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Just Say No to Terrorism
The Volokh Conspiracy ^ | September 15, 2012 11:39 pm | Ilya Somin

Posted on 09/15/2012 9:29:01 PM PDT by the anti-liberal

In the 1980s, First Lady Nancy Reagan famously urged kids to “just say no” to drugs. Although I’m no fan of the War on Drugs, she was certainly correct to point out that saying “no” is a good way of avoiding the dangers of drug use. Co-blogger Eugene Volokh makes a similar argument with respect to violence intended to pressure Western nations into suppressing “blasphemous” speech. Giving in to the terrorists incentivizes further terrorism, while refusing to do so reduces the risk of future violence. This principle applies to terrorism more broadly: An excellent way to reduce the risk of attacks is to refuse to give in to the terrorists’ demands. Over time, a government that develops a reputation for saying no to terrorists is likely to suffer fewer attacks in the first place.

I. Why Terrorists Rarely Target Dictatorships.

Most terrorist attacks are undertaken in the hopes of extracting some sort of political concession from the targeted nation. The terrorists strike because they think they have at least a reasonable chance of achieving the desired result. Governments that refuse to give in suffer fewer attacks. The most striking evidence supporting this conjecture is that terrorists rarely target dictatorships. That certainly isn’t because dictatorships are so nice that few people have grievances against them. To the contrary, they usually generate far more grievances than democracies do.

For example, it is striking that there is relatively little Muslim terrorism directed at Chinese targets, despite the Chinese governments’ brutal repression of its Muslim minority. In the days of the Soviet Union, Muslim terrorism directed against that government was very rare, despite the invasion of Afghanistan and the USSR’s harsh treatment of its own large Muslim population. Even Osama Bin Laden didn’t engage in terrorist attacks against civilians when he fought the Soviets in the 1980s. The contrast with his tactics against the US is instructive. As Russia became more democratic in the 1990s, the growing conflict in Chechnya began to generate more terrorist attacks, which in turn declined again over the last few years, as Vladimir Putin has consolidated a more authoritarian regime in Russia.

The main reason why dictatorships rarely suffer terrorist attacks is that they rarely given in to terrorists. Potential terrorists know that terrorism directed at dictatorships is unlikely to pay. Obviously, dictatorships also have harsher security policies than democracies do. But that doesn’t explain why terrorist attacks rarely target even those dictatorships that have relatively weak security services, or aim at sites associated with authoritarian governments beyond their borders (where their ability to adopt repressive security policies is much smaller than at home). Western democracies’ embassies and citizens traveling abroad get targeted far more often than those of authoritarian states, even though the latter are comparably vulnerable to attack. Muslim terrorists and rioters rarely if ever targeted Soviet embassies in the 1980s or Chinese ones today, despite the many Muslim grievances against those two governments.

II. The “Just Say No” Approach to Preventing Terrorism.

Saying no has many advantages over alternative antiterrorism policies. Unlike defensive security measures, it doesn’t require much in the way of extra government spending or violations of civil liberties. It is also less costly than offensive military action against the terrorists and creates fewer collateral risks. One can argue that avoiding actions that anger terrorists in the first place is even cheaper. But as the current round of riots at US embassies and many other incidents show, all sorts of things can anger potential terrorists. And it is impossible for a free society to even come close to avoiding all of them. Moreover, if potential terrorists realize that we are preemptively trying to avoid doing anything that might give them offense, that in itself is likely to generate additional demands backed by threats of terrorist attacks if the demands are not met.

Obviously, saying no is far from a complete substitute for these other strategies. But it can incrementally reduce the need to resort to them. In the long run, that reduction can be quite large, since saying no can greatly reduce the incentive of terrorists to target the state in the first place.

Unfortunately, democracies – including the US and Israel – often do make concessions to terrorists. Changing this pattern is not easy. The reason why democracies are more likely to give in than dictatorships is, of course, that they place a higher value on civilian life, and public opinion sometimes pressures them into making concessions in order to secure the release of hostages.

In addition, saying “no” may create general moral dilemmas in cases where the terrorists have at least a partially just cause. For example, Chechen terrorists have some legitimate grievances against Russia; but they have also committed horrendous atrocities against civilians. In such cases, saying “no” requires continuation of unjust policies that should never have been adopted in the first place. That creates a potentially difficult tradeoff.

That said, most terrorists are not fighting for just causes, and the genuine dilemma posed by those who are should not be allowed to obscure the virtues of saying “no” to the many who are not. And while it may be difficult for democracies to commit to a consistent policy of saying no, the beginning of wisdom is to recognize the problem and the ways in which committing to no can help solve it. The idea that giving in to terrorists breeds more terrorism is not a hard one to grasp, and even rationally ignorant voters can come to understand it over time. Hopefully, both the general public and political elites will begin to learn the lesson.

