3 comments:

Terry Karney said...

I have to say that terrorists do want publicity.

There are three targets to terrorist violence.

1: the victim. Usually this is a target of opportunity, anyone will do (there is a subset where who the victim is matters, more at the end).

2: the actors. Those people who can affect the change for which the terrorist is committing the act.

3: the persuaders/levers, those people who can make the actors act.

There is a flaw in this argument, as it applies to actions in Iraq... it assumes the persons committing the violence are terrorists. They may be militarist, and taking actions which they see as having specific tactical, or strategic advantage. I suspect there is a mix, of those who are committing tactical acts (esp. in re those attacks which kill Americans) and those who are commiting acts of terror.

Which brings us to those acts of terrorism I alluded to before (where the victims' identities matter)... Hate crimes, and other acts for which membership in a group is the cause.

Dave Neiwert at Orcinus has a detailed rundown on these, but the short story is that one wants to keep the community from behaving in certain ways (say becoming an Iraqi cop) so one commits acts meant to make being a cop not worth it.

The same thing with flaming crosses on lawns, and graffiti on churches, mosques and sybnagogues.

doghouse riley said...

Terry, the reason I didn't take on the distinction between "terrorist" and "insurgent" was mostly a matter of space. Howie's use of the former was loaded, to be sure, but as my whim of the moment in reading him was to object to the long-distance psychoanalyzing of people whose culture he knows nothing about and whose motivation he's unwilling to consider, I more or less let that go.

But acts of terror, properly termed, are at the heart of the argument. IIRC Tierney didn't talk about attacks on military personel. Certainly in many cases public knowledge of the act is an essential element, and in some cases (e.g. kidnapping of particular nationals) the primary motivation, but the idea that the people in question "crave publicity", that they are fighting a war to change US public opinion via newspapers and teevee is a silly simplification, not to mention a Vietnam-era retread. It's part of the attempt to turn the War on Terror into a Tom Clancy thriller, good vs. evil, like turning al-Zarqawi into Goldfinger, or the insistance al-qaeda is pouring in troops.

MAO said...

and don't american soldiers occasionally kill incocent people with malice of forethought