From the horse's mouth

The ancient Greeks saw the stars move across the sky every night around a fixed point without changing their positions relative to each other. They concluded that the stars must be located on a Celestial Sphere with the Earth located at its center. The first sentence is an observation of facts: the movement of stars. The second is a mental model of causal relationships to explain the facts. With time, as more facts came out, the model changed to one in which the stars were in fact at varied distances from the Earth which rotated on its axis and revolved around the sun.

Similarly, no matter what our place on the political spectrum, we try to make sense of the facts around us by trying to elicit causal relationships and building a mental model of the world. Thus, we arrive at some basic principles by which we view politics. A basic principle of the left is, "History is a series of power struggles between the strong and the weak." Similarly on the right, "Give tradition the benefit of the doubt because tradition incorporates evolved wisdom."

A fundamental tenet for libertarians is, "Terrorism is in large part a result of US foreign policy." It's become deeply ingrained, a part of the orthodoxy.  Yet, a former British Islamist, Hassan Butt, wrote something quite different last week about the causes of terrorism.

When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network - a series of British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology - I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy.

By blaming the Government for our actions, those who pushed this "Blair's bombs" line did our propaganda work for us.

More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.

The attempts to cause mass destruction in London and Glasgow are so reminiscent of other recent British Islamic extremist plots that they are likely to have been carried out by my former peers.

And as with previous terror attacks, people are again saying that violence carried out by Muslims is all to do with foreign policy.

For example, on Saturday on Radio 4's Today programme, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: "What all our intelligence shows about the opinions of disaffected young Muslims is the main driving force is not Afghanistan, it is mainly Iraq."

I left the British Jihadi Network in February 2006 because I realised that its members had simply become mindless killers. But if I were still fighting for their cause, I'd be laughing once again.

Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the July 7 bombings, and I were both part of the network - I met him on two occasions.

And though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many others to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain and abroad was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary worldwide Islamic state that would dispense Islamic justice.

If we were interested in justice, you may ask, how did this continuing violence come to be the means of promoting such a (flawed) Utopian goal?

How do Islamic radicals justify such terror in the name of their religion?

There isn't enough room to outline everything here, but the foundation of extremist reasoning rests upon a model of the world in which you are either a believer or an infidel.

Formal Islamic theology, unlike Christian theology, does not allow for the separation of state and religion: they are considered to be one and the same.

For centuries, the reasoning of Islamic jurists has set down rules of interaction between Dar ul-Islam (the Land of Islam) and Dar ul-Kufr (the Land of Unbelief) to cover almost every matter of trade, peace and war.

But what radicals and extremists do is to take this two steps further. Their first step has been to argue that, since there is no pure Islamic state, the whole world must be Dar ul-Kufr (The Land of Unbelief).

Step two: since Islam must declare war on unbelief, they have declared war upon the whole world.

The view that Islamist terror is a direct consequence of an interventionist foreign policy is so pervasive among libertarians that it's nearly axiomatic. Many people got into libertarianism from this "gateway" belief. I've never bought it and still don't; it's simplistic and naive. More than that though, it's irresponsible. It avoids any real examination of the true causes of Islamist terror. Before you can fix something, you have to know how it works, and in order to know how it works, you have to look at it closely. You can't look closely if you've already made up your mind for the wrong reasons.

Butt isn't a political theorist or a sociologist, not an outsider looking in. He was there; he was a terrorist in the British Jihadi Network.  What he says should have a lot of sway in what we think about why people from halfway around the world try to blow us up. 

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Incidentally, some other

Incidentally, some other people have an entirely different opinion. Read the article linked in here and the first comments citing gender imbalance numbers for muslim countries. Islamic terrorism could very well be caused by sexual frustration, explaining why the bombers got involved with radicalism and hate-crime in the first place. Islam just happens to deeply enhance the conditions in which it arises, then neatly provides a conscious-level umbrella for them to hide their repressed inconscious thoughts under.

