23 Oct 2008

Terror as Unintended Consequence

Posted by jofr

What makes a terrorist? Are terrorists “zombies”, mindlessly following the orders of others; or mentally ill? Recent research on terrorism indicates that it comes out of a social process. It can also be considered as an unintended consequence. If the USA delivers weapons and military knowledge to autonomous parties in instable countries like Israel, Afghanistan and the former Iraq and even trains people there to fight, it is not surprising at all (perhaps even unavoidable) that eventually these weapons will be used for an unintended purpose against the will of the US, especially if all these people can do and have learnt to do is to fight.

Although it is therefore obvious that a blowback can happen in this case, it would perhaps interesting to find out the circumstances when it happens exactly, for example by simulating the phenomenon with agent-based modelling. I guess one sequence how terrorists are made – one pathway to terror – goes in a chain of events like this:

  1. A superpower first delivers weapons and military knowledge to autonomous parties or groups in instable countries (according to the proverb “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”)
  2. The autonomous parties succeed in their conflict, fight or resistance against something, e.g. an occupier or aggressor (Bin Laden was successful against the Russian occupier)
  3. The autonomous parties do something that is not intended by the superpower (for example bombing embassies in their home countries)
  4. The superpower turns against the autonomous parties, threatens them or tries to eliminate them (the Clinton administration for example tried to eliminate Bin Laden with a Cruise missile attack)
  5. The autonomous parties react: they are going mad (become terrorists) and plan a terrorist attack on the superpower

Terms are relative: the terrorist for one is a freedom fighter for the other and vice versa. I guess you can find more examples in history: for example Arminius (the Germanic tribes) vs. the Roman Empire. Arminius was trained by the Romans as a Roman military commander, before he turned against the empire.

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