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Responding to Terrorism Symposium

September 13, 2001

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Ian Lustick is Merriam Term Professor of Political Science at Penn and a key figure in Penn's Asch Center for the study of ethnopolitical conflict. His expertise lies in comparative politics, international politics, organizational theory, the expansion and contraction of states, and Middle East affairs. His present research focuses on the future of Jerusalem and great power rivalries in the Middle East. Professor Lustick is therecipient of many fellowship awards, has held leadership positions both in the School of Arts and Sciences and professionalorganizations, and is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dispelling Misconceptions

The function of professional intellectuals, in a free society, is to stand with that society and yet also always, even when it is uncomfortable, to apply critical faculties to popular notions.

I want to talk briefly about several such notions:

First, I do identify with one popular notion: It was Osama bin Laden's groups.

Quoting one head of German intelligence: The type of motivation, the choice of targets, the military approach, the apparent motive, the professional preparation, the extent of financial resources involved and the repeat attacks indicate that the culprits can be found in the entourage of Osama bin Laden. (Frank-Walter Steinmeier)

Four Popular Misconceptions:

That this has to do directly with Israel and the Palestinians.

Those who destroyed the twin towers in New York or blow up train stations and pizza parlors in Israel do not do so because of specific outrages or policy mistakes by the American or the Israeli government. Personal history or deep emotional or ideological reasons drove them to do such things regardless of particular circumstances. What can inhibit them, however, is the presence of real hope for the future by masses of ordinary people, a condition which they can imagine would lead the masses to reject them and their acts of terrorism, rather than celebrate their martyrdom.

On the one hand, while there is no question that U.S. ties to Israel, including Washington's failure to distance itself from the aggravating anti-Palestinian policies of the Israeli government, is the single biggest red-flag for Muslims and the single most useful wedge issue for the wild Islamists in their appeals to the masses. But I believe this particular attack and its timing is related more to events in Afghanistan and the Muslim world as a whole than in Israel or Palestine.

Let me suggest one possibility.

Ahmed Shah Massoud was defense minister in the previous Afghan government--a brilliant and charismatic commander who has led the Northern Alliance opposition to the Taliban. The Northern Alliance controls between 5 and 30% of Afghanistan. In the spring he conducted a very successful tour of Europe and received great support from European countries and the EU. He was planning to visit the United States. On Sunday he was the victim of two Arab suicide bombers. It appears he was killed. I see this as a contract hit by bin Laden for a Taliban government that feared Massoud and who will protect bin Laden--protection he knew he would need to survive the repercussions of the spectacular acts of terrorism his operatives have been planning against American targets here and in Europe.

That actions by some give evidence about all.

African Americans cheering, looting, and murdering while Los Angeles neighborhoods burn tell us nothing about tens of millions of African Americans struggling to build an America of justice, freedom, and equality.

Some young Palestinians dancing and enjoying "sweets from bin Laden" tell us nothing about the heartfelt sorrow and shock of Beit Sahour, ordinary Palestinians, or even Arafat himself (giving blood).

25 Muslim fundamentalist killers tell us nothing about Muslim children in an Australian bus under attack or about millions of Muslim and Arab Americans.

Jewish settlers with yarmulkes and Israeli soldiers bulldozing Palestinian homes tell us nothing about masses of Israeli and other Jews yearning for a just, secure, and fair peace in the Middle East.

That we have had a massive intelligence failure caused by the abandonment of HUMINT.

Virtually impossible to infiltrate these organizations. We must rely heavily on electronic and other remote means, but what can and must change is the relationship between the externally directed reconnaissance apparatus in the CIA, DIA, and NSA, and the internally directed law enforcement apparatus: FBI. Absence of arrests and action following information from Ahmed Ressam in U.S. compared to Europe strongly suggests that organizational rivalries combined with understandable concerns about civil liberties are interfering with the effective coordination of our own capabilities.

Also, our indulgence in the dreams of complete immunity, old thinking about threats ICBM threats, spending hundreds of billions on bizarre schemes of unworkable missile defense, and wasting comparable resources on the so-called war on drugs, have distracted our leaders from the new, distributed, low intensity, but fundamentally dangerous threats we really face in our post-cold war globalizing shrunken world. Sam Nunn and others have warned repeatedly of this kind of threat.

Final popular and wrong belief: That this is the result of a blind irrational force of evil and not in part a consequence of our own behavior and status.

Many of the terrorists associated with bin Laden, and the whole arrangement of well-funded, dispersed, autonomous, extremely well trained, confident, and fanatical cells he has created, originated with our "brilliant" adventure in Afghanistan using Saudi money, Pakistani bases, and Islamic fundamentalist martyrs to fight the Soviets. Algerians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Muslims from everywhere came to Afghanistan to train with our weapons under the tutelage of bin Laden and others like him.

This is indeed a small world, a delicate world. We're the rich and visible elephant within it. We're so big that when we move, even when we don't move, we affect others, but we also massively affect the world we live in as well. In our Rambo like adventure in Afghanistan, in our callous attitude toward the slaughter of Muslims in Algeria, as in Vietnam, and elsewhere, we sowed the wind, and we are reaping the whirlwind.

In this war, and I agree this is a war, we must do all we can to be sure that our sword is sharp and wielded smartly, not broad and wielded furiously. We need to fight so as to plant the seeds of justice, equity, mutual recognition, and peace, not causeless hatred and an arrogance of temporary power.

Back to SAS Symposium on Terrorism Introduction

Terrorism Symposium Addresses:
(click on names below)

Brendan O'Leary
Arthur Waldron
Seth Kreimer
Ian Lustick
Robert Vitalis

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 4, September 18, 2001


September 18, 2001
Volume 48 Number 4

A $10 million gift to the Wharton School from alumnus Al West Jr. creates a Learning Lab.
The Penn community gathers to remember the thousands of victims of the terrorist attacks.
The Penn community reaches out to help the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and the Blood Drives.
Penn Police take extra precautions to secure the campus.
Counseling services for Penn faculty, staff and their families as well as group counseling through the EAP are provided free of charge.
Recovering from trauma, loss and disasters is complex, as explained in a booklet from CAPS. Emergency consultations are available.
The SAS Symposium on Responding to Terrorism includes the views of five Penn faculty members who discuss the various considerations of responding to the recent attacks.
A Penn student who expressed her views on WXPN shares them.
The 9th Annual Penn Family Day is set for October 20 with food, football, face painting and fun at the University Museum.