Thursday, August 17, 2006

# Posted 11:48 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION: By Patrick Belton, grade 25 and counting. So, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me again. (All that time I've been working on the perfect post, but then my computer crashed. Sorry.)

My time on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was exceedingly lovely and filled many notebooks; I benefited from a great deal of Pathan hospitality and was overwhelmed by the real friendship and kindness shown me by tribesmen of the border region as they helped me to understand the society and politics of their area. Unfortunately, there weren't too many internet points where I was, so I had to leave you all behind for a bit, for which my apologies. But I've a few pieces stewing on my time there and possibly a more ambitious project of writing, and I'll be heading back that way in the autumn, this time hopefully able to take you with me.

On home affairs, the stunningly nice people at Public Radio International's Radio Open Source kindly invited me round twice in recent weeks, once to talk on King David (not Adesnik, though I've bad jokes about him as well), and a second time on the politics of the World Cup (which I'm equally unqualified to talk about; if you want to listen to my pretentious piffle, fast-forward to the halfway mark; though other people's piffle was very nice too). Incidentally, Radio Open Source is worth following not only for its perverse creativity in bringing together the (already neatly coexisting) worlds of public radio and blogs (think, pyjamas coming with their own canvas bags) - but also because its clever, relentlessly highbrow experimentation with the potentialities of new media is guided by the interesting Christopher Lydon. The latter's backstory includes creating public radio's learned, invigorating The Connection, a delightful radio programme I actually had the pleasure of appearing on once, before it sadly received the NPR axe. (Its other presenter-alumnus, Dick Gordon, also thankfully made a safe landing in radio, on Carolingian airwaves. Some mitigation here then of Leon Wieseltier's problem of cultural theodicy.)

Another bit of offline OxBlogging is a piece Peter Nolan and I wrote recently for Prospect magazine. It's a somewhat critical review of Robert Pape's Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape is a phenomenally clever academic at Chicago, who was among other things an early (and prescient) critic of a military posture excessively reliant upon air power. With his latest book, I found myself not yet entirely convinced by his analysis, so I hope he will pardon me for writing a rejoinder. And for those of you who aren't satisfied to know only one handsome Irishman in the blogosphere (I refer of course to Crooked Timber), Peter's blog is here.

At the moment, I am conducting a very enjoyable e-mail exchange about British Muslims with Alex Massie of the Scotsman which, in imago Slatei, will appear in Diplo magazine for its September 11th quintenary issue. If it's redacted for space, I'll see if the kind people from the magazine will let us run the whole exchange here.

In a more personal announcement, I've got an espresso machine, for £1.20 and a bit of plonk off an ageing but leggy and delightfully alcoholic Guardian columnist, and for a price that left me wondering if I was buying a cup of espresso. I have been making coffees nonstop this week. Sitting here, I'm relishing a pleasant sensation of crema, mixed gently with notes of madly increased breathing, perspiration and pulse, and impending sense of doom. Readers are welcome to pop round the dodgy bit of Chelsea for a fix. My dealer is overjoyed.

Finally for the evening, the following link is best not followed if you have a delicate sense of humour, an aversion toward dubious humour involving firearms or are reading this at work; in other words, Porter will love it.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

I had Prof. Pape for class while I was a grad student at Chicago. He was one of my favorite professors there, but I do disagree with him a bit on his latest work. He tries to argue that Islamist ideology has little to do with the actual suicide bombers' motives by showing the "secular" nature of a number of groups in whose name they killed themselves.

Unfortunately, this logic is not always convincing. In one class, a student asked him why he counted groups like Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as "secular," and he replied because their founding charters (in this case, Fatah's) says they are secular. Of course, North Korea says they are democratic, but that doesn't make it so.

As an additional note, if you have also read Pape's first book - Bombing to Win (a very good read, by the way) - you might notice what some Chicago students call the "Pape Paradox." In Bombing to Win, Pape distinguishes between aerial bombing as punishment (attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure) and bombing as a means of denying the enemy the ability to carry out its military strategy. Pape argues that only denial bombing will be effective, and that very rarely - if ever - will coercive bombing as a means of punishment (targeting civilians) bring victory.

In Dying to Win, however, his argument is that suicide bombing intentionally targets civilians, is meant as a coercive tool of punishment - that is, attacking the people of a democracy so that they will put pressure on their elected leaders to do what the terrorist group wants them to do. In other words, Pape argues terrorists use coercion through punishment, and that it works - precisely the opposite of what he said in Bombing to Win.

Now, one explanation for the paradox could be that none of his cases in Bombing to Win were democracies, and he can go back and alter his argument that coercion through punishment might work in democracies, but not anywhere else. But then again, coercion through punishment never came close to working in instances like the Blitz in 1940.

In any case, something to mull over.
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