economics of madness

This started off as a comment on a post over at Say Uncle that just got out of hand. He asks “I wonder why the other, smaller terrorist groups haven’t tried small-scale stuff?”, referring to a post asking the same about suicide bombing.

First, as to suicide bombings in particular, I would hazard a guess based on some very uninformed and possibly incorrect assumptions off the top of my head (hm, maybe I should make that my blog’s motto!):

a) That poverty and violence-stricken areas are fertile ground for a suicide bomber. The combination of frenzied nationalism/religion, appeal of martyrdom, monetary compensation to the family, and of course sheer lunacy are all sufficient to make a suicide bomber very affordable as a weapon.

b) This doesn’t translate to anywhere overseas very well at all. Naturally, very few people already in this country are bad off enough to do this personally or have it subsidized on the aggregate.

c) Then your only course of action is to, what.. send someone to the U.S.? Well, not only does that vastly increase your cost overhead, but the chances of success are virtually nil. You send someone on a plane to the U.S. and they aren’t going to want to blow anyone up – they’ll go get a job, a mortgage and a car payment and settle in. Remove someone from the mire of violence and poverty and the incentive to blow yourself becomes far less compelling.

Suicide bombing is warfare that only violence, abject poverty, desperation and hopelessness can make practical, and the well is deep in Palestine, Chechnya, and, now, Iraq. It’s as sickening and unacceptable as the tolerance of the environment that creates it.

Ah, the economics of madness.

But, there’s a larger point I’d make. The question as phrased is similar to many others I’ve read, wherein the fundamental underlying assumption seems to be that the ultimate goals of “the terrorists” is the utter and complete descruction of the United States. That we’re not the sole focus of terrorist action, on a large and small scale, is thus bewildering. Well, it’s bewildering because the premise is simply not true, and it belies the fallacy of our so-called “war on terror”.

The reality is that terrorist groups are varied and they have different agendas. Regime change in and western withdrawal from Saudia Arabia. An independent Chechnya. An Islamist Egyptian state. A Palestinian state. Sheer criminal activity. This is not to condone any particular agenda or their methods, but just to highlight that these are different problems with different solutions. Of course the rhetoric calls for utter destruction of the US, or of “the enemy.” You don’t rally people to needless war and violence by discussing practical agendas – you rally them with lies and exaggerations. And it’s just that sort of exaggeration that has rallied us to war. The idea that you can literally “fight terror” as a single entity is ludicrous, and the fact that this idea is driving much of our foreign policy is scary indeed.

Al Qaeda attacks us because we are seen as a facilitator of the “near enemy” of their agenda at home (making us the “far enemy”). So, in conclusion: another reason we may not yet have seen smaller-scale attacks is that we’re not the only front in their war, or indeed even the ultimate focus of it.