Thursday, September 01, 2005

Baghdad Stampede

It is easy to trace the cause of yesterday's tragedy in Baghdad, in which nearly a thousand people lost their lives (BBC news report). The much-overused word tragedy is appropriate here, because of the terrible way in which the crowd's response to a rumour amplified its effect.

The effect of terrorism is to create a climate in which people are easily terrified. (From resistance and stoicism to susceptibility and panic.) In a climate of fear, a rumoured attack can be as devastating as a real attack.

There had been a mortar attack earlier in the day, but the stampede was not just the aftershock from this single incident. The fear was not the result of a single act of terror, but of a series of attacks over an extended period. It is this aggregation (and the uncertain probability of repetition) that turns terror into terrorism.

Systems thinking should remind us that we can frame a complex tragedy in many different ways. What causes and effects do we include in the frame, how far back into history do we take the analysis? Systems thinking explains why there are so many conflicting explanations and excuses - because there are so many different frames. And why there are so many competing solutions for resisting and battling terrorism. Meanwhile, the appalling terror continues.

My deepest sympathies to the victims of the stampede, and to the people of Iraq.

Previous post: July 23rd.

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