Sunday, July 24, 2011

Back when discussing Eustonianism (whatever happened to that?) I took issue with their worry that

Terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology is widespread today. It threatens democratic values and the lives and freedoms of people in many countries ... like all terrorism, it is a menace that has to be fought, and not excused.

As it turns out, the threat of Islamist terrorism was much exaggerated .

As the link above explains :

So the danger is big and growing, and Islamists are the source. Right?

Wrong, actually.

The European Union's Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 states that in 2009 there were "294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks" in six European countries. This was down almost one-third from the total in 2008 and down by almost one-half from the total in 2007.

So in most of Europe, there was no terrorism. And where there was terrorism, the trend line pointed down.

As for who's responsible, forget Islamists. The overwhelming majority of the attacks- 237 of 294 - were carried out by separatist groups, such as the Basque ETA. A further 40 terrorists schemes were pinned on leftist and/or anarchist terrorists. Rightists were responsible for four attacks. Single-issue groups were behind two attacks, while responsibility for a further 10 was not clear.

Islamists? They were behind a grand total of one attack. Yes, one. Out of 294 attacks. In a population of half a billion people. To put that in perspective, the same number of attacks was committed by the Comité d'Action Viticole, a French group that wants to stop the importation of foreign wine.

We've now just seen what, by anyone's standards, is a major terrorist attack in Europe : 93 killed, another 97 injured. Ie. that's more killed - though fewer injured survivors - than the 7/7 bombings in London. Does that make Anders Breivik's cause - a brand of right-wing paranoid euro-culturalism - a supreme evil? Of course not. Or especially to be worried about? I doubt it. Should it make those who've talked up the clash of civilisations and who bang on about the threat of Europe being overrun by Islamic (and other immigrant) cultures consider their words more carefully? Yes, a bit.

But I remind myself of what I wrote in response to the Eustonians :

But let's continue with the Eustonians beyond values : lives and freedoms are under attack too. It's true, and the bad news is that it's getting worse.

But not because Islamism is especially wicked or powerful. Our safety is diminishing because, as the fourth-generation war people put it, the nation-state has lost the monopoly on violence. All non-state actors, whatever their ideological motivations, are potentially empowered by new technologies and organizational structures, to cause more damage than ever before.

More people allegedly die in gang-warfare in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro than in the Palestinian Intifada. The US confronts a similar rising violence on its Mexican border. These are symptoms of the democratisation of violence, and the shift in loyalties from the nation-state to some other identity-system, whether religious or ethnic or economic.

I don't approve of that thing that the Eustonians label "Islamist terrorism". But I see it for what it is : one among dozens of fundamentalisms, acting as one among dozens of malign networks. You could scour "Islamism" from the earth, and tomorrow the same problems would be with us under another label : an uncertain world where the dispossessed search for identity and self-assertion through membership of gangs and tribes with excessively anti-liberal ideologies. Such gangs must have an anti-liberal ideology, because notions of them-and-us, sinners-and-saved, infidel-and-martyr are the basic principle holding them together in the first place. If your sense of self depends on your membership of a gang. And the main organizing principle of the gang is that members are good and non-members are bad, then inevitably liberal values of tolerance and egalitarianism are out of the window.

I'd sign a manifesto that recognised this; that recognised that violent terrorism is the hallmark of all repressive fundamentalisms. And that the proper response is to build benign networks of participation and discover new identities based on shared projects and activities : membership of alt.currencies or gifting circles, free-software projects and blogrolls; quilting circles and book-clubs; theatre, music, dance and a million other things humans do together to express who they are. This, and only this, do I consider to be a serious attempt to fight "terror". :-)

I stand by this. (Even the slightly silly rhetorical flourish at the end.) Even though there are some slight differences. Breivik may not have had much of a network (though that remains an open question at time of writing. He was certainly on the fringes of Euro-paranoid discussion circles.) He seems to have been economically well off (but then again so was Bin Laden) It's not clear whether he has been searching for identity and self-assertion though he clearly was worried that some kind of European identity was under threat.

Still, despite the differences, I think my model still stands. Terrorism is cultural insecurity + technological empowerment. We don't want to lose the technological empowerment, so we must lose the cultural insecurity.

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