Talking about Terror
The very-readable Left of Centre blog ran a long piece on Thursday 9th about terrorism, or to be precise the tendency to enter into a spiralling series of emotional accusation and counter-accusation which actually alienates on both sides, increasing the actual amount of terrorism going around. The prime case right now would be the rhetoric of both islamic and christian evangelist fundementals over beheadings and marine executors.
Left of Center also addresses the problem of ending the current bloodfest of islamic and counter-islamic terror crusades. The article says that
"To actually, effectively, combat terrorism, you must engage in the logical to counteract the emotional. By acting emotionally in response to terrorism, you merely proliferate the mindset that makes terrorism possible. By acting logically, you set your eyes on the big picture, focusing on winning the war, and not the battle. You focus on the final goal, and not the individual fight."
The article goes on to set out some guidelines for the "fight", all of which make sense. Even so, the author does not seem to realise that, unconsciously, he has taken on the emotional rhetoric he advocates against. The real aim should be to resolve the war, not win it. Resolve it, and it will go away. Permanently. Win a war, and they have a nasty habit of lying dormant then springing up again. The article does make an excellent point, though:
You cut off the kind of environment in which terrorism thrives. There will always be people who take their religion to a fanatic standpoint based solely on their beliefs, but not everyone who follows are in kind. Recruitment is bolstered by poor living conditions, poor diplomacy, and that same emotionally charged popular tendancy to rally around a leader in a fight against an ominous foe.
A laudable goal, but how do we actually achieve it? Well, by removing the support of the terrorists both locally and internationally as well as by minimising the disruption and bloodshed that troops on the streets fighting an insurgency will always cause. Every "atrocity" creates more emotional responses and troops fighting an insurgency should try very hard to ensure that those emotional responses are in their favour and against the local support of the terrorists. In other words, by winning hearts and minds, as the Bush administration has often said but so far failed to do. Could it be done? The author of the Left of Center article has his doubts. "I don't think there is a turn of events that would bring al Qaida and their peers to the table. Even if they were willing to, I don't think the American public would stand for it."
Defusing the powderkeg
Twenty years ago, the same could have been said of the violence in Northern Ireland, a complex circle involving two (not one) opposing terrorist factions and troops who were trying to pacify the area on behalf of a government that was not at all local. the violence often spilled over with many attacks by both factions on the British mainland taking hundreds of lives. Yet just recently, an accord between the two factions and the British Government, along with the other locally involved government (the Republic of Ireland) narrowly failed to establish a power-sharing local authority. Both factions have publicly renounced the bullet and bomb in favour of political battlegrounds and have begun destroying stockpiles of weaponry. Peace has broken out where it was never hoped for. What could have led to this glorious state and what could we learn from it to apply to the current situation in Iraq and further afield?
Firstly, local political issues were addressed. Funds were allocated to improve the local infrastructure for those who were worst off. Steps were taken to mitigate official sectarianism, preferential treatment of one factions populace over another. In every way possible the two factions were to be accorded equal treatment whereas originally the minority faction had been preferentially treated for jobs, allocation of funds and political clout. Local populations in the main do not support terrorists because they too are fundementalists but because the terrorists seem to be battling political and financial inequalities. Begin addressing the inequalities and the locals will begin to withdraw their support for the terrorists. Applying this to the Kurds, Sunnis and Shia of Iraq, or to the Palestinians and Jews of Israel, would have the same effect.
Secondly, international support for the terrorists was weakened. This is accomplished by policy change, political and media pressure, finacial rewards and sanctions, for the countries providing that support. In the case of Northern Ireland, an atrocity of a different stamp provided a very great impetus, removing support for the terrorists in the one country they had always counted upon for funding, the USA. After 9/11 the main source of funding for both stripes of terrorist in Northern Ireland dried up. The attack on the US meant an important sea-change in the opinions of the ex-patriot communities who had been fundraisers for both groups and they could no longer afford to purchase shiny new Barret .50's, Semtex explosives and AR-15 rifles. Realising that they were out of luck for support both at home and abroad, both factions reluctantly took their intransigence to the peace table, where they are still battling insanely but at least without bullets and bombs.
The failure of the latest accord is purely down to one fundementalist politician with close ties to terrorists. Ian Pasley demanded that photos of the destruction of IRA weapons be a condition of signing the accord, a move that his own Protestant faction would never have agreed for the weapons of the UDA, their own terror group. His cynical demand would have meant the humiliation of his enemies, a move to which he knew they would never agree. This is in perfect keeping with the profile of a man who has made famous the phrase "we will never surrender, never, never, never."
Interestingly, Mr. Paisly likes to style himself Reverend Paisley. His doctorate is an honorary one, bestowed by the Bob Jones University, in South Carolina, famous for it's rule against interracial relationships amongst it's students, the anti-Catholic zeal of founder Bob Jones and that same founders letter of congratulations to President Bush on his re-election which exorted Bush with the words "you owe the liberals nothing". Ian Paisley is certainly the ideological peer of Bob Jones. When Dublin's Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, invited him to breakfast at the Irish Embassy in London recently, he insisted on having two hard-boiled eggs, which he could break open himself. This, he explained to Mr Ahern, was to ensure that he couldn't be poisoned.
Any peace process in Iraq or involving both al-Quaida and an evangelist-led US will doubtless find itself pitted against several idiots of the calibre of Mr. Paisly. What has happened in Ireland shows that even when included, they can be forced to peace, and then worked around.
Lastly, the troops on peacekeeping duty must do the right things. The British Army became experts at a particular "softly-softly" style of counter-insurgency operations over many years in Northern Ireland and exported their style successfully to several small Arabic nations. The Israeli Army likewise fought a long war against an insurgency, this time with very hard-nosed tactics. They successfully exported this style to the US military. Which army is still fighting their local insurgents? Does it make sense to adopt the style of the other army? Obviously not, and yet that is what the US has done in Iraq.
When the Black Watch was redeployed near Baghdad just prior to the fallujah assault by US marines, the Guardian reported the prophetic news that:
senior British military commanders have expressed concern about the different rules of engagement governing British and US troops. "It is a cultural thing," said one source. "We are not suddenly going to hose down housing estates in Iraq," referring to what British commanders regard as a heavy-handed American approach that they believe has proved counter-productive in the past.
The difference in approach has long been noted on one side of the Atlantic, if not the other. This from another Guardian report, way back in April 2003, which stressed that British tactics are based on three decades of experience in Ireland:
Senior British military officers on the ground are making it clear they are dismayed by the failure of US troops to try to fight the battle for hearts and minds. They also made plain they are appalled by reports over the weekend that US marines killed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, as they seized bridges outside Nassiriya in southern Iraq. "You can see why the Iraqis are not welcoming us with open arms," a senior defence source said yesterday. General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the army, drove home the point at a press conference in London on Friday. "We have a very considerable hearts and minds challenge," he said, adding: "We are not interested in gratuitous violence."
Three battlefields, one peace
The US has much to learn from the terror war in Northern Ireland. Far more, in my opinion, than has been learned or accomplished by following the Isreali model. It is a real pity that Tony Blair is so willing to toe the US line in the larger war while continuing such a sterling job of accomodation and peacemaking in Ireland. The UN also has a role to play in the process, taking a lead with the US and Iraqi governments by aggresively pursuing resolution by means of the three lines of "attack" set out above. It should be allowed and encouraged to fulfil that role.
If the "war" on terror is approached as a resolveable problem rather than as a jihad or crusade, and the right moves are made locally, internationally and militarily, then peace as an eventual result is realistic. It would only be a matter of time. Not the peace of the victor and the vanquished, but the peace of human beings who have learned to live together.