Tuesday, August 15, 2006

# Posted 10:57 AM by Patrick Porter  

A POTENT TARGET: For the Islamist terrorist, there are many targets that can be attacked to harm one's mortal enemy: electricity grids, bridges, trains or shopping malls.

But, as Michael Clarke argues, aircraft remain potent symbols. Quite apart from the potential for killing large numbers of people within them (and in cities or towns beneath them) aircraft represent the soaring arrogance and pride of modernity:

Commercial aircraft represent globalism and high technology — they shrink the world and threaten cultural conservatism. The Boeing 747 was the last of the “great machines” that characterised the 20th century: it opened up air travel to the mass market. And it was so very American; big, brash and useful.

But aircraft also appear vulnerable. In truth, civil aircraft are a lot more robust than people think, but the aviation industry is selling safety almost as much as it is selling transport and passengers need constant reassurance that aircraft are operating well within their technical limits.

The more we try to make aircraft safe, as surely we must, the more we make them even more potent as targets: an airline industry that is obsessively secured and protected means that a successful attack will be even more psychologically distressing.

Speaking of these things, Australia's own Philip Adams wrote recently that

Terrorism is a fragmented, essentially nationalist phenomenon. Of all the terrorist events from 1991 to 2001, 91 per cent were national in origin and target. These accounted for 94 per cent of the 32,264 fatalities. Terrorism needs to be rethought as a domestic policy issue rather than a military or security threat for the US or Australia.

I can't vouch for his figures, but if they are accurate, is it not possible that much terrorism is 'national' and interior and carried out abroad because our own security services are forever disrupting internationally-originating terrorist endeavours? Those figures can be read in more than one way.

Moreover, apart from the (so far) limited deaths inflicted in countries like ours by terrorists, their intentions and fantasies of the minority of 'travelling' 'on the road' terrorists are also relevant. Its not a trivial concern that they yearn to inflict mass destruction.

Reviewing the times when Australians have been targeted, Bali is not within Australian borders, where Australians and others were blown up in 2002, partly because of our (belated) foreign policy support for the independence of East Timor.

Neither are New York's twin towers, where twenty Australians were immolated or forced to jump out of burning skyscrapers almost five years ago.

There are countries where people like to travel outside our borders, in Israel or India, where a 'national' group might strike them indiscriminately.

Osama once operated his networks out of the Sudan, before shifting to Afghanistan. Should he ever be brought to trial, it may be because of foreign troops in Afghan (or Pakistan) soil ferreting him out.

His underlings and lieutenants, many of whom were killed, were not stopped by a posse of lawyers making their case before Australia's High Court.

There's also the world wide web, where ideas and tactics that nourish terrorist groups are circulated globally.

There are regimes that sponsor the activities of extremists abroad. Some of the extremists who helped undermine the Palestinian Authority, not to mention killing Arabs and Israelis with suicide bomb attacks, were sponsored by Saddam Hussein among others.

In fact, as complex as the dispersal of terrorism is, there are also many layers of the terrorist problem which are global and interconnected.

And, of course, terrorism is something that strikes at other people outside western countries. If its not all about us, should it not concern us? Should we take no interest in what happens to people facing religious extremism from Morocco to Kashmir to Malaysia to Bosnia?

Adams approach, probably not intended, risks becoming a kind of selfish isolationism. It risks becoming a leftist equivalent of a rightist provincialism, that sees terrorism mainly as the outgrowth of misguided immigration policies, arguing that we should curb the arrival of Moslems from overseas.

For those of us who'd prefer to keep an open society going a little longer, we are forced to accept the flip-side of that proposition, and recognise that our security is partly shaped by events far away.
(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

Very interesting view, I enjoy reading this blog. Are there any more online readings published by you ?
The real flip side is that all the positives of globalisation carry negatives as well. Advances in communication, transport, and industrial technologies that improve our lives also put us at greater risk. In other words, there is a globalisation of violence that threatens the modern state as a type of human organization. In the European history of governance, the fiefdom gave way to the modern state with the advent of the gunpowder revolution (i.e. expansion of violence interdependence). Is it time for the modern state to give way to a new kind of organization along with the advent of WMDs and other technological advances?

World government, anyone?
Yes I agree that anything nowadays is vulnerable to terrorist attacks but the most vulnerable is still the airplane since 9/11 left that imprint of destruction in everyone's mind. Another possible target which could become a calamity is a nuclear reactor site. An attack could trigger a fallout like the one in Chernobyl wherein effects are still felt by the residents contaminated by radiation.
hey karaokefreak,

this site has its own archive, with readings going back quite a long time. I'll let you know if/when i or my fellow oxbloggers publish something elsewhere in the public domain.


Clarke is quite right about the airplane as toxic symbol of the West's progress. It must vex the middle eastern mind to know that the cultures which spawn terrorism, their cultures, are not capable of designing and constructing airplanes, only of converting them into ammunition against the culture that can.
And A-380 is a new symbol..

Patrick, I'm a tad alarmed to see you quote Philip Adams as any sort of authority--though I agree with your demolition of his argument. On the nature of terrorism, David Rapoport argues in his four wave thesis that terrorism evolves through generation, from anarchist (first wave) through nationalist/anti-colonialist, to ideological (esp Marxist/communist supported) to religious/jihadist (4th wave). Just because a new wave has emerged doesn't rule out the ongoing existence, or appeal, of earlier waves. Adams' figures may/may be right, but encourages an assumption of linearity--ie that current and future terrorism are and will be the same as past examples (nasty in their own right, and in case also unsolvable as simply crimes warranting police action). Such coagulation of data is disingenuous, hiding the emergence of new phenonema, especially the sort we need to be worried about--as you rightly point out.
Aiyai! And I though I was prone to ramble! :)

PS. You know, I wouldn't take too much notice of anything Phillip Adams says, if I were you. The fellow is so 'Sydney' - and in Sydney both Left and Right wingers are especially prone to fits of cuckoodom!
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