Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Applying Randomness

I worked rather hard on my application for a fellowship, but in the end it was probably my lack of a tenure track position that kept me from getting it.


The hardest part of the application was the essay portion. Applicants had to write no more than 250 words for each of the three topics. No academic is ever that concise. It is rather difficult to cover such complex issues in so little space. But I was up to the endeavor. See for yourself:

1. Define terrorism and explain how it constitutes a legitimate or illegitimate use of force. Please provide one or more real world examples about the use of terrorism to make your case.

Terrorism is a tactic used by organizations and institutions to influence or modify the behavior of a populace or a government through the use of fear or, as the term implies, terror. When this tactic is used by non-state actors, it cannot be considered to be the legitimate use of force, as this is the purview of governments. That is not to say that all acts of terrorism are de facto illegitimatized. There have been cases where governments have overstepped the bounds of the use of force to cow a population of a conquered territory and have been met with armed resistance. This resistance is then labeled ‘terrorism’. The early years of the Irish Republican Army is an example of this. However, most groups resorting to terrorism do not directly attack agents of a government, but rather the innocent non-combatant in hopes of using fear on the part of the whole population to drive the government into complying with the demands of the group. This is the case of the more recent activities of the IRA. While some groups attempt to maintain their legitimacy by attacking solely military or governmental targets, a degree of innocent civilian causalities can be expected. The likelihood of this depends on the type of
attack used. The more indiscriminate the attack – the use of bombing a clear example of this – the more likely a by-stander will be harmed. This in turn decreases the credibility and legitimacy of the organization engaging in terrorism.

2. If you could make one policy prescription to bring the war on terrorism to a successful conclusion, what would it be and what would a successful conclusion look like?

Terrorism is a tactic, thus it is diffi cult to have a ‘war’ against a tactic. To successfully bring an end to terrorism, those fi ghting against it must understand the underlying cause that drives rank-and-fi le members of terrorist organizations to see it as an acceptable tactic. Only when terrorism is seen as a symptom of a societal ill can progress be made.

Most terrorist organizations are driven by economic realities. When unemployment is unnaturally high within a segment society, that segment will engage in violence. One need only look at the gang activity within the US to see this. The solution is not to combat terrorist activities with traditional military methods, but rather go to the heart of the problem – the economic imbalance. Repression by the state, rather than economic engagement, will merely create another generation of the disenfranchised who will turn to violence as a means of self-expression. When the community has a vested interest in protecting their own economic well-being in the face of violent activities by fellow community members, a mode of self-policing can begin. The necessary weapon against the development of terrorism is economic development, not merely humanitarian aid. The current situation in Palestine is a case in point. Álvaro de Soto pointed out that there is ‘cause for alarm’1 in the dependency on handouts in that there is little in the way of self-reliance in the region. Without economic development, there will be little need for the Palestinians bring about an end to the terrorism by a portion of their society.
1 Steven Erlanger; “Aid to Palestinians Rose Despite an Embargo”, New York Times; March 21, 2007; A1

3. Discuss some of America’s successes and/or failures in fighting terrorism at home and abroad.

The lack of attacks against American soil is often offered as proof of our success in combating terrorism domestically. However, the diffi culty lies in trying to prove a negative: is the lack due to our preventative measures or their lack of attempts. Internationally, our successes have been a little more identifiable. A large number of countries have joined the United States in blocking the use of the world’s fi nancial systems by terrorist organizations, making it harder for those organizations to raise funding. Likewise, Libya, once a notorious sponsor of global terrorism, has dismantled its weapons program and distanced itself from groups such as
al-Qaeda as a result of economic sanctions.

Failures, however, are easier to identify. As Jessica Stern noted, “[The] bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was the latest evidence that America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one.”1 The sponsorship of Hezbullah on the part of Syria and Iran has markedly increased since the start of the war against global acts of terrorism. Al-Qaeda has become a hydra, in that each time the American military succeeds in capturing or killing a high-ranking member of that organization, two or three members step into the breach. Likewise, on the domestic front, the passage of laws that decreased the civil liberties of citizens can only be seen as a failure if the purpose of fighting the war on terrorism is to promote civil liberties globally.

1 Jessica Stern; “How America Created a Terrorist Haven”, New York Times; August 20, 2003; A21

Much thanks is due to my Sanity Touchstone -- BM, you know of whom I speak -- for letting me go through my mental meltdown on his shoulder. Spring Break is over and now it's back to torturing students with homework....