The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

Musings about politics, religion, law, art and marriage - what else is there?

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Saturday, July 26, 2003
On the nature of terrorism, part 3

I previously wrote that, given the influence that Augustinian just-war theory continues to have over the modern law and ethics of war, any analysis of the morality of terrorism must begin with Augustine. It cannot, however, end there. Even if terrorism is shown to be an unjust form of war - and I believe I have so shown - this does not establish whether it is more so than other forms of warfare. There is also the possibility that the measure itself is flawed - that Augustinian theory is not an adequate means of judging the morality of modern war, and that some other framework is necessary.

Two arguments are commonly made in favor of recognizing terrorism, under at least some circumstances, as an acceptable form of warfare. The first is a comparative argument, suggesting that terrorism is less wasteful of civilian lives than many forms of conventional war. The second is addressed to the adequacy of the measure - specifically, that traditional conceptions of law and ethics are designed to perpetuate an inequitable political order. These arguments are separate but related, and they have related answers.

In his article of June 21, Conrad discusses the argument that terrorism is an extrapolation of the tactics of conventional warfare:

i) Walzer does concede that all wars can strategically draw upon the usefulness of generating terror within a populace, albeit with different methods. The differences in method are presumably marked by the degree of specific and random targeting of people that is involved. If generating terror within a populace at large becomes a military strategy in a conventional or guerrilla war situation, it might well become the strategy of an army systematically to kill some civilians in a brutal fashion or systematically make all civilians suffer by the threat of say, cutting food supplies or displacing them from their homesteads, or simply by the uncertainty of being inadvertently affected by the targeted attack of certain combatant forces (carpet bombing). One would need to ask whether the mass terror that is generated by such targeted warfare is different from that which is generated by the random attack warfare of terrorism.

ii) As an addendum to (i) one must ask whether it is possible to conceive of any warfare where mass terror is not generated and where some random casualties (however unwillingly this comes about) are not expected? In realistic terms this seems unlikely.

iii) If one does accept that some civilians will be randomly killed in a war situation, the moral distinction from Walzer's description of terrorism might have to rest on interpretation of intent; whether casualties occur inevitably; despite the best efforts being made to keep them to a minimum or whether they occur because exactly this result was deliberately engineered. One would need to establish how we could distinguish between consequences that are similar even though the intentions that are claimed as causing those consequences might be quite different – even diametrically opposed.

Taken to extremes, this is a variation on the common argument that "all war is crime." Instead of crime, however, all war is terrorism in that its ultimate goal is to break the enemy's will to fight and that civilian casualties are either an intended means or a necessary by-product of that goal.

Such an argument, however, ignores the fact that intentions play a part in determining results. A conventional war might result in a greater absolute number of civilian casualties than a terrorist attack, but these casualties are inflicted over a longer period of time and in the context of a much greater expenditure of military resources. If conventional wars were fought with the tactics of terrorism, then many more civilians would die. A more useful ethical measure than absolute number of civilian casualties might be the ratio of actual casualties caused by an armed force to the maximum that the force is capable of inflicting.

It is possible to imagine an ethical continuum of warfare based on attitude toward civilian casualties. At one end of this continuum is the chivalric ideal, in which war is envisioned as a contest between armies with civilians absolutely immune. On the other end is "total war" or terrorism, in which the entire enemy population is considered a legitimate target. Most warfare, and indeed most modern ethical conceptions of war, fall somewhere in between. It is generally recognized that strict adherence to the chivalric ideal is impossible in practice, and both the modern law of war and the ethical conceptions upon which it is founded have substituted the rule of "proportionality." This is an Augustine-derived rule mandating that civilian casualties be kept to the minimum necessary to achieve the military objective.

In fact, even the rule of proportionality is often violated in practice. However, the influence of both the chivalric ideal and the legal standard of proportionality have acted as a deterrent, reducing the number and seriousness of violations among lawful nations. If terrorism is accepted as a legitimate tactic and the ideal of civilian immunity is definitively abandoned, then this deterrent will inevitably be removed and the reality of warfare will become even more harsh than it is now.

