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We Will Dance On Their Graves

On June 28, 1914, a suicide assassin — Gavrilo Princip — sent by the Serb nationalist terror organization ‘Black Hand' killed the Austrian crown prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, triggering the First World War which caused 9 million military casualties.

From 1890-1901, a chain of anarchism-motivated assassinations took place: King Umberto I, Italy (1900); Empress Elizabeth, Austria (1898); President Carnot, France (1894); President McKinley, United States (1901); and Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Canovas del Castillo (1897). ‘Terrorists' attempted to assassinate ruling figures in the hope of demonstrating the vulnerability of the structure of authority and inspiring others by their self-sacrifice.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1963) and his brother Robert Kennedy (1968) were killed by assassins of unclear if any affiliation.

On December 21, 1988, 270 people died when Pan Am 103 exploded over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland. The bomb was allegedly planted by Libyan terrorists.

On March 20, 1995, the Japanese ‘Supreme Truth' cult led by Shoko Asahara attacked the Tokyo metropolitan subway system with sarin gas, killing 12 and making some 6,000 ill.

On September 11, 2001, a religiously and politically motivated terror organization called al-Qaeda hijacked four civilian airplanes for suicide attacks which caused over 3,000 civilian casualties. "We will dance on their graves", convicted accessory Mounir al-Motassadeq is reported to have exulted.

In October, 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed out in the U.S. , leading to a major popular scare and 7 people infected.

On April 11, 2002, al-Qaeda terrorists bombed a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Jerba, killing 16 people, mostly tourists.

On October 12, 2002, terrorists linked to al-Qaeda bombed nightclubs in Bali, killing 202 people, also mostly tourists.

In the historical perspective, terror has progressed from individual to mass killings, with Lockerbie and Tokyo having been the first such events. The old type of terror aimed at eliminating decision-makers, VIPs or celebrities whereas the new type of terror tries
· to inject horror in large sections of a population by performing mass killings of a random nature (Lockerbie, Tokyo, Bali);
· to eliminate entire groups of decision-makers (World Trade Center, Pentagon);
· to modify an existing demographic balance (e.g. Israelis vs. Palestinians) by sacrificing small numbers of suicide bombers for the purpose of eliminating the largest possible number of the hated population.
· In addition there is also the category of copycat terrorism (e.g. the anthrax scare)

Of the early individual assassinations, many could have been avoided if the victims had been more cautious and better protected. Surprising carelessness, for instance, permitted Princip to kill the Archduke: "Franz Ferdinand was a brave man and disliked the presence of secret service men." (

Many terrorists are simply mentally deranged. For others, motivations of terrorist acts can roughly be classified in three categories: anarchism, nationalism and religion, either individually or in combination.

Gavrilo Princip, for instance, was a Bosnian Serb nationalist but was trained abroad, in Serbia. As a Serb he also had a religious motive: orthodox Serbs feel traditionally threatened by catholic (Austrian or Croatian) or muslim (Bosnian or Albanian) dominance. Killing the future monarch — instead of taking action against the Austrian military or administration — was a typical anarchist strategy.

The September 11 attacks were triggered by a combination of religious, nationalist and anarchist motivations. By simultaneously trying to destroy a global financial center, plus an American political center (White House or Capitol), plus the U.S. military center (Pentagon), al Qaeda hoped to throw the West into chaos and encourage others to follow suit: a typical anarchist motivation, combined with religious hatred and Arab nationalism.

Interesting parallels can be drawn between Sarajevo and September 11. After the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary demanded from Serbia to arrest the responsible members of the Black Hand and send them for trial to Vienna. Serbia refused. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and invaded it for the purpose of punishment. German support for Austria-Hungary and Russian support for Serbia led to the world war.

After September 11, the U.S. demanded from Afghanistan to arrest and deliver the leaders of al Qaeda. Afghanistan refused. The U.S. and its allies invaded the country, removed the government and destroyed part of al Qaeda. In a second campaign of the war on terrorism, the U.S. and its allies plan to invade Iraq to remove the regime and suspected weapons of mass destruction, a potential for future terrorist attacks. European opponents of an Iraq campaign cite danger of more widespread Middle East troubles. Not a single country has thus far offered to support Iraq, and prospects of a wider conflict are therefore limited. However, al Qaeda continues to exist but has not pledged any direct support to Iraq.

