Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Social Scientists Do Terrorism

    In the April 26 New Yorker, an article "Social Scientists Do Terrorism" by Nicolas Lemann reports on several thought-provoking assertions by social scientists.

    For example: "Rather than disempowering the former Confederates and empowering the freed slaves, Moyar says, the victorious Union should have maintained order by leaving the more coöperative elements of the slaveholding, seceding class in control."  Surely this would have meant allowing the "more cooperative elements of the slaveholding, seceding class" to retain their slaves.  So, violence in the post-civil war south could have been reduced by giving the slaveholders their way.  A clear corollary is that violence could have been reduced even more by not fighting the civil war in the first place, and instead letting the Confederate slaveholding society have its own way altogether.

    A modern form of this implication is evident elsewhere in the ruminations of the social scientists.  Thus, Robert Pape of the University of Chicago concludes that "the solution to the problem of terrorism couldn't be simpler: withdraw."  As he puts it:  "American military policy in the Persian Gulf was most likely the pivotal factor leading to September 11; the only effective way to prevent future Al Qaeda attacks would be for the United States to take all its forces out of the Middle East."  At the time of September 11, it might be recalled, American forcces in the region in question were limited to bases in Saudia and the Emirates to which the US was invited by the resident governments, and naval vessels in international waters or in neutral ports.

    Needless to say, an obvious corollary of this approach is that terrorist attacks on Israel could be prevented by taking Israel out of the Middle East.  However, Professor Pape's advice would dictate other withdrawals as well.  In 2007, Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri called for Al Andalus to be restored to the Islamic world, so western withdrawal from the historic Al Andalus would also be required.  Once Spain had withdrawn from the southern 2/3 of Spain, Mr. al-Zahahiri and his associates would no doubt recall that parts of southern France, Corsica, Sicily, Sardinia, Crete, Cypress, and Armenia were all part of Dar al Islam at its height.  Therefore, the Pape policy would require France to withdraw from Toulouse, Narbonne, and Corsica, Italy from Sicily and Sardinia, Greece from Crete, and the Armenians from Armenia.  After that, we could only hope that Al Qaeda and its associates would not remind everybody of the former Ottoman Empire's Islamic sovereignty over large parts of central and southern Europe.

    In short, the social scientists in question have made the astounding discovery that conflicts can be averted by simply giving in to violence and its threat.  I wonder whether they have fully considered the obvious cases (for example, the 1930s) when this policy only delayed, rather than averted, the conflict.

Jon Gallant

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