It is important to remember that terrorism is a method of warfare, and as such may be used by actors other than those now regarded as terrorists. If terrorism is accepted as a legitimate tactic for "national liberation movements" with just causes, then it will likewise be an ethical option for states with just causes, particularly if they are weaker in conventional military terms than their enemy. The phrase "all war is terrorism" will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is still possible to imagine situations under which terrorist tactics might be an ethical option - specifically, where a single terror attack or short series of attacks would prevent a protracted conflict. In such a situation, a terrorist act, although more brutal and wasteful of civilian life than any single battle, might be less so than the entire war that would otherwise occur. It could be argued, in fact, that the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are examples of moral terrorist acts - by killing tens of thousands of Japanese civilians and frightening the country into surrender, they prevented the death of hundreds of thousands or even millions more.

Such situations, however, are historically rare. The reason that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks worked was precisely because they were carried out by a power with superior military strength against a target that had already been brought to the edge of surrender. A terror attack against a comparatively stronger enemy - which is the usual situation where such attacks occur - has the effect of intensifying and prolonging the conflict rather than ending it. I am unaware of any instance in which a militarily weak terrorist group has succeeded in achieving its goals even partially without a sustained campaign that has been more destructive of civilian life than a conventional war fought with the same resources.

Which brings us to the second argument - that terrorism is the only practical method of warfare available to groups with limited resources, and that current legal and ethical conceptions of war are designed to preserve the supremacy of nation-states over non-state movements. There is some justice to the argument that the rules of war - which were, after all, written by representatives of nation-states - are designed to protect the existing political order, and that this political order is not perfectly just. Acceptance of terrorism, however, will do nothing to make global politics or warfare more just - indeed, quite the opposite.

Acceptance of terrorism will not empower the powerless. Instead, it will remove all remaining restraints against the powerful, by freeing state actors to engage in terror tactics. Ironically, terrorism is an effective form of asymmetric warfare today precisely because it is regarded as illegal and unethical - military groups who are willing to place themselves beyond the law can engage in terrorism against lawful states with the reasonable expectation that their enemy will not respond in kind. If terrorism were to be accepted as a conventional and ethical method of warfare, it would rapidly lose its effectiveness as an equalizer. In that case, governments would respond to terror with terror, and they would be quite a bit better at it. Much like drug traffickers who would cease to profit if the narcotics trade were legalized, the terrorists and their constituents are the ones who would suffer most from legalization of terror.

Indeed, even in the current ethical environment, terrorist conflicts have generally led to a coarsening of tactics used by the terrorists' state opponents - Chechnya, Peru during the Shining Path conflict, Israel and post-September 11 America are all examples. The increasing use of terrorism has, in other words, moved the world progressively closer to the law of the jungle - and the law of the jungle always favors the powerful.

There is only one structure devised by human beings - law - that can reliably provide justice to those with fewer guns or votes. It is true that the courts sometimes serve the interests of the powerful. Unlike warfare, however, law is at least partially a contest of morality rather than raw power, and it has become more so with the legalization of concepts such as universal human rights. The powerless can win in court on a much more regular basis than on the battlefield - even the unconventional battlefield.

It follows, then, that the most effective cure for any injustice that may infect the current political order is to superimpose the rule of law over the structure of nation-states. Terrorism, whether by state or non-state actors, undermines the rule of law and induces formerly law-abiding nations to become lawless, and therefore promotes injustice rather than justice. It is for this reason that political terror is fundamentally unethical. If there is to be any lasting relief for disenfranchised groups, it lies with the law rather than with terrorism.

Next: Summing up.

Friday, July 25, 2003
Worthy causes

Blogathon 2003 begins at 6 a.m. tomorrow and continues for the next 24 hours. I won't be participating - beautiful Saturday afternoons best spent outside, and Naomi and I have plans - but I'm sponsoring six of the people who are:

Meryl Yourish, A Small Victory and Amish Tech Support, who are supporting Magen David Adom;

Eszter, who is supporting Planned Parenthood;

Wampum, who is supporting Cure Autism Now; and

Julie Neidlinger, who is supporting Doctors Without Borders.

