Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Monday, July 11, 2005

motives of terrorism

A further level of difficulty in the attempt to fathom the mind of the terrorist is the question of whether, in fact, there is anything much there to fathom.

It is often said about the serial killer Harold Shipman that we "may never know" what his motives were. As if it is possible to explain rationally why someone would murder hundreds of innocent, irrelevant, inoffensive victims in cold blood; in his case, without anyone even noticing at the time.

However, surely the real point is that Shipman's crimes were exactly as evil as they were motiveless? The other example of "I did it because I could," that springs to mind is obviously Bill Clinton. We accept that people will take bad things that make them feel good if they think they can get away with it, in the case of adultery. But in the case of murder, it is also true. Murdering makes people feel good. Particularly evil, messed-up people really will do it simply because they can.

Some human beings are capable of doing horrific things just for a "hit". We expect murderous dictators to have underlings tortured to death just for fun. Because they can. Well, non-powerful non-dictators can too, sometimes. Shipman did. So did Al Qaeda. Millionaire Bin Laden perfectly epitomises this rule. He could, he did, and so far he has got away with it uncaptured.

Motivelessness is inexplicable: except if you accept that murder is something that makes some people feel good, and that plus the opportunity and maybe sometimes a bit of encouragement (and Palestinian suicide bombers often get a lot of "encouragement") is the only motive some people need.

There are two kinds of motives. Rational motives, of varying degrees of logical, come from conscious reasoning. Sub-rational motives are instinctive, and they often direct you towards doing things that make you feel good. If it seems to you trivial or harmless, you don't care about the consequences, and it makes you feel good, then you will very likely do it. This is very common indeed. There are a lot of people who engage in petty, trivial meannesses and so on, for the sake of making themselves feel more powerful, and who have practically no emotional attachment whatsoever to the idea of being or actively doing good. This is why evil is often described as "mundane". But the idea of motiveless evil does not, in itself, require explanation. It's an everyday occurrence.

Some terrorists are perhaps sincere religious fanatics, taking certain passages in the Koran literally, and trying to follow instructions. Others simply enjoy killing, and assert the above belief so they can be in on the next big spree. Neither has an identifiable "motive" in the right-or-wrong-but-still-identifably-done-by-reasoning sense, because their internal goals are met in the action, not its outcome. We aren't going to get anywhere by looking for "motives" in the usual way. "Are they perhaps being reasonable?" is the kind of question only a self-absorbed egotist would bother asking about a bunch of people who blast innocent commuters to smithereens, a bit like asking, "Did the Jews bring the Holocaust on themselves?" Well, if they had been armed to the hilt and gone and occupied Israel in large numbers fifty years earlier, they would have avoided the Holocaust perhaps. If the people blown to piece in London had become millionaires and not needed to use the tube or bus anymore, they might have avoided being murdered. But neither brought it on themselves by not "doing better" at something else.

We may eventually end Islamist terrorism with a combination of measures such as establishing democracy in terrorism-sponsoring dictatorships, through temporary occupation or international pressure, and the progressive distancing from and ending of support for Islamist terrorism by Islam itself. But we have a lot of motes in our eyes. The idea that terrorism can ever, under any conceivable circumstances, "win", is the most notable. I think it comes from our own sense of failure at not understanding "why" they want to do this to us. Although we are not "bringing it on ourselves", we need to understand this before we can get more confident and assertive in the directions that might help.

We have power. We just don't realise it. Under democracy we surrender freedoms for one reason only: we decided to. That's not loss of freedom, it's plain stupidity. When people care enough to do something constructive about their problems, democracy responds to their demands. The problem right now is that, almost inevitably in the information-age, the people with the loudest mouths are the ones with the worst ideas. The complacent ones seeking what Mark Steyn calls the "quiet life option" are not antiwar marchers but their fearful political opposites, who sit silently at dinner parties for fear of upsetting the somewhat over-emotional other side.

A march against terrorism is being planned for London, and I hope other people join Jackie in attending. It's a start. Freedom is not going to support itself. The most powerful force in the world is inertia.


Post a Comment

<< Home