When looking at the historic phases of increased terrorist activity it is obvious that they coincide with periods of relative peace. The decades before World War I, as well as the most recent decades, were characterized by a lull in bellic activity. As soon as major wars started, terrorism ceased. Coincidence?

The numbers of assassinations and terror acts are too small, and major wars too infrequent for any statistical analysis. But a possible explanation could be the fact that during a war any terrorist attack would be dwarfed by normal military action, and thus miss its psychological, political and possibly economic impact. However, there are possible exceptions to the rule, and an Iraq campaign would not be a normal war, from a terrorist's perspective.

German U-boats prowled the American East Coast during World War II, a fact that was kept secret by the Roosevelt administration. Why? Because the psychological impact of public knowledge of a U-boat sinking some U.S. vessel right on its coast would have been disproportionately greater than the military or economic loss itself. Pearl Harbor was, apart from its military significance, a typical terror act because it brought destruction and mayhem to an utterly unsuspecting people in their own country. The impact reverberates to this day.

The impact on the U.S. population of another al Qaeda terror act on American soil during an Iraq campaign would , of course, be much stronger than any similar act abroad, say in the Middle East or Europe. If al-Qaeda, in case of an Iraq war, succeeds in launching another terrorist attack on America, it would act as a proxy for Iraq which itself is probably unable to take the war to America.

Proxy or not, experiencing a part of war action in America itself would be a repeat of the September 11 and Pearl Harbor experience. In addition, it would suggest that, in future, the flames of even distant wars could touch the American homeland. It would be very tempting for al-Qaeda to be able to send this message to the Americans.

In this rather uncomfortable situation the thought might offer some consolation that the terrorism brand typical of al-Qaeda is proof that the period in which we are living is a rather peaceful one. That, of course, should not diminish any efforts to stamp out terrorism. Appeasement is not an option, as Spain's experience with the Basque terrorists has shown; and Saudi Arabia's past steps to appease al-Qaeda have proven a blind alley.

Over earlier decades, countries — especially in Europe — have frequently suffered violence committed by anarchists. An originally peaceful movement aimed at improving social organization and human interaction saw its violent fringe commit crimes that discredited the aspirations of some of its founders to the point where anti-anarchist policies and strategies created more problems than they solved.

Italy's fascism aimed at suppressing the largely rural anarchism that had developed in the 19th century in Italy. This naive anarchist movement enjoyed a broad popular base, has never been eliminated, and is the origin of the typical Italian preference for cooperative ventures. It is a groundswell of Italian trade unionism and an element of various leftist groupings.

In the 1930s, Spain's rural anarchist movement produced some quite idyllic peasant communities based on equality and fraternity which were partly more efficient than traditional communities but were crushed by Franco's Falange during the Civil War.

Germany's RAF student groups of the 1970s and 1980s were more anarchist than marxist in their orientation and, typically, mutated from egalitarian communes into fully-fledged terror gangs. To a lesser extent, Italy's Red Brigades terror groups were also anarchism-motivated.

Even the society of Saudi Arabia has its egalitarian and anarchist roots. In the 18th century, the rich oasis of El Hofuf in eastern Arabia developed its own brand of welfare state. Financially well off thanks to the proceeds from irrigated agriculture and pearl diving in the Gulf, the community created a public revolving fund which served to get citizens out of poverty or debt by helping them with voluntary work and interest-free public loans, as well as sponsoring promising business ideas by providing interest-free loans to entrepreneurs. Similar arrangements involving interest-free credit (the Koran considers interest immoral) were practiced in other Arab communities, for instance in 18th century Kuwait which was active in long distance trade. Some of these egalitarian and anarchist elements survive in Saudi Arabia's state religion, Wahhabism, which emphasizes social solidarity.