All of these are worth supporting, and there's still time for any of you to do so. Meryl has gone so far as to issue a plea to those "who are bloggers and who have ever been linked by me" to ask our readers to come and pledge. Meryl's never linked to me, but go pledge anyway.

Moving along

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is starting to move forward again with Israel's announcement that it will withdraw from two more West Bank cities, remove checkpoints on West Bank roads and issue 8500 work permits to Palestinians. Israel will also transfer about $16.4 million in tax money to the Palestinian Authority and relax restrictions on importation of Palestinan produce - measures which may prove almost as important on a day-to-day basis as the checkpoint removals because they will help revive the Palestinian economy.

All this is being announced on the same day that Abu Mazen is meeting with George Bush. Coincidence? I have my doubts.

I also doubt that there's any coincidence in the announcement that a final decision on prisoner releases has been postponed until after Sharon's meeting with Bush. The prisoner release list has reportedly swelled to 600 names including some Hamas and Islamic Jihad members; I suspect the final list will number thousands rather than hundreds, and that Sharon will seek to deflect criticism by portraying the releases as a concession to Bush. I also suspect that the final list will include Bargouti, who is arguably more valuable backing up Abu Mazen on the street than in jail.

As I've said before, this is a hands-on ceasefire and it will be a hands-on peace. I doubt this will be the last time that Bush has to jump-start the process, and it's still possible for a bomber to bring the whole thing down; I hope that Bush will have a few words to say to Abu Mazen in private about the need to co-opt or crack down on the remaining rejectionist groups. Nevertheless, I'm starting to wonder whether this might not be the real thing. It seems that the status quo prior to the al-Aqsa intifada will be restored within a few weeks, and the more the Palestinians get used to normalcy - like the soccer tournament that began in Gaza yesterday - the more they will demand that the ceasefire continue. There are already signs that this is happening, and if the ceasefire holds until the September 2000 status quo can be restored, this may be enough to create an environment where substantive negotiations can resume.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich is less optimistic. I should clarify the reasons for my cautious optimism; I'm very much aware that the rejectionists are strong, and I agree with Brian that a return to the September 2000 status quo won't end the conflict in itself. This could still be a repeat of Oslo on a smaller time scale, and end up falling apart in the same way. On the other hand, there are signs of a profound war-weariness on both sides that may result in compromise being seen as more desirable than maximalism.

Oslo was in many ways the right idea at the wrong time. The central formula of Oslo - a two-state solution with territorial compromises - remains the only viable solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, but it was presented before either party was ready. This time around, there may just be enough water and blood under the bridge for compromise to work.

Diplomatic departure

Charlotte Halle analyzes the career of Sherard Cowper-Coles, the outgoing British ambassador to Israel and the first Arabist from the British Foreign Office to be appointed to that post. Cowper-Coles will be posted to Riyadh as the ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and plans to "pack his Hebrew books."

Thursday, July 24, 2003
Chronicle time

Egypt's problem with large-scale drug trafficking began in the mid-1920s.

What were they thinking?

More details of the Sao Tome accord are starting to come out:

Besides an amnesty and de Menezes's return as president, the deal provides for the creation of a new government of national unity.

It also pledges "the scrupulous respect of the principle of separation of powers", a "national forum to listen to political parties and civil society" and "the transparent management of public resources and the respect of financial rules".

The oil industry is to be placed under the authority of the National Assembly, which is to pass a law on oil resources.

A few days ago, I suggested that the Sao Tome junta was crazy like a fox - that the coup plotters knew the takeover would fail, but were using their temporary possession of the country as leverage to deal themselves into the oil revenue. The accord provision calling for a "government of national unity" may bear this prediction out. On the other hand, it is not immediately clear whether the coup leaders will be part of this government. There are, in fact, conflicting reports as to whether such a government will be created at all, with some sources indicating only that the parties had agreed to "analyze" forming a national unity cabinet. Maybe I was too cynical in underestimating the junta's sincerity in calling for reform.

