Saturday, July 23, 2005


After an appalling series of events in London, the British media have been full of assertions about the purpose of terrorism, from which various conclusions for action are derived - usually striving to do the exact opposite of what the terrorists are supposed to want, apparently based on POSIWID-style arguments.
  • the purpose of terrorism is to foster division, therefore we must remain united ...
  • the purpose of terrorism is to undermine our democratic traditions, therefore we must preserve and protect ...
For my part, I am happy to go along with a general preference for unity over discord, and for democratic rights over authoritarian reaction. But I think it is absurd to argue for this preference simply in order to frustrate the imagined wishes of some constructed entity.

In the London Times, Matthew Parris (July 23rd, 2005) suggests that an image of the terrorists, as belonging to a tightly coordinated yet agile global enterprise, is the result of an unwitting conspiracy between four separate powers: news media, Government, security services and the terrorists themselves. Even if this image is untrue (and Parris is careful not to say it is), each of these powers benefits, in different ways, from promoting this image.

(Parris has written about conspiracy before: Oct 19th 2002, Feb 1st, 2003).  update  Adam Curtis made a similar point following the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, : "Neoconservatives, 'terror journalists' and Osama bin Laden himself all had their own reasons to create a simple story of looming apocalypse." Guardian May 3rd 2011)

Talking about the purpose of terrorism only makes sense if we conceive of terrorism as a reasonably coherent system. But this conception is itself subject to various agendas. POSIWID may be a useful analytical technique for working out what is going on (WIGO). But it does not justify a simple response to a complex situation.

No comments: