Mark Danner

The Politics of Terror: Writing About Violent Political Change

Mark Danner 
 Description: We will study violence and politics and try to understand within that broad subject the singular case of terrorism: its history, its evolution, its technique. We will study some of the seminal texts of terrorism and some of their more celebrated applications. We will work to place terrorism within the broader subject of practicing politics through violence, particularly revolution and coup d’etat. We will seek to understand, within the broader history of terror, the evolution, techniques and goals of Al Qaeda. We will look at the task of reporting on terrorism, with especial attention given to terror’s use of the press. The class will require extensive reading, periodic film-viewing and frequent writing assignments, most of the latter to be done in class.


*Jan. 21: Introduction: The Rationale of Terror

* Discussion: What is power? How does one obtain it? 
* The Sept. 11 terrorists want to end United States’ involvement in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 
* Cutting off United States’ support would be one of the first steps in trying to overthrow those governments. Assignment: Write essays on the subject “What is terrorism?” 
*Jan. 30: Terror and the Road to Insurrection
* Readings for today: # Strunk, William, and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. 3rd Ed. N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1979. # Luttwak, Edward. Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook. 2nd Ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Penguin Press, 1979. # Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. 1952 San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1980. Watched “The Battle of Algiers,” directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, 1967. 
* Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook 
* Using violence to gain or limit political power 
* The connection between power and legitimacy, and the legitimate use of violence 
* The Battle of Algiers 
* An example of a successful use of terrorism to achieve independence 
* How can a clandestine organization play a role in politics? 
* Gaining political prestige, and lowering the prestige of the government, through police killings, the destruction of public order and, finally, the bombing of innocents  
*Feb. 4: Terror and the Colonial State
* Readings for today: # Machiavelli, Niccolo, The Prince. The Modern Library, New York: 1950. # “‘Mujahid Usamah Bin Laden Talked Exclusively to Nida’ul Islam About The New Powder Keg in the Middle East,’ Nida’ul Islam, Oct. – Nov. 1996: 15.”: irp/world/para/docs/LADIN.htm # “‘Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,’ World Islamic Front Statement, Feb. 23, 1998.”: # “‘Transcript of Usama bin Laden Video Tape,’ Dec. 13, 2001.”: # “TRANSCRIPT AFGHANISTAN: Part 1 of 8: Al Jazirah TV Broadcasts Bin Ladin Recorded Statement Statement 27 Dec,” Dec. 27, 2001.”:
 * Coup d’Etat and The Prince
* The goal is to take power, and policies are subjugated to the need to take power
* The Battle of Algiers
* Released in 1967, during a time of decolonization struggles around the world, notably in the Congo; the beginning of anti-Vietnam protests; the Six-Day War
* A story of enlightenment and coming into “authenticity” from a state of colonial occupation
* The terrorists begin shooting police to arm themselves, to destroy the prestige of the state and to build a movement
* The Islamic wedding, the prohibition on drunkenness, etc. assert this authority and show that the present “authority” is unauthentic
* Ali is given the task of shooting the policeman but no ammunition
* Like bin Ladin now, the Algerians resorted to terrorism to reveal the true fascist character of colonist power. Terrorism is used to make the state use its power and show that the society is unjust and based on force.
*Feb. 11: How Terrorists Think: Using the Iraq War
* Readings for today: # Ajami, Fouad, “The Uneasy Imperium: Pax Americana in the Middle East,” in How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War. Eds. James F. Hoge Jr. and Gideon Rose. New York: Public Affairs, 2001. pp. 15-30. # Doran, Michael Scott, “Somebody Else’s Civil War: Ideology, Rage and the Assault on America,” in How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War. Eds. James F. Hoge Jr. and Gideon Rose. New York: Public Affairs, 2001. pp. 31-52 # Gause III, F. Gregory, “The Kingdom in the Middle: Saudi Arabia’s Double Game,” in How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War. Eds. James F. Hoge Jr. and Gideon Rose. New York: Public Affairs, 2001. pp. 109-122. # Lourie, Richard, The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin: a novel. Da Capo Press: 1999.