Muslim fundamentalists

Muslim fundamentalists seeking to expand Islam will concentrate on the closest targets first. Why did they target US? Because the US is propping up Middle Eastern governments which are hostile to the fundamentalists. If this ceases, then Muslims will attack closer countries.
Since Israel, India, Russia, France and China all have nukes and large armies, I suggest we let them worry.
Once the Caliphate stretches over all of Europe and Asia, then I will start to worry.

Why People Do the Things They Do

Of course Islamic theology is a major factor in Islamic terrorism, but being good praxeologists we have to use marginal analysis to determine what would reduce terrorism. Some Muslims will become terrorists regardless of what the West does; they must be destroyed. (Although, I must agree with Gavin that they are more likely to concentrate on more proximate enemies, which means that America is still relatively safe.) But these are also not the marginal terrorists. It would indeed be strange if American bombings, invasions, etc. of Muslim countries did not push some people who flirted with terrorist ideology that extra step to actually committing terrorist acts.

Perhaps an analogy would be helpful. How did Communists justify their murderous regimes. Well, because Communist dogma--one could easily say theology--said it was necessary to create their paradise. But that only begs the question: why did people become Communists? Some people will always be Communists, but in the heydays of Communism, the marginal Communist was attracted to the ideology because it seemed to have explanatory power. First, it seemed to explain the horrible working conditions in industrializing Europe and the revolutions of 1848. Later, it seemed to explain World War I and the depressions that shook the capitalist world afterwards. Now that any sane individual can look at the world and see how much richer the people--workers included--are in the capitalist world are than people in the old Communist world, far fewer people are Communists.

I think something similar can be said about Islamic terrorists: there would be far fewer of them absent American foreing policy. So while people like Butt and Bin Laden might still become terrorists, there will be fewer footsoldiers and supporters.

This is the heart of the

This is the heart of the very libertarian argument I'm arguing against:

It would indeed be strange if American bombings, invasions, etc. of
Muslim countries did not push some people who flirted with terrorist
ideology that extra step to actually committing terrorist acts. [...]

I think something similar can be said about Islamic terrorists: there
would be far fewer of them absent American foreing policy.

I see no proof of this. It's a fundamental tenet of libertarianism which nobody questions. It's an assumption based on a "theory of mind". But you can't prove it a priori; that's just hand waving.*

Sure, American foreign policy might cause the marginal terrorist to become a real terrorist. But if might just as easily prevent a marginal terrorist from becoming a real terrorist. Qaddafi has been a good boy since Reagan bomb his ass. That's another, just as valid, a priori, theory of mind - one that's been popular and valid since the beginning of civilization, one that lies at the heart of reciprocity, deterrence, internalizing externalities, and everyday social dynamics.

 

* IMO, it's a cognitive bias prevalent in American libertarianism based on the familiar, but that's another post for another day.

You can deter people like

You can deter people like Qaddafi, but I was thinking mainly along the lines of people who intend on killing themselves as well. They are undeterrable.

And yes, some of the reason people like myself believe that terrorists are often motivated by American and British foreign policy is intuitive ("How would I feel if an Arab army were occupying America?" etc.), but there is also plenty of empirical evidence that supports that position. I've cited a piece of evidence that pertains to the 7/7 bombings below, and you've cited an example of an apparatchik who embraced terrorism for an altogether different reason: to establish the caliphate. Many terrorists cite both as motivating factors. So can't we both be right? I believe different terrorists are motivated by different things, and some terrorists have several motivations.

I suppose my central claims are the following:

1) Many terrorists are singularly or primarily motivated by the foreign policies of certain governments.

And if 1 then:

2) Absent these policies, these people do not become terrorists.
3) So, absent these policies, on net, there are fewer terrorists.

Now, there is a gap between two and three that can't be reconciled because even if there was an easy way to total all the world's terrorists, I don't have an infinite number of counter-factual worlds to test this. But you have to admit that it's not a crazy way to look at the world.