NOTE: In this post, I use “terrorism” in the commonly accepted sense of attacks deliberately targeting civilians. Thus, the fact that insurgent groups often target the military and security forces of dictatorships doesn’t count against my thesis. Defeating an authoritarian state’s military can indeed force them to give in, while harming its civilians rarely will.

UPDATE: I should perhaps add that there is a difference between a policy of saying no to terrorism and a policy of never doing anything that any terrorist might possibly want us to do. There is a difference between doing X in order to convince terrorists to stop attacking us, and doing X for unrelated reasons of our own. In some cases, unfortunately, terrorists might mistake the latter for the former. That’s one reason why cases where terrorists have a just cause create a difficult dilemma. A government that takes actions that happen to coincide with the demands of terrorists, but does so for reasons other than a desire to appease them, needs to find a way to credibly convey the reasons for its actions. How best to do that is a difficult issue that I cannot address in a post that is already too long.

TOPICS: Government; Politics; Religion
KEYWORDS: appeasement; freedomofspeech; innocenceofmuslims; muslimriots
A follow-up to my earlier post 'Why Punishing Blasphemous Speech That Triggers Murderous Reactions Would Likely Lead to More Deaths
1 posted on 09/15/2012 9:29:06 PM PDT by the anti-liberal
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To: the anti-liberal

Just Say No to Terrorism == Just Say No to Islam

In ALL cases, under ALL circumstances, for ANY reason. NO. Never. It is cancer. It is disgusting. It is immoral and inhumane. It is antithetical to human freedom and liberty.

2 posted on 09/15/2012 9:34:13 PM PDT by Secret Agent Man (I can neither confirm or deny that; even if I could, I couldn't - it's classified.)
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To: Secret Agent Man

Why does the Obama Administration not bring our diplomats home from Egypt, Libya and Yemen..... shut down the Embassies..... and NOT send them one more red cent? We send Libya $2 Billion a year. That would stop yesterday.

3 posted on 09/15/2012 9:44:53 PM PDT by Cherokeesquaw
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To: the anti-liberal
Here is one of the replies to this post at The Volokh Conspiracy:
A. Zarkov

Just say no-- Soviet style.

That’s what the Soviet

Union did in Beirut 1985 when a Hezbollah squad abducted four Soviet diplomats:

Dr. Nikolay Swirsky Soviet Embassy physician, Arkady Katakov, attaché Oleg Spirin and engineer from the trade mission Valery Mirikov. Katakov was initially injured, and then murdered with a headshot a few days later. Hezbollah made demands in excess of the usual. They wanted Moscow to pressure Syria (then a Soviet client state) to cease operations against Palestinian forces in Tripoli.

KGB station head in Beirut, Yuri Perfilev says that Hezbollah put the demands on the hostages themselves. Later Perfilev met with Sheikh Fadlallah, a supposedly neutral party to help negotiate a release.

Perfilev admits he did a little adlibbing when he suggested to Fadlallah that the hostage tragedy might get overshadowed if a Soviet missile “accidentally fell on the holy city of Qom. While this not-very-disguised threat did make an impression, negotiations went nowhere. That’s when the GRU stepped in by sending in their Alpha Group.

They identified the family of one of the abductors and seized two of them. Then they dumped the body of one outside his family home with his throat slit and his penis sewed into his mouth. An attached note indicated that the second captive would get the same treatment. That gesture made a real impression, and the remaining three hostages were released as a goodwill gesture.

Just say no.

This story appears in the book: The Secret War with Iran. Unless I missed it, the book does not tell you that Arab Muslims believe they won't go to paradise if they are sexually mutilated. Know your enemy. Know his weak spots and take advantage of them.

Of course, since we can't even waterboard terrorists, even knowing our enemy won't help if our ROEs tie our hands.

The last comment explains their proclivity to sodomize victims with knives and such, imo.

4 posted on 09/15/2012 10:17:46 PM PDT by the anti-liberal
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To: Cherokeesquaw

You know why.

5 posted on 09/16/2012 12:33:34 AM PDT by Secret Agent Man (I can neither confirm or deny that; even if I could, I couldn't - it's classified.)
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To: the anti-liberal

We can’t waterboard, but we can assassinate them with robots (or drones, as you may call them). Even if they’re US citizens and you’re not sure whether they’ve done anything wrong.

6 posted on 09/16/2012 1:09:35 AM PDT by Tublecane
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To: Tublecane

0 needs his snuff porn.

7 posted on 09/16/2012 7:28:36 AM PDT by the anti-liberal
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