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Friday, July 08, 2005

War in Pieces: The Blood Feud

Lee Harris, who wrote the fantasy ideology article I linked to in the post below, has an interesting TCS Article looking at tactics, rather than motivations this time:

Immediately after 9/11, the general consensus was that we were at war. And yet this evocation of the concept of war bothered me because it did not quite fit. Wars were things that Westerners did. They were fought for economic reasons or for territorial expansion; they were instruments of policy; they had a point and an objective. You knew when a war started, and you knew when it was over. On both sides of a war you had diplomacy -- the breakdown in diplomacy normally started wars, and a recommencement of diplomacy inevitably signaled their termination. Finally, wars, when they were fought, tended to resolve into a series of increasingly climactic battles, allowing each side to keep score of its position, as in a game of chess, and ending in some well-established gesture, like waving the white flag or slaughtering your enemies en masse. If you try to make the random and scattered terrorist attacks since 9/11 fit into this pattern, you will soon realize that it takes a good bit of twisting and squeezing to make these events match the profile of Western warfare. Indeed, when I wrote 'Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology,' I argued that war was not the appropriate model to employ in order to gain an understanding of the enemy that we faced -- and yet at the time I was still unclear what model of conflict would make more sense. After the London bombing, I feel more than ever that the war model is deeply flawed, and that a truer picture of the present conflict may be gained by studying another, culturally distinct form of violent conflict, namely the blood feud.
The parallels are interesting, and troubling. If Al-Qaida terrorism is like a blood feud, it is a new version of that old tactic that has gone beyond the traditional family and clan nature of a blood feud to embrace elements throughout the Islamic world. A globalized blood fued if you will. Another thing that makes it different from a more traditional blood feud is the hidden nature of the participants. The Hatfields didn't hide in the general populace of West Virginians, they were a known and identifiable group. Al Qaida operates very differently, taking credit for attacks, but hiding as best they can who their members are. I will have to think if this paradigm is useful in developing specific ways to combat terrorism. First thoughts are that we pretty much have to kill those who have joined this 'clan' and make the clan less attractive to those who haven't joined. Hardly earth shaking, and pretty much what we are attempting to do anyway.


Blogger honestpartisan said...

Just as there are problems with the word "war" to describe what's going on, the blood feud metaphor is useful in some and not others. For a good look at what's going on the minds of al-Qaeda types, I recommend this article:


7/08/2005 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Some of what he says I agree with.

The 'fantasy ideology' article goes into a lot of that.

In light of what he says though, I find it difficult to reconcile his theory that terror is a result of neo-colonialism and if we made the Palestinians happy, abandoned Iraq, and fixed Afghanistan it would all go away.

If the Al-Qaida types want a unified Arab world under the Caliph then leaving Iraq, and making the Palestinian happy (presumably by getting rid of Israel as that is what post Palestinians seem to want) will only be steps toward their goal, not the resolution.

Of course we could stop Islamist terror attacks instantly. Complete capitulation would achieve that goal. I'd rather have the terrorist attacks personally.

7/08/2005 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger honestpartisan said...

Cole's speculations may or may not be right; they are speculations after all. The greater value of the interview, I think, is to clarify the nature of the enemy that we are up against while groping for models like "war" or "blood feud" that elucidate somewhat but also have shortcomings.

I think he's likely right (there's no way to know for sure) that terrorism would be reduced by 90% -- not disappear -- if there were a satisfactory Palestinian state (he doesn't advocate "making Israel go away"), if Afghanistan was rebuilt in a genuine way, and if the U.S. pulled out of Iraq in a way that left it better then we found. These things are independently good on their merits as well.

And I don't think Cole is trying to appeal to the Al-Qaeda fish so much as the Muslim sea they swim in. I traveled in Morocco in May of 2001, the closest that I've ever been to the Middle East, and these issues have significant symbolic resonance with people who otherwise aren't into a radical Muslim agenda. But when problems on these fronts persist, a political climate is created where these people think, "Al-Qaeda's allegations are validated in the news every day ... maybe the U.S. is out to subjugate Muslims."

7/08/2005 02:37:00 PM  

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