Instead of a Blog
– Misquotation of G. W. Bush
After 9/11 a lot of ‘terrorism’ think-tankery poured out of academia and media, most of which was totally garbage. Atheologians and Objectivists wrote fanatical tracts about the need to nuke Mecca to convince those crazy savages that their God couldn’t protect them from science. Christian Zionists were no less enthusiastic to point out the barbaric and violent history of Islam.
There is some truth to this, but the overall historical arc of terrorism suggests that it is an actual effective means of achieving certain military and political objectives. It’s not always effective, but due to its low cost and disproportionate potential reactions it can trigger it can result in an increased flow of personnel and resources to the ‘terrorist’ organization and similar networks. Even if terrorism fails to achieve its utopian goals – to create a caliphate, to abolish the Russian government – it can still serve the immediate interests of terrorist organizers, suppliers and the ‘enemies’ of terrorism who profit from fighting (and typically inspiring more) terrorism.
Terrorism is usually seen as a tactic of weak organizations faced with more powerful opponents, which makes me wonder whether or not the Jacobin models of state terrorism and the strategic terrorism of Hindu Cow Avengers should be considered to be closely related. The British terror bombings in Germany and the Soviet government’s bureaucratic murder squads certainly had the upper hand in the physical battlefield, but may represent another kind of weakness – enemy military forces and totalitarian revolutionary states are by default the enemies of existing elites, and have a profound capacity for creating enemies in their occupied territories. Even forces that were initially welcoming – as certain peasants welcomed the Germans in both world wars – will find these organizations to be virtually impossible to deal with. Whether one is ruling over a resentful population with an alien religious cult or invading the ancient homelands of a rural society it’s hard to create effective control of a region whose natives do not want you there.
When pointing to the ineffectual nature of terrorism the case of Ireland is often brought up. While its true that some of the political disputes were ultimately resolved by means other than a general military conflict or guerrilla war this only occured after groups like the Irish Republican army had been killing British soldiers, police and politicians for decades. Certainly if the British had been willing to negotiate with the Irish separatist movements before all this they could have. The desire of these groups to separate from the British Empire and the Church of England was well known, and supported by figures from Edmund Burke to Oswald Mosley. At any time the House of Lords could have given Ireland autonomy or independence or allowed it to secede in bits. Yet they only did so after the Irish made policing Ireland a dangerous and thankless job through campaigns of sustained, organized, armed terrorism both in Ireland and England itself. Is this a coincidence?
The conventional wisdom of the substantive rationality of terrorism and the model itself are directly challenged, however, by a growing body of empirical evidence disproving the instrumental efficacy, and even suggesting the counter-productivity, of the use of terrorism in coercing the desired policy change outlined by the strategic goals of terrorist organisations. Challenges to the consistency of the substantive rationality of terrorism do not demand, however, that the use of terrorism should therefore be considered unconditionally irrational.
Rather, by incorporating the concept of ‘procedural rationality’, as developed by economist Herbert Simon, the use of terrorism should nonetheless be considered rational since it is the ‘outcome of appropriate deliberation’. This social scientific approach draws heavily on psychology rather than economic scholarship, aiming to incorporate the importance of cognitive effects on human decision-making in rational choice, and is concerned not with the consequences of the use of terrorism but the ‘process that generated’ the decision to strategically employ terrorism as a policy instrument.
An evaluation of the cost-benefit calculations made by terrorist organisations reveals that the decision to use terrorism, whilst generally substantively irrational, is procedurally rational. The logic of the strategic theory behind the deliberation process, and the deliberate nature of the timing, targets and substitution effects of the use of terrorism to maximise the utility of attacks on both tactical and strategic levels, suggests that whilst failing to achieve strategic goals, terrorism is nonetheless the product of a rational cost-benefit analysing thought-process. The use of terrorism is therefore best regarded as often procedurally, though not necessarily substantively, rational.