Counter-Terrorism: Belabor Day


September 1, 2018: There are important lessons to be learned from the "Global War on Terror" that has been going on since the 1990s. For one thing economic and social changes during 20th century made it possible for anyone to be a terrorist. Worse, defeating the "leadership" will not necessarily end the conflict. In fact, because of new technology and more money, there doesn't have to be a "leadership" at all. Anyone with an alleged-grievance or a "vision" can undertake their own "war." This sort of “one man movement” has happened even before Islamic fanatics made this sort of misbehavior into a massive and sustained problem. In the past terrorism had many colorful individuals. New York City had "Mad Bomber" George Metesky in the '40s and '50s. The "American Republican Army" undertook two bombings in 1961. The "Unabomber", Theodore J. Kaczynski, was active from the 1970s to the '90s. These were actions of "super-empowered individuals," people with grievances, access to explosives and enough skill to plant bombs without getting caught. Fortunately, such crazed but capable people are rare. Terrorist movements attract a lot of the less-educated, less-skilled and less-successful (and more easily caught), but they are well funded, have mass appeal in the Islamic world and are the continuation of a cycle of Islamic terrorism that goes back over a thousand years.

Modern terrorism is largely organized and nearly 90 percent of the victims and perpetrators are Moslems. In other words, the enormous increase in terrorist activity and deaths began in the 1970s and peaked in 2014 was, and is, all about newly wealthy Moslems at war with each other. Although efforts were made to go after non-Moslems, over 85 percent of those killed or displaced were other Moslems. Over a trillion dollars in oil income has gone to Moslem nations in the Middle East, particularly Arabia, since World War II and a lot of it was in turn donated to charities. In the Moslem world, anyone who defends Islam by force is worthy of charity.

During this peak in terrorist activity, five nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, in that order) accounted for 80 percent of all terrorism related deaths in 2013 and even more in 2014. Four Islamic terrorist organizations; ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban accounted for nearly 70 percent of all terrorist deaths. Many of the lesser terror groups are also Islamic. In fact, of the top ten nations by terrorist activity (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, India, Somalia, Yemen, Philippines and Thailand) only India and the Philippines had a significant minority of terrorist deaths that were not carried out by Moslems. In those two countries, the minority terrorists were leftist rebels who had not noticed the collapse of radical socialism in 1989. Meanwhile, the rapid growth in Islamic terrorism violence caused the total number of terrorist acts to increase 44 percent in 2013 over 2012.

Mainstream Islamic scholars long opposed the theological misdeeds of the terrorists but were either shouted down, terrorized into silence or ignored (especially by key media in the Islamic world) or murdered. As more Moslems were killed as "collateral damage" to Islamic terrorism, the more pressure there was on Islamic scholars to openly condemn the sins of the killers. Even before September 11, 2001, Pentagon and State Department officials were making this point, without much success.

The theological errors of the current crop of Islamic terrorists have been around since the end of World War II and have never been a secret. Moreover, the goals of the terrorist groups (Moslem Brotherhood, Salafists, al Qaeda, ISIL and so on), were initially the removal of the tyrants running, and misruling, Moslem nations. For that reason, these Islamic terror movements were widely popular, until they started killing a lot of the people there were supposedly fighting for, not against. Moslem theologians knew they were vulnerable to a very physical backlash if they openly criticized these "heroes," so they kept quiet, as did a lot of Moslems living in majority Moslem communities.

The current outbreak in Islamic terrorism is largely self-inflicted and is kept going by the ease with which young Moslem men will get involved. This is not unusual. For example, there is a similarity in ages of the Iraqi terrorists, and common criminals back in the United States. In both cases, 80 percent of the suspects were between 18 and 25. This is the prime age for criminal and anti-social behavior and has been for a long time. In the United States, it was also the case that young criminals tended to be poorly educated, and often illiterate. What was different with Islamic terrorism is that there was a lot of money available for dedicated (willing to die) soldiers of Islam. That money did not always come via Moslem charities (which were some hijacked, by force, by Islamic terror groups). After World War II it became increasingly popular in the booming Western economics to spend more on charitable works. Unlike in the past, if there was a disaster anywhere on the planet government and private groups were ready to go in with free food, medical care and much else to prevent mass deaths from starvation, disease and privation. Eventually, it was noticed that local outlaws (including Islamic terrorists) could get this aid, often by force or via extortion. It was years before this reality was generally recognized and there is still no solution for these malignant side effects.