Marginal thinking is not a license to preserve myths

Butt was himself demonstrably a marginal terrorist - since he left the group.

If the evidence contradicts your cherished beliefs, one thing you can try to do to preserve those beliefs is to push them to the margin while claiming that the evidence only concerns the core. Voila, your beliefs are preserved. Moreover, since in economic thinking the margin is more important than the core, the importance of your beliefs is enhanced! Even better!

I recommend against such use of marginal thinking.

Part the Second

I really shouldn't have referred to Butt's as a terrorist because he never actually claims to have committed terrorist acts. So I suppose he was Jihadi and, yes, a marginal one both when he joined and left. Also, he never really says what the precipitating causes of either of those events were. And this is what marginal analysis is really all about: why did he make both those decisions? Did he just become convinced one day outside of any context that Islam required him to kill infidels? That seems unlikely. The text and theology had been there his entire life, so wouldn't there have to be some context to this decision? Unfortunately, he doesn't go into the details enough to tell us, but I can't help but doubt that it was as simple as "I read the Koran until I knew I had to kill people."

Now, the way I read Constant's comment was that since I have no actual evidence, I relied on armchair theorizing. I did use some armchair theorizing but there is plenty of evidence that people who Islamic radicals who blow themselves up are motivated by American and British foreign policy. So Butt, who clearly did not blow himself up, claims that he and, by insinuation, the 7/7 bombers wer motivated by the desire to establish a worldwide caliphate. Butt may speak for himself but for the others that simply doesn't appear to be true. From the AP, July 16, 2005:

Shahzad Tanweer, the 22-year-old son of a Pakistani-born affluent businessman, turned to Islam, the religion of his birth, a few years ago. The transformation was gradual, but then his relentless reading of the Quran and daily prayers became almost an obsession, his friends told The Associated Press. He became withdrawn and increasingly angry over the war in Iraq, according to those who knew him best.

The U.S.-led war was what likely drove him to blow himself up on a subway train last week, said his friends.

“He was a Muslim and he had to fight for Islam. This is called jihad,” or holy war, said Asif Iqbal, 20, who said he was Tanweer’s childhood friend.

Another friend, Adnan Samir, 21, nodded in agreement.

“They’re crying over 50 people while 100 people are dying every day in Iraq and Palestine,” said Iqbal. “If they are indeed the ones who did it, it’s because they believed it was right. They’re in Heaven.

[....]

Former students at the Hillside Primary School said Khan left for Pakistan last December to look after his ailing father. It was not clear when he returned to Britain.

“I liked him. He was nice,” said Billy Sandersen, 13. He and other former pupils said they were shocked when they saw his picture in the papers as one of the suspects.

However, they said they still liked him.

“Just a little bit, but not for what he’s done — killing innocent people,” Sandersen said.

“I still like him,” said Sean Woodham, 13, another former pupil, “because he always helped me with my homework.”

Maroof Latif, an unemployed Beeston resident, said he knew Khan since he was a child and believes if he took part in the terrorist bombings of the subways it was because of his anger over the war in Iraq and the U.S.-British occupation.

[End Quote]

(The link (http://rougholboy.com/?p=224) is to my blog because the orinigal article isn't located where it was on that day if it still exists at all.)

Hearsay versus confession

This is evidence. But these accounts are at best hearsay, and may not even be that - they may be supposition on the part of the friends. Tanweer's own video statement is stronger evidence for your case.

 

 

Re: Hearsay versus confession

True enough, but kind in mind that Butt's testimony is only an anecdote from someone whose nearest connection to actual terrorism is that he met one of the 7/7 bombers twice. He's hardly the proverbial horse.

I appreciate legitimate criticisms, but...

...this is clearly wrong:

True enough, but kind in mind that Butt's testimony is only an anecdote
from someone whose nearest connection to actual terrorism is that he
met one of the 7/7 bombers twice. He's hardly the proverbial horse.

