Thursday, September 25, 2003

Dying to Kill Us

The Op-Ed section in Monday's New York Times featured an important essay by Robert A. Pape, who "spent a year compiling a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 to 2001 -- 188 in all."

Pape, an associate professor of poli sci at the University of Chicago, included "any attack in which at least one terrorist killed himself or herself while attempting to kill others" but not "attacks authorized by a national government, such as those by North Korea against the South."

What did he learn from his analysis?

"First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks occur as part of organized campaigns, not as isolated or random incidents. Of the 188 separate attacks in the period I studied, 179 could have their roots traced to large, coherent political or military campaigns.

"Second, liberal democracies are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists. The United States, France, India, Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decades, and each country has been a democracy at the time of the incidents.

"Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective. From Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign have been terrorist groups trying to establish or maintain political self-determination by compelling a democratic power to withdraw from the territories they claim. Even Al Qaeda fits this pattern: although Saudi Arabia is not under American military occupation per se, the initial major objective of Osama bin Laden was the expulsion of American troops from the Persian Gulf."

Pape himself says the "most worrisome" fact revealed by his research is that "the raw number of suicide attacks is climbing at an alarming rate" even as other types of terrorism are on the decline.

But the most important thing I took away from his essay is that "the presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is wrongheaded, and it may be encouraging domestic and foreign policies that are likely to worsen America's situation."

The data assembled by Pape reveal "that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any religion for that matter. In fact, the leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion (they have have committed 75 of the 188 incidents)."

Pape continues: "Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel liberal democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective."

Point being: "The close association between foreign military occupations and the growth of suicide terrorist movements shows the folly of any strategy centering on conquering countries that sponsor terrorism or in trying to transform their political systems. At most, occupying countries will disrupt terrorist operations in the short term. But over time it will simply increase the number of terrorists coming at us."

Once again, in blunter language: To invade and occupy countries that sponsor terrorism in an effort to change their regimes will, in the long term, only result in creating more terrorists.

Of course this is hardly a new opinion. And it makes sense. Many of us who opposed the war in Iraq cited this as a reason for our opposition, and now we have the data to back us up.

I'm sure the officials pursuing our "war on terrorism" and the ideologues of PNAC who set their agenda will pay no heed to Pape's conclusions. But at least now they can't claim that no one has produced any hard, statistical evidence to prove their policies wrong.

Pape suggests one of the first steps the U.S. should take is to allow the United Nations to "take over the political and economic institutions in Iraq." In my opinion, that would be a good start.
Come Party Like It's 1989!

That's the slogan for tonight's reading and party at KGB to mark the release of Wild East: Stories from the Last Frontier, "a raucous and lust-fueled anthology of stories about the danger junkies, bohemians and thrill-seekers reveling in the cultural, political and sexual revolution in Eastern Europe following the fall of the iron curtain."

The launch is tonight at 7, at KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th St., between Second and Third.

The event, according to Wild East editor Boris Fishman, will consist of "music, brief readings by Gary Shteyngart, Tom Bissell, and Paul Greenberg, and then valiant efforts to meet the bar minimum."

You can buy the book here.

Other readings for the book coming up:

Thursday, October 9, 7:00 p.m.
70 North 6th St., Brooklyn
718 782 5188

Monday, October 20, 7:00 p.m.
The Half King
505 W. 23rd. St @ 10th Ave.
212 462 4300

Wednesday, November 5, 7:00 p.m.
Housing Works Used Book Cafe
126 Crosby St.
212 334 3324

Thursday, November 13, 7:30 p.m.
92nd Street Y @ Makor
35 W. 67th St., b/w CPW and Columbus
212 601 1000

I myself plan to attend the reading at Galapagos.

Good luck, Boris!

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Sowing the Dragon's Teeth

Also in yesterday's Times, page A5 has a Reuters piece containing a warning from the International Monetary Fund that Afghanistan is being run by "powerful drug traffickers."

Writes Reuters: "In its first full review of Afghanistan's economy in 12 years, the fund said that opium, made from poppies grown on fertile lands, mainly in the south, made up 40 percent to 50 percent of the Afghan economy."

