Why Terrorism Happens

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There are lots of reasons why terrorism happens. Suicide terrorism is discussed in depth in Robert Pape’s excellent book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.

After compiling the most complete database of suicide terrorism over the past few decades, Pape identifies the most common source of suicide terrorism as a perceived imposition on a land, a perceived encroachment on one’s land.

In the world we live in where many view themselves as part of a nation, part of a tribe, a part of reality is that borderlands will always produce conflict. Resources are finite, land included, so encroaching on another’s land may understandably lead to violence.

That this encroachment is the most common cause of suicide terrorism is the well-studied, impartial observation of Pape’s.  With the entire country discussion terrorism, Pape’s Dying to Win deserves a re-reading. In the days ahead, the media machine will throw talking points at you whether you read and watch the news or receive it through secondary or tertiary sources. Talking-points will mindlessly fill the discussions of virtually everyone you know.

No matter what comes out in the news about the Boston bombings, the fact remains – encroaching on the land of others is the key cause of suicide terrorism.

With American bases all over the world and our insistence in taking sides in tiny skirmishes like whether North Ossetia-Alania (a place we know nothing about) should have a different relationship with Chechens (a group of people we know nothing about) than Russians (a county we know next to nothing about), we must expect problems to come home.  When we interfere in the business of others, we are engaging in the exact behavior known to generate suicide terror attacks. We must not be surprised when 1 plus 1 ends up equaling 2.

“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none,” has long been wise foreign policy advice to prevent killing in the streets of America.

Instead, we choose winners and losers abroad, support the oppression of losers, and in a futile aim to protect ourselves we go so far as to support oppression at home. Oppression of Americans on American soil is a band aid, spoken of as a way to alleviate the root cause, but which fails because we still feed the root cause. That root cause is our insistence in pursuing a worldwide interventionist foreign policy. In doing so, we pick winners and losers and support the oppression of the losers, sometimes very violently so.

“Why would the US ever be subject to a terrorist attack?” many will ask this week. The cause is easy to point to – we interfere in the world and pick sides in centuries old conflicts along borders, between nations. Sometimes we aid sides with money, weapons, and soldiers.

No one in Boston gave a damn about Chechnya until the morning of April 19, 2013 when the current Boston bombing suspects were fingered as Chechens. While it’s nice to expand your mind by learning about the rest of the world, it’s best to mind your own business and to stay out of the conflicts of others. If the choice were to have never picked a side in Chechnya or to have lived through the bombings the same way again, my guess is that most Bostonians would, in retrospect, choose the peaceful, non-interventionist policy.

“But some of us are ‘Experts’ in the field,” you may contend. It’s good to recognize that just because you’ve read books and may even have written books on the geo-political history of other parts of the world, that gives you little foundation, as an outsider, to interfere in that place. You’d get mad too if someone ignorant from far away came with a gun and pretended to have all the answers for you.

In the weeks ahead, some ‘experts’ will call for a crackdown on immigration. Others will call for stricter internal checkpoints. Some  will call for aid to Chechens. Some will call for aid to Russians. Some will call for bombing Chechnya. Some, unable to distinguish the difference between Chechnya and Russia will call for bombings of Russia. Some will call for the bombing of a Muslim nation (since Chechens tend to be Muslim) and insist that there is a cultural clash.

No matter what is spun in the media this week, I know there is a cultural clash. It’s the clash between Americans who don’t like our intrusive presence in the world and don’t want to suffer its effect, versus those who are status quo on our interventionist foreign policy. The data shows that less intervention is the answer to avoid terrorist retaliation on American soil.

The exact opposite suggestions will be made on the news. We will be told we need more international interfering to protect us, when the facts point out that we actually need to mind our own business to make us safer. Our intervention, our meddling endangers us.

Boston is 5,300 miles from Grozny, Chechnya. Today distances are short. America, once on an island, now shares borders with every country in the world. We have a presence in those countries. With much greater ease, a stone thrown across that border can affect the average American. In that new world we can stop getting people to want to throw stones at us or we can all wear heavy armor all day. Regardless of whatever poor media coverage takes place on the Boston bombings, Pape’s well-established insight will be the advice I turn to.

In the days and weeks ahead, the media, almost certainly will seek to make you forget the simple wisdom of Robert Pape, Thomas Jefferson, and others, and will encourage you to wear heavier more burdensome armor in your day-to-day life.

Regardless of what we learn in the days ahead, make the tough decision this week. Reject the armor. Instead, address the root cause of why anyone would want to throw a stone.

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