Hassan Butt was a household name in Britain long before he started criticizing Islamists. He was spokeman for Al Muhajiroun, a British terrorist group that the British government kept close tabs on and that carried out suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and India. He recruited Taliban fighters against US forces, spent two years in Lahore networking with terrorists, and raised money to fund terrorism.

I'm not sure what else you have to do to be the "horse". Unless you're saying the only way to be the horse is to blow yourself up, but then the horse is defined away to meaninglessness and we'll never know what the horse is saying.

Mea Culpa

I confess, I did not know that about Butt, so I'll grant that he's the horse, or at least as close as one can get without actually killing people. Perhaps I should have Googled the name before saying that he wasn't.

However, I do think the issue of Butt's motivation is less interesting than the issue of what motivates people who do blow themselves up. (Not that I think they have to be seperate motivations, but they certainly could be.) The way you describe it, Butt's old job sounds like being an office clerk or middle management for Terror Inc. It may be a very vital role for a terrorist organization. Yeah, you'd have to hate the people you're trying to kill a lot to do that, but not as much as you do to actually kill them by blowing yourself up. That's a kind of hatred I can't even begin to imagine. And, yes, this is just my instinct but I can't help but thinking that to get oneself to that mindset it requires some kind of psychosis or traumatic precipitating event--something more than just reading the Koran a lot and listening to radical clerics.

I believe the most

I believe the most meaningful dynamic behind the 7/7 bombings is the sense of alienation particular to 2nd-generation British Pakistanis. Note that 2nd-generation British Indians, who share a very similar background including language, diet, culture, but not religion, do not feel the same way. Certainly, the quotes from the people who knew him point to British foreign policy as a cause of the bombings, but my argument is there are deeper neuroses at work here. For a young person who has no sense of belonging to the society that surrounds him, radical Islam offers a systematized, coherent culture to belong to. Once within the culture, I'm not sure it matters what justifications are used to carry out violent acts.

As an example, when blacks who were destroying/looting stores in LA during the Rodney King riots were asked about their motivations, many said, "We're angry about the Rodney King ruling." Yet, I saw it as an excuse to loot and and lash out (especially seeing that many targeted stores were black-owned or Korean-owned). Why should I take that person at his word? Similarly, why should I believe these angry 2nd-gen kids who claim to bomb the subways for something happening thousands of miles away about people they don't know? If they didn't have the Iraq War to point to, they'd find something else to point to.

Again, can't it be both.

Again, can't it be both.

Libertarian protestant

A fundamental tenet for libertarians is, "Terrorism is in large part a result of US foreign policy." It's become deeply ingrained, a part of the orthodoxy.

Hm... I would say that libertarianism has an essence (rather than an orthodoxy), and that essence is the libertarian ethic, which is essentially a universal application of certain familiar rules of society. Specifically, respect for person and property, complete liberty short of transgressing against another's person or property. That sort of thing. And the universal application of such rules, so that, for example, government does not have a special privilege to take from Peter to give to Paul. Anyone who comes to something like this conclusion is a libertarian to a greater or lesser extent depending on how far the libertarian element reaches through his thinking, regardless of whether he got his ideas from other libertarians. Most importantly, libertarians are almost necessarily optimistic about the real-world consequences of increases in freedom. The greatest conflict between libertarians and the left is probably that the left views libertarian ideals as intrinsically evil (because they are pro-capitalist and pro-property, property and capitalism being the devil's work in the religion of leftism), but the greatest conflict between libertarians and the non-leftist mainstream may be the mainstream view that too much freedom would be disastrous.

Anyway, if there is a church of libertarianism that maintains the tablets of orthodoxy, I suppose I would need to identify as a libertarian protestant.