* The class becomes an Al Qaeda cell in Afghanistan or Pakistan, trying to devise a plan to respond to the coming US war in Iraq.
* The U.S. State Department wants a quick war, with as little killing as possible, while Al Qaeda wants a long, drawn-out and messy war.
* For each possible plan, the cell must consider the message it would send: how much media attention we would get, the difficulty of the plan, the number of deaths and the type of response we would be likely to get.
* We came up with a number of options: attacking Israel, terrorizing Egypt and Saudi Arabia, using agent provocateurs to incite police violence during anti-war demonstrations in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
* We decide to attack the United States to show that we are the only authority fighting for the Arabs. We considered attacking restaurants, malls and theaters to intimidate consumers, as well as attacking gas stations, before settling on poisoning consumer products, which would be a way to cause a lot of terror with very few operatives, little cost and little preparation.
*Feb. 18: The Roots of Al Qaeda* Readings for today: # “Wright, Lawrence, ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden: How an Egyptian doctor became a master of terror.’ The New Yorker Sept. 16, 2002.”: # “Raban, Jonathan, “My Holy War.” The New Yorker, Feb. 4, 2002.”: # Cappello, Daniel, “The Second Man: Interview of Lawrence Wright.” The New Yorker Sept. 16, 2002. # Gunaratna, Rohan, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. Columbia University Press, New York: 2001. pp. 1-95.
 * Inside Al Qaeda
* Osama bin Laden styles himself a populist leader, but comes from a wealthy and influential family.
* He contributed money, a Western business model and above all his charisma to the group. He is very tall, handsome, a fine horseman and photogenic, (he resembles Saladeen) so he is an excellent spokesman and icon.
* His philosophy, radical conservatism, harks back to the original pure state of early Islam
* Bin Laden texts
* “Bin Laden rails against Crusaders and UN,” BBC Monitoring, Nov. 3, 2001.
* Strategy: He is downplaying the advantage technology gives us and saying that American soldiers are really cowards, which is why we need so much technology.
* He adds to his legend by emphasizing that he escaped, despite heavy bombing in a small space, and asserts that our war on terrorism was really a victory for them.
* It is true that it is difficult to get into the many deep trenches and bunkers with conventional weapons, although people are trying to develop more effective ones.
* Al Qaeda, “The Base,” made connections and maintained a listing in a decentralized system of groups all over the world. The New Yorker readings
* Raban’s story seems to suggest that the West represents temptation to these radical conservatives, along with corruption.
* Wright’s indicates that most of the Al Qaeda leaders had exposure to the West, had studied abroad and met in Hamburg.
* We discussed whether it is right to explain terrorists as understandable people, such as these articles do, and whether such articles seem to justify their actions. Assignment: Write a memo to Osama bin Laden proposing a strategy for taking advantage of the United States’ seemingly pending war with Iraq to hurt the United States economically. The memo should be two pages or less. Include an explanation of what you hope to achieve and also details on an operational level, such as how the strategy would be carried out and what you would need.
 *Feb. 25: The State Responds: How Security Services Think
* Readings for today: # Aussaresses, General Paul, The Battle of the Casbah: Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Algeria 1955-1957. New York: Enigma Books, 2002. # Gunaratna, Rohan, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. pp. 95-242.
Discussion: We read our memos and tried to come up with a way to prevent Denis’ plan, particularly the part about driving up to a two-level airport, such as JFK, with a car bomb. One difficulty from the terrorists’ point of view is that airports are now conducting random car searches. To get around those, they would have to do some surveillance/research, perhaps by trying to get searched, to find out what the searchers are looking for and what types of cars are most often searched. We decided we would not be deterred by the random car searches, if we were the terrorists. The government’s job to protect against terrorist attacks is difficult, in part, because there are so many possible targets. With the available resources, it is impossible to guard them all. If we were government officials, we would of course try to protect the most obvious targets, but we decided we would mostly have to rely on intelligence to find out about planned attacks in time to guard against them
*March 4: The State Responds: Counter-Terror and Torture* Readings for today: 1) Benjamin, Daniel and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror. New York: Random House, 2002. (First half.)