Here are the numbers: "From 1994 to 2000, Afghanistan's production averaged around 3,000 tons a year and covered less than 1 percent of the country's arable land. Output dropped to just 185 tons in 2001 after Afghanistan's Taliban rulers banned production.

"But after Washington waged war on the Taliban and forced them out, production soared to about 3,422 tons in 2002, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported."

Given this information, I found it ironic that another story in the same day's paper, this one on page A12, has Paul Bremer justifying the administration's request for $87 billion to "rebuild" Iraq and Afghanistan with these words:

"If, after coming this far, we turn our backs and let Iraq lapse into factional chaos, some new tyranny and terrorism, we will have committed a grave error. Not only will we have left the long-suffering Iraqi people to a future of danger and deprivation, we will have sown the dragon's teeth which will sprout more terrorists and eventually cost more American lives."

[Please note: I have merged two quotes together here that ran as two separate grafs in succession.]

Bremer made these comments before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which began hearings Monday on the White House's $87 billion request.

So what, pray tell, are we doing in Afghanistan if not "sowing the dragon's teeth"?

How do the so-called conservatives feel about propping up a state that dominates the international trade in heroin?

Is this part of the Project for a New American Century?
A National Briefing piece in yesterday's New York Times reports that Victoria "Torie" Clarke, "the Pentagon's spokeswoman during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has joined CNN as a political and policy analyst."

She resigned from the Bush administration in June.

Gee, I bet we can look forward to some hard-hitting, unbiased analysis from her!

Friday, September 19, 2003

"I Am Not an American"

The ACLU is launching a clever campaign that targets one of the Bush administration's softest spots: its reckless expansion of law-enforcement powers, a.k.a. its encroachment on civil liberties.

Nat Ives of the New York Times wrote a story about it last Friday, September 12, in his Advertising column. Here it is:

Celebrities Line Up to Criticize Bush in A.C.L.U. Campaign

AS THE second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks passed yesterday and President Bush pressed for greater expansion of law enforcement powers, a new advertising campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union has been rolling out to oppose the tactics and proposals of the White House.

The ads, which indirectly accuse the administration of trampling on the Bill of Rights, without actually mentioning the president, have already hit a nerve.

"It is absolutely outrageous," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department. "You have men and women who are sworn to uphold the Constitution who are literally putting their lives on the line to keep us safe and our lives intact, and the A.C.L.U. is making them out to be some sort of Gestapo-like organization."

Feelings are bitter on both sides of the debate. Mr. Corallo accused the civil liberties union of trying to create an atmosphere of fear. The A.C.L.U. and its allies said the same about the Justice Department.

"The definition of 'crisis' has been changed and been made much more elastic," said Richard Dreyfuss, the actor, who appears in one ad. "Criticism of the administration is not looked upon as allowable or appropriate, because we're in a 'crisis.' "

With a budget of $3 million, the campaign is consuming much of the $4.5 million the civil liberties union typically spends on advertising in a year.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the group, said the decision to spend so much on one effort reflected a belief that disaffection with the Bush administration and its policies was growing, and that opportunities to gain new support and members were growing along with it.

"It's essential to talk to the American people now," Mr. Romero said, "because there is a beginning of a debate and a dialogue at the grass roots."

As an example, Mr. Romero said that communities around the country have adopted resolutions objecting to the antiterrorism legislation passed in the fall of 2001, known as the Patriot Act. The new proposals would extend those measures and include provisions that were rejected the first time around, like wider powers to issue subpoenas without judicial oversight.

The black-and-white print ads are scheduled to run from September to December in magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. They were created by Benenson Janson in Studio City, Calif., the civil liberties union's agency since July 2002.

In the ad featuring Mr. Dreyfuss, the actor looks into the camera next to text that reads, "I am not an American who believes in selective due process," a reference to the government's detention of a number of people since Sept. 11, 2001, without allowing them access to legal counsel, and in some cases without revealing their names or filing charges.

In another ad, Michael Stipe, the lead singer of the group R.E.M., appears under text that reads in part, "I am not an American who wants to be shut up or have my neighbors be shut up."

The large-type legend that starts each ad, "I am not an American," is intended to be provocative. But Howard Benenson, president of Benenson Janson, said that the message that follows was meant to have wide appeal.

"We felt that 'I am not an American' plays to the desire for everyone to stand up for their beliefs," Mr. Benenson said.