In particular, I don't identify many specific ideas as essentially libertarian - even if many libertarians share them. I never believed, for example, that either position on the Creationism/Evolution in Science Class Debate was especially libertarian, since the underlying common assumption of both views is that the question of what to teach children is a political question. Libertarians as libertarians do not have a dog in this fight (though as individuals they may have strong opinions on the matter).

And similarly with views on how American foreign policy affects terrorism. While libertarians generally believe that government causes a great deal of mischief, this general idea does not automatically translate into specific accusations of particular mischief.

 

No Win Situation?

“The view that Islamist terror is a direct consequence of an interventionist foreign policy is so pervasive among libertarians that it's nearly axiomatic.”
The Islamists still use reprisal, called Islamic self defense, as a justification for violence and as a recruiting tool. When asked why they purposely kill children, they say Jews and Americans have killed Islamic children. I don’t know their justification for purposely killing Muslim children, as they do in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am sure they have some catchy one-liner to cover that situation.
The real reason they do these things is to gain power. The more vicious and merciless, the better because it maximizes their clout by cowing the opposition. Americans may accidentally kill some civilians while trying to get the enemy. Demonstrations and protests from local government officials usually follow. Americans are terrorists too, leftists scream, but terrorists don’t tolerate being criticized. When terrorists kill a hundred people shopping at a market there are few protests. Why? Locals know it is wise to remain silent or they will be next. On the other hand biting the hand of Americans who are trying to help wins praise.
Islamist propaganda about promoting religious purity allows them to justify any means and to attract disaffected idealists to their cause. Effective terror and propaganda tactics have all been worked out by the master practitioners of these sorts of things- Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao and other mass exterminators.
The Islamists have just gotten started, so don’t get too comfortable. If they want to live that way, they must be isolated to their corner of the globe and not supplied with petro-dollars but since this is impossible they must be engaged in a prolonged if low intensity struggle. Believers in various political ideologies must ask themselves if their way of thinking will suffice or they are just a means of self-deception.

"The view that Islamist

"The view that Islamist terror is a direct consequence of an interventionist foreign policy is so pervasive among libertarians that it's nearly axiomatic. [...] I've never bought it and still don't; it's simplistic and naive. More than that though, it's irresponsible. It avoids any real examination of the true causes of Islamist terror."

You'll have a hard time convincing me that "more than a century of Western intervention in the Middle East, from the Sykes-Picot Treaty to the Shah Dynasty to the War in Iraq" is the naive analysis and "they hate us for our freedom" is the sophisticated analysis.

In any event, whatever happened to the principle of revealed preferences? Since when do we take an actor's word at face value for diagnosing his motives? America claims to be occupying Iraq in the name of "freedom"; should libertarians be behind that war?

Terrorist's Abuse Excuse

People like Ultimate Ratio look at the reasons for Muslims to hate the West and concludes that they explain terrorism. Of course there are reasons, perhaps even valid ones, but that does not justify terrorist attacks on innocent people. Germany and Japan had reasons they gave to justify their aggression. Some people justify Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor as the result of Western interference in Japan’s oil supply and Germany’s attack on Poland as the result of the unjust seizure of former German interests in the Versailles Treaty. These previous actions, in turn did not arise out of a vacuum. For instance Japan was attacking and committing all sorts of atrocities in China.

What is naive is to buy propaganda that justifies terror. It is probably best not to take sides at all but it is possible to give a fair evaluation if you know enough. For my part, it is difficult to have much sympathy for groups that purposely and systematically commit atrocities against non-combatant civilians as a technique for gaining power. This is simply inhuman, and to make matters worse is invariably used in the service of deplorable tyrannies such as the Talaban.

Believe him now, but not then?

Butt isn't a political theorist or a sociologist, not an outsider
looking in. He was there; he was a terrorist in the British Jihadi
Network. What he says should have a lot of sway in what we think about
why people from halfway around the world try to blow us up

So now he has another ideology, another cause. He was comfortable lying for the cause before; where's the evidence that's changed?