* The Age of Sacred Terror
* State and Defense departments are enormous bureaucracies. To change their priorities are enormous tasks.
* Even though people in the government were aware of the risk posed by Al Qaeda, they couldn’t ready any defense. Why?
* Arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda operations chief
* The press has no access to him, and the only information the public gets is what the government releases. We have no way to verify whether this information os accurate, since the CIA or the military may have an interest in giving out false or misleading information. The government releases information to try to influence Al Qaeda, although it probably follows certain procedures when a key operative is arrested.
* The arrest could freeze attacks planned on before we attack Iraq.
* We are not sure where he is now and we have no way to know how he and other prisoners are being treated.
* Morality of torture * Do sleep deprivation, sensory overload or other psychological techniques constitute torture?
* Is torture justified in some cases, such as the “ticking bomb” scenario?
* Articles in The Observer, The Washington Post and the LA Times * We read the stories about the UN Security Council and discussed why they were played down in American newspapers, compared to the Observer.
* If the report was a forgery, who would benefit? Possibly a government considering voting in favor of the United States at the UN might be pressured to change its mind.
March 11: The State Fails: How 9-11 Happened Readings for today: Benjamin, Daniel and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror. New York: Random House, 2002. (Second half.)
* The Age of Sacred Terror
* Reasons why the government was unprepared for Sept. 11 include 1) government reluctance to give up the “state-sponsored” paradigm, 2) rivalries between government departments, and 3) scandals diverting the president’s attention.
* Someone like Richard Clark at the NSC can be effective because he is nonpolitical, he’s been in the government through several administrations, he’s somewhat ruthless and he really cares about terrorism and defense. People don’t want to fight him.
* The failure of the military’s plan to get Osama bin Laden. (pp. 294-295.) Military officers thought the task was a political and diplomatic one, and that the military risked becoming politically vulnerable – a scapegoat – by mounting a mission to get him. So it came up with a cautious, long and extensive plan, knowing that the president, who wanted something quick and quiet, would reject it.
* Clinton wanted Osama bin Laden but couldn’t get him, even though he had a huge number of forces at his disposal, because of his opposition within his own government.
* Trying to use a dependent ally: The United States tried to get Osama bin Laden arrested through our relationships with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The way power in the Saudi kingdom works, the leaders can’t arrest him because he is too powerful. One person suggested clearing everything off the diplomatic agenda with Pakistan except Osama bin Laden, but nobody wanted to deal with the consequences of sanctions, in particular, the transport of nuclear technology to North Korea.
* Even though the United States has allies that are dependent on it, it isn’t able to force them to do things. Sometimes the consequences of reducing support are worse than the original problem.
*March 21: The First Age of Terror: Anarchism and Revolution
* Readings for today: # Conrad, Joseph, The Secret Agent. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. # From Confronting Fear: A History of Terrorism. Ed. Isaac Cronin. New York: Thunder Mouth Press, 2002. pp. xi-43: # Cronin, Issac, “Introduction.” pp. xi-3. # Laqueur, Walter, “A History of Terrorism.” pp. 4-16. # Most, Johann, “The Science of Revolutionary Warfare.” pp. 17-21. # “President McKinley shot, The Trial and Execution of Leon Czolgosz.” pp. 22-32. # “Propaganda by Deed – The Greenwich Observatory Bomb of 1894.” pp. 33-35.
* Today’s political situation
* Four in 10 Americans believe Saddam Hussein was behind Sept. 11. The Bush administration has subtly encouraged this misunderstanding.
* Al Qaeda’s presence in Iraq is not evidence of collaboration with the regime. Confronting Fear
* 1848 was a time of revolution throughout Europe. The failure of revolution led to conservative backlash and much frustration. Believing that orthodoxy would never bring about change, and resorted to terror, including assassination and bombing.
* Many politicians and leaders were assassinated from the 1880s on, because terrorism was relatively new, there was little security and successes led to a rash of new attempts. The Secret Agent
* Conrad creates a parallel world where the distinction between right and wrong, as well as reality itself, is hard to grasp, giving us appearing and disappearing police, buildings with addresses that don’t go in order, surprise confrontations and surreal conversations.