This pattern accounts for the popularity of Islamic terrorism in the Moslem world. The poor economic, political and scientific performance of the Moslem, especially the Arab, world when compared to the West leaves young Moslems with few options. There are practical reasons for this lack of progress. For example, the Arab world didn't adopt printing until two centuries after it became common in the West. This was partly due to the complexities of written Arabic. There are thousands of rules governing how Arabic letters are joined, and it was difficult for typographers to make it work. A further complication was resistance from the Islamic religious establishment. Printed Arabic had to be very much like written Arabic, otherwise one was defaming the language of the Koran, which is God's word. This is one of the (many) reasons the Arab world publishes books at a tenth the rate of the rest of the world. The lack of books leads to knowledge being transmitted more slowly.

That brings up another obstacle. For a thousand years, there has been a struggle between a large segment of the Islamic clergy, and Moslem scientists and engineers. In a pattern that persists to the present, Islamic conservatives condemned many things that are "new" as "un-Islamic." Thus the al Qaeda enthusiasm for this attitude is nothing new. The price paid for this attitude has been enormous. Moslem countries contain a disproportionate number of the illiterates compared to the rest of the world. Arab college students are much less likely to study science and engineering than are non-Moslem students. The West produces more than a hundred times as many Nobel prizes in science, per million people, than does the Islamic world.

The education shortage results in less wealth. GDP of all Islamic countries is a fifth of the European Union and the United States (which contain half as many people.) Unemployment rates are much higher in Islamic countries, and most are ruled by dictators or monarchs. Without science, education and democracy, you find that science and economic progress cannot flourish.

It's only recently become fashionable among Moslems to attribute their problems to internal conditions. The Saudi financed Arab Reform Movement tries, with limited success, to overcome this "blame the outsider" attitude. Even the Saudi royal family believes in the goals of the Arab Reform Movement, and the need for the Islamic world to invest more in education and economic freedom. But thousand year old habits are difficult to erase quickly. This is why Westerners can speak with educated Moslems and come away thinking that friendly relations between the Western and Islamic world are more likely than not. But among the vast majority of poorly educated, and often illiterate, Moslems, the West is feared and hated. Moslems with some education are envious of the West and until recently comprised most of the migrants to the West. Moslem tyrants play on this, as they have for centuries, to blame the misery the tyrants have created on infidel (non-Moslem) foreigners. This easily translates to accusations of a Western “war on Islam.”

The poor economic performance, and tendency not to allow women to be educated, leads to many young, ignorant, unemployed men. These are prime prospects for Islamic radical groups. The pitch is that it is all fault of someone else and that if we kill enough of the right people (local tyrants, and their foreign allies) then all will be right again. It won't, it hasn't, but it works great for recruiting of the young, clueless and desperate.

In the past, most, but not all, major wars had a religious component but the most destructive one in history (by percentage of existing human population killed) was the Mongol wars of expansion (1206-1405). This was a multi-generational effort that was neither religious nor ethnic. The Mongols simply had a superior military system, practical and innovative leadership and an urge to conquer and were quick to incorporate other groups (especially the Turkish peoples) and anyone with useful skills. While many Mongols adopted Islam by the end of the effort, Buddhism was also very popular and any religion was tolerated if the practitioner obeyed the laws. During these two centuries of conquest, the global population (most of it in Eurasia) was about 380 million. The Mongol conquests killed (directly) about 47 million (12 percent). If you count their key roles in spreading the Bubonic Plague during that period, you could double their death toll to nearly 100 million (a quarter of the world population during their conquest).

Nothing since has come close, in large part because global population growth exploded after 1400, reaching a billion in the early 19th century, two billion by the 1930s, three billion by 1960, four billion in the 1970s, five billion in the 1980s and six billion by the end of the 2oth century. Thus while the wars caused by radical socialism (nationalists and internationalists, “Nazis” and “communists”) killed nearly 200 million in the 20th century (1920-1980), it was a much smaller percentage (seven percent) of the global population than what the Mongols inflicted. Islamic terrorism, as deadly as it is, does not attract the talent or innovation that made the Mongols and radical socialists so deadly. But Islamic terrorists do excel at terrorizing even if their ability to follow up is not nearly as impressive.


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