On the other hand, maybe I wasn't cynical enough. The coup leaders' willingness to give up power in return for financial and political reforms might be an exercise in political theater - a demonstration of their ability to force change in a corrupt government where other political groups could not. According to some reports, there is considerable sympathy for the coup among ordinary Sao Tomeans, which may translate into votes at the next general election. I may have been wrong about the coup being a kidnapping for ransom - instead, it may have been part of the Democratic Christian Front's electoral campaign.

UPDATE: An annex to the agreement gives the military a role in "overseeing" oil transactions. Do I smell a quid pro quo after all?

More quiet cooperation

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have signed an agreement under which they will link their power grids, establish a joint power station on the Gaza border and "draw up a list of energy projects of interest to both parties." The agreement also guarantees the Palestinians the use of a pipeline that Israel is planning to build to exploit its offshore natural gas resources. It is anticipated that financing for these joint projects - which have been in the works for several months - will come from Israeli and Palestinian businessmen as well as the European investment bank.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Romanian reflections

I'm pleased to welcome Halfway Down the Danube to the blogroll. One of the co-authors, Doug Muir, is a casual acquaintance of some years' standing who has been, among other things, chief counsel to the governor of the Northern Mariana Islands and an international aid worker in Belgrade. He's currently living in Bucharest with his wife, toddler and newborn, and writes about things like Ceausescu's taste in architecture in his spare time.

Coup over

The president of Sao Tome e Principe is back in the country after signing an accord to end the military takeover. The full details of the accord are not immediately forthcoming, although it will reportedly involve a parliamentary grant of amnesty. It is not clear whether any of the junta leaders will hold positions in the new government, although it has been unofficially reported that elections will be held.

Another untold story

Snorri Bergsson has written a fascinating and scholarly thesis on the Jews of Iceland, particularly with respect to the Nazi influence in Icelandic politics between 1932 and 1939. An updated version of the chapters dealing with the beginning of the Icelandic Jewish community is here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Building democracy from the ground up

Yvette provides a moving account of her work with SONYO, Somaliland's youth federation:

Working with the first national youth federation (or umbrella as they call it here in Somaliland) with a structure that represents various regions of Somaliland, a structure that requires collective decision making and follows the majority rule policy is new to the youth leaders and to Somaliland. There is no other structure that gathers representatives of various regions coming from different organizations and allows a bottom up flow of decision-making process. This in itself proves to be a great challenge to the umbrella and its leaders.


My office was full of youth leaders tonight, we started the meeting at 7pm, I was surrounded with mainly young men and a few women. They debated, discussed, threw accusations at each other, raised the clan issue, raised issues such as manipulation and domination among others. I was in the company of SONYO leaders from Galbeed region attended by almost 20 leaders. Mostly with strong personalities, loud voices some have perfected the art of throwing sarcastic remarks. It is not easy when you are caught in the middle and you act as the facilitator.


"Democracy is new, this is democracy at work" those words served as my mantra all throughout the meeting. In a short discussion with my boss prior to the meeting, I told him, democracy is not only taught in lecture halls, this is democracy in action, one has to experience it. True enough, after 4 gruelling hours they agreed, we summarized the decision points and left the room with everyone satisfied.

“We killed 2 last National Council meeting, and another 2 last National Executive meeting and now the Galbeed Regional committee meeting, so how many lives did we kill tonight?” asked Mohamed. I just smiled and retorted “No you didn’t kill me tonight.”

What they do not know however, is that every time the group resolves a conflict and end up peacefully I become energized. My tired body is comforted with the thought that however hard it is, we are making progress, change do not happen overnight.

I hope that other African leaders - not to mention the American occupation authorities in Iraq - are taking notes. Somaliland has already accomplished an enormous amount by building a functioning state from nothing, but it is youth leaders trained in democratic decision-making who will ensure the country's future. Read more about it on Yvette's blog, which also features Ming Sing, Hargeisa's only Chinese restaurant, and some street scenes including one of the capital's new Internet cafes.

