Saturday, April 10, 2004

NYT Op Ed piece: The very late beginning of a focus on the root causes shared by al Qaeda and their Iraqi emulators?

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: One Hearing, Two Worlds

This article amplifies my 9/22/01 theme that modern technologies, including information technologies, have been a critical part of the transformation of terrorism. The cost of havoc has fallen sharply over the past 100 years.

The amplification of hatred through modern communication channels is, for me, a new theme. In retrospect it was also seen in the right wing Clinton-jihad. I may add this to my "root causes" model.

The author also breaks an unspoken rule -- he warns of the risk of a "fifth column" within the US. This has been very obvious since 9/11, but is rarely mentioned. The Bush administration seems hellbent on creating an American al Qaeda offshoot.

This is a thought provoking essay. Besides my unread web page on the topic, similar sentiments have been expressed in Wired magazine, Salon, and several similar not-quite-mainstream publications. Friedman has hinted at these themes in various NYT pieces.
One Hearing, Two Worlds
Robert Wright is the author of "The Moral Animal" and "Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny."
Published: April 9, 2004

... The polar opposite of a preoccupation with state support of terrorism is the view that, in the modern world, intense hatred is self-organizing and self-empowering. Information technologies make it easy for hateful people to coalesce and execute attacks — and those same technologies can also help spread the hatred. That's why opponents of the Iraq war so feared its effect on Muslim sentiment.

If Ms. Rice didn't appreciate that fear before the war, she should now. The current insurgency seems to have spread from city to city in part by TV-abetted contagion. And insurgents are handing out DVD's with deftly edited videos featuring carnage caused by the war.

But Ms. Rice is unfazed. Yesterday she said the decision to invade Iraq was one of several key choices President Bush made — "the only choices that can ensure the safety of our nation for decades to come." Meanwhile, down at the bottom of the screen: "IRAQIS SAY AIRSTRIKE KILLED DOZENS GATHERED FOR PRAYERS." Do headlines like that make us safer?

... Yesterday even Bob Kerrey, a committee member who stoutly favored the war in Iraq, said that it is now helping terrorist recruitment through televised images of "largely a Christian army in a Muslim nation." He didn't pose the observation as a question, and Ms. Rice offered no comment.

... Once you understand how easily hatred morphs into terrorism in the modern world, new concerns arise. What about the feelings of American Muslims, who needn't cross a border to do damage? If they're alienated — by the Iraq war or just by the sense that they're viewed with suspicion and hostility — that could be a problem.

Nobody mentioned American Muslims yesterday, but the bottom of the screen featured this news: "SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, POLICE CHIEF SAYS SERIES OF ARSON FIRES TARGETING BUSINESSES RUN BY MUSLIMS WERE PROBABLY HATE CRIMES."

... many of the things that have brought the trouble — electronically contagious sentiment, elusively fluid terrorist networks, widely available recipes for homemade weapons — will similarly haunt a heavy-handed approach anywhere else in the world. Iraq is a microcosm of the administration's larger war or terrorism, and the verdict is coming in.

All the technological trends that are making hatred more lethal (not just in communications, but in biotechnology and other realms) will continue for a long time. A sound strategy for fighting terrorism in this environment will require extreme creativity — more than President Bush or his presumptive opponent, Senator John Kerry, has shown.

Similar themes have also emerged in retrospective analysis of the Rwandan genocide. Machetes were the primary instrument of mass murder, but communication and information technologies played a key role in planning and in the amplification of hatred.

A shared lesson of the Rwandan genocide and the 911 attack is that we in the west severely underestimate the capacity of other cultures to use modern technologies and ancient techniques to develop and successfully execute truly evil plans of significant complexity. Our mistake is a form or variant of ethnocentric racism. The Rwandan genocide, for example, was intricately plotted over a period of years. The plotters succeeded, in part, because those who learned of their schemes considered them ridiculous.

We are also prone to think that those who claim to hate modernity will avoid modern technologies. Hypocrisy is not a uniquely American vice.

Maybe we're finally going to start discussing the real problems. I've spent 3 years thinking about solutions every day. I've come up with a few, but solving this problem requires active thinking by a lot of people. We should have been working on this as a community, starting 9/14/01 -- if not much sooner. It is getting very late in the day.

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