Saturday, July 09, 2005

Column on What Some Don't get About Terrorism

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What Some Don't Get About Terrorism

Tibor R. Machan

It is very dismaying but not beyond grasp why some folks do not
understand the viciousness of terrorism. The bottom line is: tribalism. It
is also called collectivism--socialist, fascist, communitarian or any
other type of irrational lumping of human beings into groups they have
never chosen to join.

Any time a terrorist attack occurs, a great many people wring their
hands trying to figue out just what is amiss with such barbaric conduct.
Be it an IRA, Palestinian or radical Muslim (suicide) attack, there is the
usual acknowledgement that terrorism is horrible and the people doing it
are over the top, but then the focus turns to whatever is supposed to have
provoked it--usually George W. Bush and his predecessors' foreign policy
measures. And some of this, of course, isn't beside the point in making
sense of certain of these events.

Yet this focus on provocations misses the must basic issue, which is
that terrorists lack the most elementary traits of civilization, which is
to treat individuals as individuals, as sovereign, self-directed agents
who aren't responsible for the misdeeds of their fellow human beings. If
you insult me, hit me, steal from me, or do any other untoward deed toward
me, it is utterly unjustified for me to go after your sister, your
neighbor, someone who looks like you, someone sitting near you, someone
who lives in the same country as you do. If you have been wronged by A,
the only recourse that is justified, morally and should be legally and
politically, is to put you on trial and convict you of your bad deeds,
period. Such due process is the bedrock of a civilized society and anyone
who resorts of so called repriasals that fail to meet this strict
criterion may not be rationally excused.

There is, of course, in our age the widespread temptation to explain
everything people do, as if they were bad storms coming off the Atlantic
Ocean or viruses attacking the nervous system. The source of this
temptation is the old philosophical doctrine of materialism, the view that
everything in nature happens because some prior event caused it to happen.
This is, indeed, the origin of much of social science and social
engineering but it misses a vital point about human life. People are
agents, they do not simply react to what happens to them. So to really
explain their conduct, it is not enough to gather up the data of what
happens around them. It is imperative, for a decent understanding of how
people act, to consider their own thinking and intentions and motives,
things over which they have ultimate control.

Once you look at it this way, you have to realize that a terrorist
is a vicious, irreponsible thug who refuses to control his own emotions
and lashes out, often with much intelligence and savvy, at some target in
the fashion of a toddler who is throwing a tantrum. And toddlers are not
civilized beings, as any parent knows. Only toddlers can be excused
because, well, they are too youg to have the capacity to act more
rationally, to be civilized. This exaplation isn't, however, available for
terrorists. They are adults and they ought to thinkg before they lash out
in their violent, reckless ways.

It is true, of course, that some of what terrorists think about is
awful and their anger can even be justified. It is what they do about what
they think about and their emotional reaction to it that is vile. And no
matter how valid some of their complaints are, tearing into the lives of
innocent people is morally inexcusable. The way, however, many of them
think is to lump other people together, in some sort of irrational
corporate fashion, as if all of those in London had consciously,
voluntarily joined in with a club with a mission statement forged by, say,
Tony Blair, a mission statement that terrorist find objectionable. But
this is wrong. Certainly a bunch of kids on a subway cannot by any stretch
of the imagination be so regarded. Nor can most citizens of London. Nor
those of Israel or New York City. And to fail to realize this is the mark
of the barbaric.

Sadly, the people of the world have tended to think in this triablist
fashion for centuries and centuries and even some of the most well
educated, erudite blokes do not get it. The imperative for us all is to
get it and to make as sure as possible that evereyone around us gets it.
It is individuals who are responsible for their conduct and striking out
at their neighbors and friends and family when you find this conduct
intolerable is a rejection of a basic feature of human civilization.

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