Sunday, September 03, 2006

Psycho-analysis of terrorism

A suicide bomber strongly believes in a cause and would like to play a part for that cause. (By definition these are anti-establishment causes.) He is trying to send a message to the society. It is a cry of helplessness. Anyone who has tried to fight the system will understand this. The person has the will, but not the power. And the system has the inertia to prevail upon him. A suicide bomber believes his action will shock the society to shift the state of inertia. Here is the problem with suicide bombing. The act of killing innocent people is so heinous that the society tends to demonize the suicide bombers and refuses to acknowledge the 'validity' of the cause. In other words, a shocked society does not think. It reacts. In such a scenario, even if the state of inertia is shifted by the act, the shift might not be in the interest of the cause. So what should a prospective suicide bomber do?

The idea is not to kill Other people. But to make them see reason in your cause. To effect the change in the society that you seek, you need Others' support. Without that, the change, if implemented, will not prevail. So you dont kill yourself and make yourself responsible for Others' death. Instead you kill yourself and make them responsible for your death. Self-immolation! Plan it such that you immolate yourself under the gaze of the media. The powerful imagery generated would attack the psyche of the people. That is how you can make a society sit up and take notice.

A more "moderate" option would be a fast-unto-death. But more often than not, the society will react to such a form of protest only if the person(s) undergoing this protest are already well-known. Or if someone actually dies fasting. One downside is that while the death may cause some people to think, there is no accompanying imagery that will engage an entire people. Other forms of Satyagraha like jail-bharo or silent protests might not have a great impact unless a huge number of people participate.

So will self immolation be the future of terrorism?

Not quite. Every cause requires its own tool based on its context.

Palestine: Palestinians need to get the Israeli society to understand their humiliation. Being subject to checkposts, security checks and being blocked from going to places of work by an armed force of another nation is nothing short of humiliation. What if all these Palestinians wore yellow arm-bands/badges (just like those that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust)? Will that not send out a powerful image to the Israeli people? This alone might not help. What if the terrorists, instead of walking into pubs and hotels in Tel Aviv and seting off suicide bombs, actually immolated themselves with the world media watching?

Telangana/Reservation etc: Self-immolation should work wonders.

North-east, Kashmir etc: Any secessionist cause can only win if it has wide support of its own people. In such a scenario, Gandhi-style Satyagraha of jail-bharo, strikes and silent protests should be ideal.

Al Qaeda types: I'm not quite sure what motivates Al Qaeda & co.
1. If its about setting up a worldwide Islamic Caliphate, bombs will not help. Such an aim does not involve convincing the Other side. It is about subjugating them. That cannot be done by bombs alone. You dont set up an empire by destroying other economies alone. You need to setup an economy of your own that can subsume the Other.
2. If its about avenging the wrongs against Muslims worldwide, the cause is difficult to sell if Muslims are seen as committing wrongs against society in general. Probably picking a more specific cause/wrong will make it easier. Like the Palestinian or Kashmir issue above.

If on 9/11, the 19 hijackers had immolated themselves, I'm sure the world wouldn't have felt as much of an impact as it has now. But those 19 deaths alone might have lead the American people to think. The terror attacks helped the US government demonize the perpetrators and their cause. There is no way the American public will ever accept or feel the pain of the hijackers after this atrocity. There is one problem with self immolation here. Will the American people relate to 19 Muslims belonging to foreign countries if they were to immolate themselves? On a larger scale or if done with higher frequency, it may have the necessary impact. Its easier to achieve in the UK. British-born Muslims immolating themselves for a cause would definitely trigger national-level introspection.

If the aim is to bring about a change of heart of the American people, then 9/11 was a blunder. If the aim was to militarily subjugate them, then it might actually have helped their cause. But it is by no means sustainable. What can make it sustainable is not repeated terror attacks, but possession of nuclear weapons. The US War on Afghanistan has almost ensured that Al Qaeda will never be powerful enough to use the threat of nukes. But Al Qaeda has given hope and inspiration to Other terrorist organizations. And the US War on Iraq provides the platform for these groups' recruitment purposes.