Europe, obviously, has overcome the scourge of violent anarchism whereas the Middle East and the Muslim world at large are in the midst of a phase of terrorist violence of partly religious and partly political and social nature. Can any lesson be drawn from Europe's experience concerning the possible duration of a phase of intense terrorist activity?

In Italy, Spain and Germany, repression probably proved the most effective weapon against anarchist violence. To some extent, public disgust at merciless terror killings may also have helped bring down anarchism. This disgust was very visible in Italy during the bloody phase of the Red Brigades, and in Germany during the RAF terror years.

However, in Spain and Algeria, neither repression nor disgust have made a dent in terrorist fervor. In Algeria, terror is suspected of being spread by both sides, Islamists and government. Ulster seems to experience alternate bouts of terror, repression, public disgust and mediation, without being able to put an end to violence.

Another factor making anarchism outmoded in Europe was economic and social development. With efficient capitalist strategies becoming more widely accepted in the population, the old cooperative model lost its attraction, and consequently the numbers of volunteer fighters for the ideal of a cooperative, anarchic society dwindled.

How would a combination of repression, disgust and development work on the current brand of religious and political terrorism?

Repression seems to have been at least temporarily successful in the ‘War on Terror' campaign against al-Qaeda. In Palestine, the impact of repressive strategies is not clear. While the frequency of suicide attacks has been temporarily reduced it is possible that repression actually increased the numbers of potential suicide bombers and other candidates for violence, auguring badly for the future. Similar speculations haven been heard in relation to the campaigns against both al-Qaeda and Iraq.

How strongly the factor of public disgust is working against al-Qaeda remains to be seen. Only al-Quaeda operatives will be able to tell whether or not public disgust has affected their morale, their popular and economic support, and rendered their activities more difficult. We won't know until captured top al-Qaeda leaders haved decided to talk.

Economic and social development were a strong characteristic of post-World War II Europe and can be credited with having profoundly changed social and political ideas. But what about the Islamic world?

In formerly rich oil countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iraq, demographic growth has for many years outpaced economic growth, with a resulting precipitous decline in per capita GDP. De-development is the appropriate word.

In Egypt, to mention the by far largest Arab country, demographic growth and improved education have not been matched by sufficient economic development, locking new and better educated generations into poverty and hopelessness.

The situation in Algeria and Morocco is possibly even worse, with economies and social structures that instil despair and hatred in young people. France has experienced years in which North African violence had become a daily threat to its citizens.

The blame for the generally unsatisfactory performance of Arab economies falls on their governments. From wasting oil riches and neglecting the population bomb in Saudi Arabia, to wasteful and inefficient state management of the economy in Egypt, to a colonial war zapping for decades the blood of the Moroccan economy: there is an array of mismanagement practices to be found. However, not all Arab governments wrecked or paralyzed their economies: Syria, for instance, has enjoyed some remarkable growth despite government restrictions, although observers suspect smuggling and drug trade strongly contribute to Syria's success. Lebanon's reconstruction after the civil war is another success story.

Ironically, it seems that — at least for the time being —the West pays the price for the non-performance of major Arab economies. Terrorism, peculiarly, prefers to address foreign countries with their multitude of ‘soft targets' rather than the local elites mainly responsible for the unsatisfactory situation. But that might change.

Terror organizations are usually directed by relatively well-off middle aged people who motivate, fund and dispatch younger followers, typically students who master at least one foreign language and have lived abroad. The students are mostly not paupers but of middle class origin; otherwise they could not have afforded higher education and travel abroad. Given the bad shape of their country's economy they have probably tried to establish themselves abroad, encountered economic and possibly social problems, and became bitter and radical. They typically show a dichotomy between an outward 'good student' appearance and a secret conspiratory activity.

In conclusion, prospects for a gradual disappearance of Mideastern terrorism are dim. The region's main economies can be expected to breed more rather than less fanatics. Repression works, to a point, but whether the gains prove permanent remains to be seen. Public disgust may help but its current impact is unknown.

For a generation of disenfranchised youth, membership in the likes of al-Qaeda will remain attractive despite the increased danger of being caught and deprived of the suicide option. In a reality of hopelessness, a dream of paradise and martyr fame might prove irresistible.

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—— John Wantock