Admission of defeat

Just in case you thought that any of the rumors of Mugabe's impending exit might be true, the MDC's attendance at his address to Parliament should convince you otherwise. Although the MDC claims that the reversal of its parliamentary boycott is "a first step to facilitate Mr. Mugabe's dignified exit from power," it is really a recognition that both mass action and international intervention have failed. If the MDC ascends to power in the short or medium term, it will be through mutual agreement with ZANU and not by force, and their attempt to mend fences proclaims their realization of this louder than any words.

Federalism in question

Morenike Taire analyzes the effect of the Anambra State coup on the ongoing Nigerian state police debate. The question of whether there should be state police in Nigeria is one of the most persistent issues in Nigerian federalism, and has existed for as long as Nigeria has been an independent state. Between 1960 and 1966, regional and local governments in Nigeria had police forces, but the police were federalized with the 1966 military takeover and have remained under exclusive federal control ever since. Most recently, Article 214 of the 1999 constitution provided that Nigeria shall have a federal police force and that "no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof."

During the period of military rule, the national police became associated with official repression, and recent incidents of police brutality have reignited the debate over whether control of the police force should be decentralized. The Anambra coup - which presented the spectacle of federal police attempting to remove a state governor from office on the orders of a political boss in another state - is seen by many as a particularly egregious abuse of the national police power.

Decentralization of the police, however, may only substitute abuse of power at the state level for corruption on a national scale. If the Anambra affair has shown anything, it is that gangsterism in Nigerian politics is pervasive at the state as well as the federal level, raising the specter of corrupt governors using state police forces as private enforcers. It was for this reason that the recent report of the Nigerian constitutional review commission recommended against state police agencies:

Representations against State Police bordered on the fear of abuses to which State Governors may subject their Police. These fears included those of intimidation and harassment of political opponents and perpetuation of electoral frauds. References were made to the experiences in the Country during the former Regional Governments when the authorities put the Regional and Local Authority Police to abuse - a development which led to occasional breakdown of law and order. The fall of the first Republic was partly blamed on the ignoble use of the Regional and local Police. It was, therefore, feared that it was too soon in the life of Nigeria’s nascent democracy for the idea of State Police to be entertained.

Nigeria's real problem is not with excessive centralization, but with corruption at all levels of government. Unless the increasing criminalization of Nigerian politics is reversed, neither state nor federal police will be immune from abuses of power.

Security gone amok

Via Daudi, a firsthand account of what Bush's visit to Ile Goree meant to ordinary Senegalese:

As you probably know, this week George Bush is visiting Africa. Starting with Senegal, he arrived this morning at 7.20 PM and left at 1.30 PM. Let me share with you what we have been through since last week: More than 1,500 persons have been arrested and put in jail between Thursday and Monday. Hopefully they will be released now that the Big Man is gone; The US Army's planes flying day and night over Dakar; The noise they make is so loud that one hardly sleeps at night; About 700 security people from the US for Bush's security in Senegal, with their dogs, and their cars. Senegalese security forces were not allowed to come near the US president; All trees in places where Bush will pass have been cut. Some of them have been there for more than 100 years; All roads going down town (were hospitals, businesses, schools are located) were closed from Monday night to Tuesday at 3 PM. This means that we could not go to our offices or schools. Sick people were also obliged to stay at home; National exams for high schools that started on Monday are postponed until Wednesday.

Bush's visit to the Goree Island is another story. As you may know Goree is a small island facing Dakar where from the 15th to the 19th century, the African slaves to be shipped to America were parked in special houses called slave houses. One of these houses has become a Museum to remind humanity about this dark period and has been visited by kings, queens and presidents. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, and before them, Nelson Mandela, the Pope, and many other distinguished guests or ordinary tourists visited it without bothering the islanders. But for "security reasons" this time, the local population was chased out of their houses from 5 to 12 AM. They were forced by American security to leave their houses and leave everything open, including their wardrobes, to be searched by special dogs brought from the US. The ferry that links the island to Dakar was stopped and offices and businesses closed for the day.

According to an economist who was interviewed by a private radio, Senegal is a very poor country that has lost huge amounts of money in this visit, because workers have been prevented from walking out of their homes.

