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    because the time of the warlords never really ended..., 2007-05-05 09:35:08 | Main | as i was saying..., 2007-05-12 09:26:48

    memo to sam harris:

    I really need to go back and find that quote about the redheads. Just a reminder, tho, because I know all my noble readers have had the sense to RTFM:

    "Of the 384 [suicide] attackers [between 1980 and 2003] for whom we have data, 166, or 43 percent, were religious, while 218, or 57 percent, were secular. Even if we assume all unaccounted for attackers (77) were religious, the results would still be a nearly even split - 52 percent religious versus 48 percent secular."

    Robert Pape, Dying to Win, p.210.

    And what's not particularly interesting about Scott Atran's response to the same from a year ago is how little his disagreements with Pape actually correlate to Pape's actual argument. Pape notes the failure regarding the ostensible goals of liberating homelands, the importance laid in earning popular support, and he's utterly explicit about Tamil predominance in the statistics until the invasion of Iraq. Atran lists these as things Pape doesn't say and then says them. I guess that's one way of going about reintroducing Pape's work.

    Atran offers up two distinct patterns for the attacks: Pape's model of reaction to foreign domination and some more recent 'global jihad' stemming from the Muslim diaspora. His argument seems to be that the latter is now the dominate pattern, but he conflates it with statistics that include the explosion in Iraqi and Afghan attacks against occupation forces. This doesn't work at all, for obvious reasons.

    There is a strong point of contention worth noting regarding who is responsible for what attacks in Iraq, something there simply isn't good data for. Juan Cole lays most of the blame at the feet of the Sunni insurgency, for example, while the US government and the insurgency blame "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" (or, increasingly, Iran). It happens that the explanation that Al Qaeda is waging the majority of suicide attacks in Iraq serves the public relations goals of every interested party but may not have much correlation to the facts. I haven't seen any actual evidence either way, none is offered here. More importantly: it hardly matters. It is simply not significant that foreign fighters have shown up in Iraq to volunteer against an occupation or fight in a civil war. A few thousand Saudis and Jordanians showing up in Iraq is hardly unprecedented, it would be far more surprising if none showed up at all.

    When Atran states unequivocally that "suicide terrorists are not motivated exclusively or primarily by foreign occupation" he doesn't even try to argue that that's not what's going on in Iraq or Afghanistan, or, to add another situation in which Pape's model was perfectly predictive, Somalia: three months after Ethiopian troops - with US backing - entered that country to defend the foreign-backed transitional government from the ICU, Somalia experienced its first suicide bombing, targeted at the head of said Ethiopian-defended transitional government.

    Atran is, like Tariq Ali many years ago, I think correct in drawing parallels between his "global jihadis" and "the de-centralized anarchist movement that terrorized the world a century ago". Abstract goals about a "global caliphate", like those old anarchist terrorists' goals of international working-class revolution, rely primarily on a faith that somebody else will figure out what the hell to do next. It's sort of absurd to discuss such objectives in terms of "goals" when they exist as nothing but a mishmash of highly contentious hypothetical disagreements left as an exercise, quite literally, for the reader. When the objective of a violent revolution is to create an expansive Somebody Else's Problem field the counter-revolution's work is already completed. I would expect the "Al Qaeda University of Jihad Studies" to become a book salon for the readers of revolutionary texts to titter about what Zawahiri really meant and when he meant it. Atran's global jihadists have much the same problem as Bush: they don't have a political solution. It's not that they're not sincere, it's that their whole killing spree is so much lesser than the sum of its corpses.

    Taking it too seriously is a mistake, though I suppose not nearly as big a mistake as going out of one's way to edge it on.

    Once Atran finishes stuffing Pape with straw it's not so much a rebuttal as an effort to round out Pape's argument, but ultimately his insistence that the upsurge in attacks in Iraq since 2003, of all places, somehow weakens Pape's argument in favor of Atran's diaspora-based decentralized campaign against Western tourism - to return the favor - is really absurd. He simply doesn't even bother with the numbers, of which there is no shortage to demonstrate that what he describes in detail is in fact happening, to one extent or another. It certainly appears to be, but nowhere on the scale his bar graphs imply. What's happening is the same old multiplied by a few additional proximate causes of the same old, with a campaign of international solidarity lobbed on top of the bonfire like a sad, sodden log.

    From there it's high time for some solutions! Atran offers this fantastic observation: "Even the fact that the United States has largely withdrawn its military forces from Saudi Arabia seems to have done absolutely nothing to appease bin Laden".

    He's kidding, right? Right? This is really one of the most knowledgeable guys we have on the subject, our taxes pour straight into his brain through a top secret neurological funnel at the Pentagon and everything. Somebody please tell me he's kidding. Please.


:: posted by buermann @ 2007-05-08 18:44:42 CST | link





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