Other celebrities appearing in the campaign include the author Kurt Vonnegut and the actors Samuel L. Jackson, Al Pacino, Martin Sheen and Kristin Davis, who plays Charlotte on HBO's "Sex and the City."

Mr. Vonnegut said he was a longtime member of the civil liberties union, which decades ago defended a schoolteacher's use of his novel "Slaughterhouse Five" in the classroom.

"What I've said again and again is that if any official from a dogcatcher on up treats you in a way which is clearly unconstitutional, don't call the F.B.I., call the A.C.L.U.," Mr. Vonnegut said.

The use of well-known personalities in the ads is a departure for the civil liberties union. Its campaigns most often urge the public to call members of Congress about a specific bill or issue; less often, the union will buy ad space to try to put a particular issue on the agenda of the news media.

Mr. Benenson said that such a large number and variety of celebrities had volunteered their time and images for the campaign that the civil liberties union has been able to tailor its media plan for maximum effect.

"The celebrities are going to fit the publications," Mr. Benenson said.

For example, the ad with Ms. Davis will run in Vanity Fair, which her fans might be more likely to read than Atlantic Monthly, where Mr. Vonnegut will appear. In Rolling Stone, the singer Sheryl Crow will be featured.

But the strategy has a cost. The campaign's reliance on celebrities has been seized upon by critics, who said that while famous faces may garner attention, they do not inform the debate.

"As far as the celebrities go, they obviously have a right to speak their minds and a right to be morons, and they usually exercise both," said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, a conservative journal. "This is typical uninformed hysteria from the two places you expect most to get it: the A.C.L.U. and celebrities."


Here is an image of the Stipe ad that appeared with the Times article:

I am normally no great fan of celebrities involving themselves in politics, but I have to admit, this campaign appeals to me. Maybe because it's not necessarily partisan. But then again, maybe it's because I used to be a huge R.E.M. fan. Or could it be it's because I am now "working" for the ACLU, in a temporary, part-time, unpaid capacity? Anyway, I still think it's a great idea.

If you go to the ACLU's site, of course you can read about it there as well, and you'll also find a picture of the ad with Richard Dreyfuss:

and Kristin Davis:

Monday, September 15, 2003

Alan Riding Doubles Up

The current issue of the Economist has a piece marking the death of Hitler iconographer Leni Riefenstahl that seems to have been written originally for the New York Times.

Compare, for instance, these two grafs [all emphasis added]:

New York Times: "The film, which took almost two years to edit from 250 miles of raw footage, included such innovative techniques as moving cameras, including one on a tiny elevator attached to a flagpole behind the speaker's podium that provided sweeping panoramic views; the use of telephoto lenses to create a foreshortening effect (for example, when filming a parade of Nazi flags); frequent close-ups of wide-eyed party faithful, and heroic poses of Hitler shot from well below eye-level. The film also used 'real sound' but was not accompanied by a commentary."

Economist: "It was a moment that appealed to Ms Riefenstahl's passion for the Busby Berkeley spectacle and she turned it into a political coronation. 'Triumph of Will' opens with the Führer descending from the clouds, like Odin, in his aeroplane to celebrate the might of his troops. She used moving cameras, frequent close-ups of the wide-eyed party faithful and heroic shots of Hitler taken from ground level. Triumph of Will has no commentary, only real sound—the Führer exhorting and the crowd roaring approval."

Or these:

New York Times: "And, once again, both her filming and editing techniques broke new ground. To capture the drama of the pole vault and long-jump events, she had holes dug beside the sandpit where the athletes landed.

"In the high-diving event, which dominated the second part of the film, 'Festival of Beauty,' she used four cameras, including one underwater, to capture the movement of divers from all angles. Then, in the editing room, she turned the divers into graceful birds."

Economist: "As before, Ms Riefenstahl's filming and editing techniques both broke new ground, and many shots that now seem commonplace had never been seen before. To capture the drama of the pole vault and long jump, she placed her cameras in holes beside the sandpit where the athletes landed. She used four cameras, including one underwater, to capture the movement of high divers from all angles. Then, in the editing room, she turned them into graceful birds that you almost never see hitting the water."

Rake it in, Mr. Riding.