[Paleopsych] Gary North: Terrorism and Insurgency
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Sat Jul 9 00:05:00 UTC 2005
Gary North: Terrorism and Insurgency
Gary North's REALITY CHECK
Issue 462, 5.7.8
I had been planning to write on this topic before the
terrorist bombings in London. The bombings have forced me
to speed up my publishing timetable.
We must distinguish carefully between insurgency and
terrorism. There are overlaps in the two movements, but
they are conceptually distinct. They are also tactically
The insurgent is a guerilla. He is a defender against
an invading military force. He is a warrior battling
warriors. The terrorist is a member of an organization
that seeks to disrupt civilian life as a means of regime
change. His targets are civilians and civilian
The insurgent has a limited goal: the expulsion of the
invading troops. The terrorist has a much broader goal:
the disruption of civil society in the name of a larger
cause, usually messianic. He wants to heal the world of
some all-encompassing evil. His is a never-ending battle.
Unlike the insurgent, he never gets to the stage where he
says, "We've won, so let's de-escalate."
In the mid-1980s, the United States government began
to provide Stinger ground-to-air missiles to Afghan
resistance fighters. These were clearly insurgents. This
technology forced Soviet pilots to fly ground-support
planes at 15,000 feet rather than 5,000 feet. This forced
a complete re-structuring of Soviet military tactics in
Afghanistan. The ground troops no longer received reliable
air cover. They pulled out. The Soviets lost the war
because of this. Within two years of this retreat, the
Soviet Union collapsed. The visibly collapsing socialist
economy, coupled with the humiliation of the defeat in
Afghanistan, gutted the self-confidence of the Soviet
I have intermittently studied terrorism ever since
1963, when I took a course on modern Russian history.
Modern Western terrorism began in late 19th century Russia.
Lenin's older brother had been executed because he was a
member of a Russian terrorist organization. This turned
Lenin into a Marxist.
In 1881, a terrorist group assassinated the Czar, who
had been a liberal (for a Russian) reformer, the man who
had freed the serfs. These terrorist groups were self-
consciously attempting to destroy the Russian social order.
They were revolutionary anarchists. They were convinced
that terrorism would call forth repression by the state,
which it did. Then, they believed, counter-repression
terrorist movements could recruit followers to fight this
They were right, in a way: counter-terrorism recruited
Lenin for the cause of revolution. After he gained power
in 1917, his initial targets were not the capitalists; they
were the anarchists. He liquidated them or sent them to
the slave labor camps in Siberia. The ultimate counter-
terrorist was Lenin. The anarchist terrorists learned an
old lesson: those who live by the sword die by the sword.
AN ANCIENT TRADITION
We are seeing an escalation of terrorism in Iraq on a
scale that has no precedent in history. The suicide
bombings are now not only daily, they are intra-daily. At
the height of the Intifada, the State of Israel experienced
one suicide bombing per month. On the evening news, we
hear reports of multiple bombings all over the central part
of Iraq: a dozen dead here, two dozen dead there.
We are told officially that these bombers are
outsiders coming into Iraq. We had better hope that these
assessments are not true. If they are true, then the
supply of suicide bombers will not decrease just because
the United States pulls out of Iraq. If outsiders are the
perpetrators, then they are not tied to national geography.
They are not Iraqi nationalists. They are self-consciously
part of a regional terrorist network, loosely structured.
They are volunteering for service in a larger war, a war
outside the geographical confines of their home countries.
If these bombers are Iraqi nationalists, there is hope
that our departure from Iraq will cool the conflict. The
thought of regional terrorists in the Middle East is indeed
terrifying. The West's oil is located there. If these are
terrorists, as distinguished from insurgents, then they are
close to the choke points of the West. If they are
terrorists in service of an anti-Western, pro-Muslim cause,
then they are closer to destructive power than any
terrorists in history. They could create economic chaos in
the West by closing the oil pipelines. Oil prices respond
in volatile swings to minor marginal changes in output.
In my view, this is what they are: Muslim fanatics who
see themselves as part of a tradition going back to the
Assassins. I have argued since 2001 that Osama bin Laden
is self-consciously positioning himself as the Assassins'
legendary and near-mythological leader, known as the Old
Man of the Mountain.
There is an attempt by Western analysts to deny the
Islamic origin of these terrorists. This is a very
difficult case to make. If it is true, then the terrorists
are modern, secular, and nationalist, i.e., essentially
Western. That would indicate a very small pool of "talent"
to recruit from regionally. I think the story of
nationalist suicide bombers from outside Iraq is the
product of Western analysts' inability to imagine people
who are dedicated to a religion with 1.2 billion adherents,
who strap bombs to their bodies and blow up themselves and
civilians. Western analysts find it easier to deal with
modernism's terrorists than Islam's.
I'm not buying it. This is an ancient war going back
1,400 years, with a terrorist tradition going back a
thousand years. Bin Laden has self-consciously identified
America as Crusaders. We should not ignore his rhetoric.
He understands his "market." He has not made his appeal to
regional nationalists. He has appealed to Muslims.
It does not explain anything to label this
"Islamofascism." This escalating movement has nothing to
do with fascism, which was a short-lived movement of a
posturing Italian ex-Communist, with military support from
a German racist occultist. "Islamofascism" makes this
movement sound modern. It is not modern, except in its
technology, which is low tech and dirt cheap.