Conclusion: Terrorists need to be more innovative, if they are to win. Options like self-immolation are extremely under-utlized now.

7 Value-adds:

Blogger nice try said...

there is one huge and in my opinion wrong assumption abt terrorists
1. they do stuff to seek attention for their cause
2. they want a solution to their problem

it would appear more logical to assume that
1'. they want more visibility among like-minded individuals
2'. they want a continuation of their problems so that their livelihood isnt disrupted

if you work under 1' and 2' as opposed to 1 and 2, i would imagine that what they are doing is near optimal.

September 04, 2006 7:16 AM  
Blogger eV said...

Nice Try: All four assumptions may be true. 1 and 2 hold good for the foot-soldiers. 1' and 2' apply for the strategists/bosses etc. No suicide bomber lays down his life without thinking his death will lead to either attention or solution.

Terrorism manifests and prevails for a while only because of the availability of foot soldiers, which is why 1 and 2 are important.

Also 1' and 2' are not sustainable, by themselves. Terror bosses do have an end-state in mind, however utopian or dumb it may be. Terror bosses definitely dont fit into my idea of status-quoists. Dont you think so too?

September 04, 2006 7:42 AM  
Blogger yhac said...

eV, your post treats each individual suicide bomber as a rational entity acting primarily of his own accord. In reality, they are merely following the orders of an instigator. If you were to examine the payoffs of the instigator, instead of a suicide bomber, I'm sure nice try's assumptions would seem more logical. The instigator's primary objective function is to keep the power that he already has.

Why aren't the individual soldiers important? Aren't they rational too? I'd say they think they are. But in the common case, they are under the impression that they aren't making a sacrifice. Religion, assures them of a huge payoff by the simple act of dying for it, doesn't it(unlimited virgins and all that)? They maximize their payoff by the act of dying for their religion. So, for them, the rational choice is to blindly follow whatever method of death that God has chosen(communicated via the instigator)

September 04, 2006 8:16 AM  
Blogger yhac said...

eV,
Just saw your reply to nice try. My case (and nice try's too, I think) is that a model where the rational entity is the instigator and the foot solider is neglected, is a closer approximation to reality, rather than treating each bomber as rational and neglecting the rational entity.

This is because foot soldiers are often irrational (under normal notions of rationality which donot include blowing up yourself pointlessly; as I said, they are actually being rational if you take into account the payoff of infinite life and 100 virgins into account).

September 04, 2006 8:24 AM  
Blogger yhac said...

The instigator is better of keeping his minions in poverty and ignorance, if that is the reason for his power(assuming he wants to stay powerful).

Progress and wealth, which might bring in a liberal education too will weaken the instigator's power and are therefore undesirable.

September 04, 2006 8:30 AM  
Blogger eV said...

yhac and nice try: Yeah, the distinction that you seek to make between the instigator and the foot soldier does exist - Bush and the US Army would also be an example for this.
But my point remains that the supply of foot soldiers is due to underlying rational reasons, at least partly.
You have a point though. Just as we study Bush to understand American intentions (& not an individual GI), it makes sense to give more importance to the motivation factors of the instigators.
In my previous comment, I had wondered if terror bosses could be classified as status-quoists. After all, their ambition is to bring about drastic change in the long term. I will now contradict my previous comment.
I'm reminded of something I read yesterday (thanks to yhac :)). People and organizations tend to limit short-term uncertainty (emphasis on short-term). This seems to explain why 1' and 2' would make sense in spite of their long-term goals being revolutionary.
But 1' and 2' dont completely describe the motivation of terror-dons. In a sense, they set out some boundary conditions for any terror don. But what he does within that boundary is defined by Other factors. His personal drive becomes the cause. But what is this drive? I'm not too sure.

September 04, 2006 10:24 PM  
Blogger shakhuni said...

ev,
how are you? heard you saw VV with mrs sureshwar and others :)

-varun

September 05, 2006 1:09 PM  

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