In addition to us being prevented from going out, other humiliating things happened also. Bush brought his own arm-chairs, and of course his own cars, and meals and drinks. He came with his own journalists and ours were forbidden inside the airport and in places he was visiting.

Well, if that doesn't make the Senegalese love us, I don't know what will.

Monday, July 21, 2003
The unknown camp

Today's New York Times tells the untold story of a World War II displaced-persons camp in upstate New York:

Only 134 people survive from the group of nearly 1,000 who were shipped from Italy to an Army camp in Oswego by the United States government in the summer of 1944, and many of them were gathered here today at the home of Judy Goldsmith, daughter of a deceased camp survivor, to reconnect and reminisce.


Compared with living one step ahead of the SS it was heaven, the survivors said. Each family had its own barracks, plenty of food and eventually access to education. After a one-month quarantine, Mr. Greenberg and the other children were allowed to attend classes at Oswego's elementary and high schools. Social workers came to teach their parents English. And the people of Oswego were endlessly generous.

Nevertheless, the experience of being rounded up and enclosed behind a fence topped with barbed wire left its mark.

According to shipping records, 983 refugees - including 108 non-Jews - were interned at the camp until seven months after the war ended, when they were allowed to apply for American citizenship. The ship's manifest listed them as "U.S. Army casual baggage."

Um, Mahathir, ever hear of Anwar Ibrahim?

The Malaysian prime minister has threatened to expel Burman from ASEAN "if democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not released."

Fals(i)e prosecution

New Zealand correspondent Errol Cavit informs me that the Pitcairn sex crimes prosecution is becoming positively surreal:

Opponents of the prosecution of Pitcairn Islanders for alleged sex offences are selling goods on the Internet emblazoned with images of a lawyer wearing a red wig and fake breasts.

Auckland prosecutor Simon Moore, along with his assistant Christine Gordon and barrister Gray Cameron, were photographed wearing the wig and fake breasts on a boat that took them from the island after they laid charges against nine men in April.

Mr Moore said last week that the trio agreed to don the costume briefly after the boat's captain told them it was a ritual with charter parties.

Now a United States-based website, authorised by a group calling itself Pitcairn Justice, is selling images of Mr Moore embossed on T-shirts, singlets, cups, mugs and teddy bears.

Defense lawyers are reportedly deciding whether to ask the judge to make a clean breast of the matter.

Sunday, July 20, 2003
Sao Tome and the Lusophonia

Randy McDonald has some excellent analysis of the Sao Tome affair and the future of the Portuguese language in Africa. There's also some interesting discussion in the comments about the possibility of Portuguese creoles achieving official status in Sao Tome and Cape Verde.

Power, wealth and sin

Less than two months after the opening of Africa's first reality show, the first Botswana soap opera is about to premiere. Entitled "Power, Wealth and Sin," the show will focus on a "highly ambitious, hard working, womanising Member of Parliament" and his wife who "feels neglected and turns to younger men for comfort."

Soap operas, which are inexpensive to produce and popular among African television audiences, are not new to the continent; original soap operas have been produced in countries including Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. "Power, Wealth and Sin," however, will be Botswana's first and will in fact be one of the first locally produced shows in the country. Until the foundation of Botswana Television three years ago, Botswana had no local television stations and relied primarily on South African programming delivered via satellite. BTV eventually intends to broadcast 60 percent local content, but its current lineup is heavily weighted toward American and South African-produced shows. The local content produced thus far has consisted of news, sports and music shows as well as a public service program designed to increase awareness of HIV; there have as yet been no locally produced dramas.

"Power, Wealth and Sin" is the creation of local filmmaker Billy Kokorwe, whose previous experience is largely with documentaries.

Liberian endgame

It looks like the question of when Charles Taylor will step down may be decided by default, with rebel troops encountering little resistance as they advance through Monrovia. Taylor seems to have misjudged his endgame; if the rebels take the capital, the price of his delay will likely be death or extradition for trial in Sierra Leone. Even with Taylor gone, however, the danger of Liberia falling into anarchy will remain, particularly if his remaining troops decide to go freelance. The presence of the peacekeepers will still be important to prevent Liberia from turning into a Somalia-style failed state.