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Pape, Friedman, Times

The news that the New York Times will soon charge for access to its op-ed and opinion pages (as well as its other columnists) reminds me to whinge about yesterday’s lineup while the only thing required is registration. And I imagine there are ways around that, if registration bugs any Gentle Reader too much.

Anyway, there were two interesting pieces, particularly seen in conjuction. Blowing Up an Assumption, by Robert A. Pape, looks analytically at the phenomenon of suicide terrorism over the last twenty-five years or so, and points out where commonalities do, and do not, exist. His main points are (a) “there is far less of a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think”, and (2) sponsors of suicide terrorism seek “to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.”

The telling point, here, is that the Tamil Tigers have been the world’s most effective supporters of suicide terrorism, and without religious fundamentalism (much less “Islamism”). Furthermore, as Mr. Pape doesn’t really make clear, terrorism is a plausibly effective method against an occupying democracy, so that connection makes a mad sort of sense, while the connection to religious fundamentalism, even to religious essentialism, requires a deeper stretch into madness. Actually, though, Mr. Pape is not looking for what makes sense, or for what might seem to make sense to a madman. Mr. Pape is looking for what actually occurred. Then, having looked at that, he draws conclusions.

I’m not altogether convinced by his conclusions. For one thing, I’m not convinced that his sample is as complete as he thinks, either because of unreported incidents (that is, murder/suicides not claimed as political) or because of his own restrictions. For another, his terms, in the piece, are sufficiently vague that they cry out to me to be used in question-begging and definition-shifting. For instance, does al-qaeda really think of Saudi Arabia as a homeland, in that sense? Or is their homeland all of the Middle East? Or all of the East? I know the Times Op-Ed page is not generally the place for rigorous definition of terms, so my own laziness in refusing to look up and read Mr. Pape’s academic works on the topic is more likely to blame. Also, as a by the way, Mr. Pape has been (if I remember aright) consistently accurate in his predictions of the actions of Our Only President and his administration as well as those of other governments and non-governments. In short, I think Mr. Pape may well be right, but I’d like to see somebody try to refute him.

And, of course, if what he says has any resemblance to the world, an understanding of it should lead to some sort of change of tactics. I must confess I don’t know how best to play it from that point; I’m pretty sure that a policy of declaring that we never negotiate with terrorists, all the while actively negotiating is not a productive one (although in all seriousness, I would expect it to be). On the other hand, publicly giving the terrorists what they want is not, in this case, a pretty option. Neither is a hard line. Remind me again why we got into this? No, don’t, please don’t.

After having read that, it was a bit of a shock to read Outrage and Silence, by Thomas L. Friedman, who simply orders Muslim clerics (I am always, by the way, wryly amused by the use of ‘cleric’ to refer to various levels of imams and ayatollahs and whatnot, as if they were either third-assistant librarians at monasteries or third-level adventurer half-elves) to shame the insurgency out of the tactic. Does Mr. Friedman really think that anyone of any serious influence will read this column, smack his wrinkled forehead, and say (in a comic-book accent) ‘Of course! We should denounce the suicide terrorists! What were we thinking? Praise Allah for Friedman-sahib!’

Now, I do understand that Mr. Friedman feels betrayed by the culture he feels is on the edge of the tipping point, and that it really ought to, really really ought to, really really really ought to tip over into an appreciation for minority rights, democratic processes and capitalist progress any minute now. It must be frustrating to him that it doesn’t happen. Heck, it’s frustrating for me, and I only believe in two out of three myself. But in comparison with Mr. Pape’s column on the same page, it sure looks as if Mr. Friedman is drawing lessons from the way he thinks things should be, not from the way things actually are.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


(1) i look at our relationship now with venezuela and i read what friedman expects to happen around the persian gulf and i don't understand why he expects reaction to our presence and our meddling/bullying to be unambivalent. everybody knows who the united states means when it says it wants "the people" to run a country. who is part of the people, who isn't. we don't want nationalists; we don't want populists; we don't want muslims. other than that, whoever gets elected is fine. here's our short list.

(2) friedman's concern with the opinions of religious leaders on issues of war and due process is fantastic. i think he secretly dances the they're-animals dance when he says:

I am a big believer that the greatest restraint on human behavior is not laws and police, but culture and religious authority. It is what the community, what the village, deems shameful. That is what restrains people.

so, it's all about civilization, right? shame and righteous acts are a matter of culture.

WE are directly or indirectly (but still intimately) responsible for more than 2 million deaths in iraq and iran since 1979. WE are so distanced we don't even count it all up.

outrage is for losers.

(3) The best way to honor Jesus is to live by the values of mercy and compassion that he propagated. oh shoot, that's no good, either. maybe his editor should have struck that last paragraph.

Yeah, the treatment of the Chavez government by the U.S. government pretty much completely discredits any claims our President is making about valuing democracy.

A big reason I have little confidence these days in the Democrats is that the Democratic leadership seems to despise the Chavez government just about as much as the Republicans do.

What's up with that?

a friend is someone with whom you can do business.

I really don't get our (national) relationship to Venezuela. Of course, half the time I don't get why we're so hostile, and half the time I don't get why we don't invade.
The other half I spend wondering if Mr. Chavez really did say he expected oil prices to hit $100 a barrel, or if I dreamt that.

Oh, and I don't think that Mr. Friedman dances the they're-animals dance. Mr. Friedman, I suspect, dances the no-really-I-don't-think-they're-animals dance, which is much trickier because it involves doing all the same motions in the exact same order.

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