Permit me to reprint part of an article that I wrote
for Lew Rockwell's site in mid-September, 2001. I have not
changed my opinion.
* * * * * * * * *
A terrorist group needs recruits. A terrorist movement
needs recruits. If your strategy of terror involves the
extensive use of suicide missions, you need very dedicated
To get such recruits, you need the following: (1) a cause
that is greater than any individual; (2) a sense of destiny
associated with your cause; (3) the perception that a
sacrificial act on behalf of your cause is never wasted or
futile; (4) a vision of victory; (5) publicly visible
events that demonstrate the power of your movement.
> From what little I have read about Osama bin Laden, his
movement possesses all five factors. He is especially
skilled with respect to point five. He understands
symbolism, and he understands Western media. This man is a
formidable enemy of Western civilization.
I believe that Americans have completely misunderstood the
events of 9-11. The attack was not a direct assault on the
United States primarily for the sake of making us fearful.
It was part of a recruiting campaign. The response of the
street people in Palestine was what he had in mind. He gave
alienated Palestinians an event to celebrate.
It also gave the Establishment Palestinians a chance to
speak out against terrorism. That, too, was part of bin
Laden's positioning. He is not Establishment. An extremist,
especially a terrorist, must position himself as a member
of the non-loyal opposition. Nothing I can imagine could
have accomplished this better than the events of 9-11.
If you want to understand what happened on 9-11, visualize
a poster with bin Laden in a turban and flowing robes,
pointing his index finger at you, with a slogan
underneath: "Uncle Osama Wants You." That poster is aimed
at the alienated folks back home. For Americans, the slogan
is different: "Uncle Osama Wants You Dead."
* * * * * * * * *
FUSION OR CONFUSION?
There are insurgent groups in Iraq. They have been
killing American troops, about two a day, for two years.
There are terrorist groups in Iraq. They have
attacked civilians, local police, and some government
Are these groups unified? No. Is there a single
chain of command? No. Is there any way to negotiate with
any group's leader, who will act in the name of all groups?
No. That is why this is now a never-ending war.
There are many theories of what motivates the
terrorists. This is appropriate: there are many
motivations and many terrorist groups. Some are trying to
foment a civil war. Others are no doubt dreaming of
inflicting permanent damage on American foreign policy for
the Middle East. Others are bin Laden's followers: Islamic
radicals. All are agreed: Americans and their
collaborators are targets. Americans are the symbol of
Western power. Americans are there and therefore are
The fact that there is a common enemy -- American
troops and officials -- has led to confusion in the minds
of Western analysts. They do not understand that the
success of the insurgency in inflicting tactical damage on
American troops has served as motivation for terrorists who
see their cause in a much broader context, both
geographically and historically.
Terrorism and insurgency are not fused, but Western
analysts are surely confused. They were confused going
into Iraq, and they will probably remain confused after we
The terrorists are not confused. They have a goal: the
overturning of the West's social order. They now see an
historic opportunity. So can the Muslim in the street.
This will make their recruiting easier.
TAKING THE FIGHT ABROAD
Whether the London bombings were the work of Muslim
fanatics or anti-WTO fanatics, we do not know. What we
know is that terrorism is spreading. The tactics of
terrorism are being worked out in Iraq. Today, bombs.
Tomorrow. . . ?
The master tacticians were the inventors of the car
bomb: the IRA. That invention appeared around 1973. It is
gaining popularity. It almost brought down one of the Twin
Towers in 1993. That would have cost 60,000 lives -- maybe
twice that, if the second tower had been hit by a
collapsing first tower, which might not have fallen
Iraq has become the on-the-job training program for
terrorists. Because the insurgency is perceived as local,
which it is, the parallel terrorism is also seen as local,
or at most regional. This is a convenient assumption. But
is it accurate?
To separate regional Middle Eastern terrorism from
worldwide Islam is convenient for political analysts who
are secular. They don't comprehend the idea of world
conquest by an old religious movement that was from day one
a military movement. The fact that most members of this
religion have abandoned the idea of conquest by force does
not deal with the problem of bin Laden, who is a
representative of a respected sub-tradition.
The insurgency may be growing in Iraq. That is a
military concern. On the other hand, it may not be
growing. It may be "merely" holding its own. What is
unquestionably growing is the terrorist movement. That is
of much wider and more profound concern than military.
Because terrorism is growing in Iraq, it is easy to
confuse the terrorists with the insurgents. It is easy to
assume that once America leaves Iraq, the terrorists will
fade away, along with the insurgents. This expectation has
about as much validity as the neo-conservatives'
expectation in February, 2003, that our troops would be
greeted as liberators by the broad mass or Iraqis. It is,
in short, a pipe dream -- and there is some funny-smelling
stuff is in the pipe.
Terrorists are like sharks: they follow the scent of
blood. When terrorist tactics appear to be undermining
people's trust in the existing social order's ability to
defend stability, these tactics spread. The goal of the
terrorist is messianic: the replacement of the existing
social order with a new one, rarely described and never
presented in blueprint form. The enemy is real: existing
society. The reform is vague: mostly positive adjectives.
Positive adjectives in the minds of terrorists make for
With respect to the work of terrorists, they've only
So have the counter-terrorists.
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