Tag Archives: Terrorism

A different explanation

George Whittman, at the American Spectator, has a suggestion to Bill Clinton: Stay Home.  Apparently, Clinton makes for accommodationist foreign policy with Muslims. Clinton opined that Islamic terrorism in Northern Nigeria was caused by economic troubles, and he suggested economic development of the North as a means of reducing the trouble. Whittman rebuts Clinton:

Clinton must have known that his statement was a direct attack on Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan who had earlier responded sharply to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour when she suggested poverty and corruption were behind the rise in Nigerian terrorism. President Jonathan had vigorously replied that Boko Haram was “definitely not a result of poverty.…Boko Haram is a local terrorist group.”

Note, by the way, that the form of that explanation is as follows:  q does not explain p, because p.  Apparently, being an Islamic terrorist is causa sui.  Silly Clinton.


Much like everyone else, terrorists aim to achieve an objective.  They are not extra-rational, off-the-charts insane, quite often the contrary.  They are capable of some rather cold calculation.  The colder the better (for them).  The immediate objective of most terrorist acts is to bring violence upon people.  Who the people are doesn't necessarily matter.  But the second objective of the terrorist is that the response to their terrorism further their cause.  So if terrorists from region x or ethnicity y or religion z kill a bunch of people of a different region, ethnicity, or religion, they want as their second objective indiscriminate violence to be brought upon them and their non-terrorist fellows.  That violence will create more sympathy for their cause, more terrorists, and so forth.  Why?  Because that violence (1) legitimizes their cause; (2) treats them as combatants, in a war, which is what they want.  Someone explain this to that maniac Bill Kristol, who just does not get it.  He writes:

Consider first an op-ed article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times by Martha Nussbaum, a well-known professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago. The article was headlined “Terrorism in India has many faces.” But one face that Nussbaum fails to mention specifically is that of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic terror group originating in Pakistan that seems to have been centrally involved in the attack on Mumbai.

This is because Nussbaum’s main concern is not explaining or curbing Islamic terror. Rather, she writes that “if, as now seems likely, last week’s terrible events in Mumbai were the work of Islamic terrorists, that’s more bad news for India’s minority Muslim population.” She deplores past acts of Hindu terror against India’s Muslims. She worries about Muslim youths being rounded up on suspicion of terrorism with little or no evidence. And she notes that this is “an analogue to the current ugly phenomenon of racial profiling in the United States.”

Quite the contrary.  Nussbaum's goal, unlike Kristol's, is not to create more terrorists by treating every muslim as complicit in the actions a few.  Kristol's bloodthirsty cluelessness is in even greater evidence in the following passage:

Jim Leach is also a professor, at Princeton, but he’s better known as a former moderate Republican congressman from Iowa who supported Barack Obama this year. His contribution over the weekend was to point out on Politico.com that “the Mumbai catastrophe underscores the importance of vocabulary.” This wouldn’t have been my first thought. But Leach believes it’s very important that we consider the Mumbai attack not as an act of “war” but as an act of “barbarism.”

Why? “The former implies a cause: a national or tribal or ethnic rationale that infuses a sacrificial action with some group’s view of heroism; the latter is an assault on civilized values, everyone’s. … To the degree barbarism is a part of the human condition, Mumbai must be understood not just as an act related to a particular group but as an outbreak of pent-up irrationality that can occur anywhere, anytime. … It may be true that the perpetrators viewed themselves as somehow justified in attacking Indians and visiting foreigners, particularly perhaps Americans, British and Israeli nationals. But a response that is the least nationalistic is likely to be the most effective.”

If, as Leach says, “it may be true” the perpetrators viewed themselves as justified in their attacks, doesn’t this mean that they did in fact have a “rationale” that “infused” their action?

Leach's point is that these terrorists should not be characterized as legitimate political agents involved in a war with the West of us.  Of course they have a rationale, and a purpose, but it's one that ought not to be entertained by granting them privilege of our bombs.

Association by guilt

Perhaps some of you might have heard that Barack Obama has been "pallin' around with terrorists," such as William Ayers of the Weather Underground, or that he listened while his minister criticized America, or that some guy from the same city as him is going to go to jail.  Such are the McCain campaign's charges.  You might also notice that these are attempts "guilt by association" (here we call it "bad company"). To many, such a tactic is wrong on its face.  Rather than discuss the substantive policy questions that ought to be driving the current Presidential race, we have to sit through endless stories about who met with whom when where and how.  It certainly is dumb, and it makes all of us dumber.  Here's a well known leftish blogger:

So Palin’s "palling around" accusation is no more true than her boast that she "told congress ‘Thanks, but no thanks’" on the Bridge to Nowhere, or that she had the Alaska Permanent Fund divest from Sudan. But it seems to me that pointing out factual errors gives this line of argument too much credit: guilt by association, even when the association happens to be real, is a silly charge.

It's not a silly charge, however.  Whether the charge is true is certainly important.  As important as that, however, is whether the charge is relevant.  Relevance, in fact, is what makes the difference between a fallacious guilt by association charge and a legitimate one.  It's not, in other words, simply a matter of the form of argument.  The content–who is the associate, how long? how important? etc.,–makes all of the difference.

It turns out, I think, that Palin's charges are false or at best misleading.  Ayers is, in fact, a rather prominent person in Chicago politics–he even pals around with such mainstream figures as Richard M. Daley, our longtime mayor.  Besides, Ayers isn't in jail, and he doesn't seem to be currently a terrorist.  Besides that, he, in his civic role in Chicago politics, "palled" around with Republicans as well.

All of this, of course, makes a huge difference as to the relevance of the charge.  If Sarah Palin, for instance, "palled around" with members of a treasonous secessionist political party, I think that would indeed be relevant.  The same would be true for John McCain.  If he palled around with people who advocated assassination as a policy, or who defrauded thousands of people of their life savings, we might have reason to question his judgment.

So, while whether such charges as these are true matters a good deal.  But it matters just as much whether they have any relevance to stuff that matters.  Sometimes they don't.