SFDebate : Listen, Speak, Discuss, Understand


This House could do a Better Job of Preventing Islamic Terrorism

Passed : Kinda

A friend of mine from New York was recently commenting on how many of her friends had plans to leave the city because of the perceived inevitability of a dirty bomb attack.

The same week the latest National Intelligence Estimate says we are more at risk of terrorism than before 9/11.

Last month, many of the group didn't want to invest in nuclear energy because of the risk of terrorism.

How do we stop it?


This was a challenging debate. Indeed, it was more of a discussion than a debate. Jon kicked off the meeting by presenting what the current administration has done to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. From domestic reorganization of intelligence agencies to more aggressive pursuit of terrorist suspects, he helped us realize that many sensible steps have been taken to prevent another attack on US soil.

Caroline followed up with a passionate criticisms of the "War on Terror." Are we really in a 'war'? Was our unilateral action in Iraq creating more risk? Was there a double standard being applied for our actions and their actions?

Justin presented a perspective, "Why do terrorists hate us so?" - This started a revealing group discussion that fed into a number of theories as to why extreme islam felt compelled to commit terrorist attacks on the west :

  1. Re-establishment of the Muslim Caliphate - The Caliphate refers to a political unity of the islamic world. In medieval times, the caliphate once spread from Seville in Spain all the way through the Middle east. These were the golden years of Islam, and a time when technology, trade and culture flourished. The caliphate was beaten back over the centuries until after WW1 where the Ottoman empire was defeated, and much of the lands in the middle east were surrendered to the authority of european powers. People in the arab world may view the borders that europeans drew up as artificial. James pointed out how, with so much frustration over western intervention in the middle east, you could understand Arab world pining after a resurgence of the Islamic glory days. - In the same way that the British reminisce over their colonial empire.
  2. Anger over US Foreign Policy - US foreign policy has been blamed for much of the middle-east's woes. It has supported the Saudi monarchy, supported Israeli expansion, and not to mention the invasion of Iraq.
  3. A rational attempt to usurp power in Arab world - Is Bin Laden a sensible, logical, political player? - Many of the Arab governments are perceived as corrupt and puppets of western imperialism. This causes much frustration throughout the Arab world. Bin Laden who comes from a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia and he must be aware of the wealth and potential power that might come from becoming a leader. It is feasible and likely that the attacks of 9/11 were designed to provoke just the reaction that they did. The creation of an emnity between the west and the east may be part of his goal. A resurgance of islamic fundamentalism, and western aggression may be what he would need to come to fulfill his dream.

Understanding the potential motives behind terrorist attacks opened up some interesting perspectives on how we might prevent more terrorist attacks

  1. Promote More Exchange - After 9/11 student exchange programs and US-western tourism slowed dramatically. The group pondered that more exchange of people, while opening up the risk of more attacks, would in the long run, promote understanding and peace
  2. Stop Spreading Democracy - Democracy is a system that wealthy well structured countries have difficulty running correctly. Democracies in countries with high levels of corruption, and lack of regard for common welfare are unlikely to succeed as well. Furthermore, with a brain drain and fleeing of educated people from instable countries, those left tend to be more extreme, and religious and more likely to run the country for their own gain. Democracies can also lead to results unfavorable to the west, such as election of Hamas in Palestine.
  3. Pull out of Iraq - Although of some debate, many in the group felt that the benefits of pulling out of Iraq outweighed the risks. The fear was that by pulling out, we would leave a power vacuum to be filled by radical islamic groups. The alternative fear was that by staying, we would prolong a conflict that was already lost, and exacerbate emnity of the west.
  4. End Guantanamo - The US can't be seen to be playing to a double standard. - This actually led on to another argument. Terrorists should be treated as common criminals; not as soldiers in an idealogical war. Prisoners at Guantanamo should be handed over to the International Criminal Court, or released.

This last point led on to an interesting discussion about terrorism as a war, vs being a criminal offense. Nicely summarized in this quote I found from The Director of Public Prosecutions in the UK, Ken McDonald

"Those responsible for acts of terror such as the 7 July 2005 London bombings are not "soldiers" in a war, but "inadequates" who should be dealt with by the criminal justice system.... A culture of legislative restraint is needed in passing anti-terrorism laws, a primary purpose of the violent attacks was to tempt countries such as Britain to abandon our values.... In the eyes of the UK criminal justice system, the response to terrorism has to be proportionate, and grounded in due process and the rule of law

"London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered...were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London there is no such thing as a war on terror. The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws, and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement."

Instead of the usual voting, the group was asked, if you were president, what would be the one thing you would do to prevent more terrorist attacks :

Change foreign policy to bring it inline with American ideals. Stop promoting democracy and act in a moral fashion
Change from a war on terror, to make this criminal acts of terror. Focus on the criminal prosecution, not the idealogical warfare
These efforts to prevent terrorism need to be presented as battles. Not a war that could go on forever
Government should focus solely on Al-Qaeda. Promote Rule of Law. Make it clear that those who sponsor terrorism will be punished. - If a country sells nuclear weapons to a terrorist group, we will nuke you into oblivion
Bi-weekly address by the president in English and Arab to communicate to US people and overseas why we are fighting this war
War is unwinnable, but we can fight it forever. But this is not economic. We need to get support of other countries and find a solution
Need to change to a diplomatic approach. Stop blanket aggression and labelling of Islamic terrorist groups. Distinguish between groups such as Hamas & Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. Isolate Al-Qaeda.

Another interesting disucssion. -- james

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