* His anarchist characters are ineffectual and accomplish nothing.
* The Professor is a provocateur, hoping to provoke the state into overreacting and damaging its own image.
* The novel is prophetic in that it makes the terrorist the survivor; the method, not the ideology, remains.
*April 1: TITLE
* Readings for today: # Kepel, Gilles, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. # The following entries from Confronting Fear: A History of Terrorism. Ed. Isaac Cronin. New York: Thunder Mouth Press, 2002. pp. 44-79, 239-252. * Cronin, Isaac, “Political Terrorism.” pp. 44-46. * Fanon, Frantz, “The Wretched of the Earth: The Third World and Violence.” pp. 47-56.
* Marighella, Carlos, “Minimanual of the Urban Guerilla.” pp. 57-74.
* Sanguinetti, Gianfranco , “On Terrorism and the State.” pp.75-79.
* Algar, Hamid, “The Introduction to Social Justice in Islam,” pp. 239-252. Discussion: Today’s political situation
Was the attack against the Marine checkpoint in Iraq terrorism, even though it was a military target in a military engagement? Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam
The Islamic revolution could only be accomplished by building a coalition of the devout bourgeoisie (the middle class) and the poor urban youth, including newly educated people who expected to surpass the level of their parents but were frustrated. Confronting Fear
Those groups can be wedged apart because the middle class has more to lose. The poor, however, need nothing less than a full revolution. 
*April 6: Insurgency, Terror and Colonial War: Pontecorvo’s “Burn”* Discussion: Gillo Pontecorvo, Burn (1969)
This movie explores colonialism, how people exert power over others. Elements of the colonial and post-colonial era relate to the Iraq war. The disparity between technologies is one similarity. Both wars are fought to secure rights to a commodity: In Quemada, sugar; in Iraq, oil. Using or compromising with the middle class to stunt revolution. The “liberal” leader, Teddy Sanchez, doesn’t understand the politics of power and is used by the British. This depiction of a liberal, through revolutionary eyes, ridicules those who think change can be accomplished gradually. Jose Dolores, the rebel who was politically awakened by William Walker, the agent provocateur, decides freedom given to him is not real freedom and makes the free choice to die.  
*April 20: Dostoevsky’s Demons: Nihilism, Liberalism, Terror
* Readings for today: # Dostoevsky, Fyodor, Demons. 4th ed. New York: Vintage Books, or Random House, Inc., 1995. # “‘Bin Laden, Dostoevsky and the reality principle: an interview with Andr’ Glucksmann,’ March 31, 2003.”: Demons: 
* Dostoevsky blamed liberals for the radical movement in Russia. 
* He uses Stepan to represent this idea, whose name is “almost on par with the names of Chaadaev, Belinsky, Granovsky, and Herzen,” according to Dostoevsky. He patterned Stepan after this earlier generation of intellectuals. 
*April 22: Nihilism and the Liveral Weakening of Authority
* Readings for today: Dostoevsky, Fyodor, Demons. 4th ed. New York: Vintage Books, or Random House, Inc., 1995. Demons: 
* Dostoevsky started Demons after the murder of Ivanov. The Nechnev trial was happening while he was writing, and the transcripts were appearing in the press. He was trying to figure the source of that type of violence, and came up with Stepan as one of the answers. 
* Stepan has announced his atheism, but hasn’t followed through, intellectually, on the consequences of atheism. Pyotr and others of the next generation do. 
* Dostoevsky concludes God and orthodoxy are essential, or you end up with barbarism and tragedy. Watched Little Drummer Girl, based on the Le Carr’ novel 
*April 29: Liberalism and Terror: The New Crusade
* Reading due today: ‘ President George Bush’s speech on Sept. 20, 2001, regarding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. URL: ‘ Danner, Mark, “Marooned in the Cold War: America, the Alliance, and the Quest for a Vanished World,” World Policy Journal, Fall 1997. URL: ‘ Danner, Mark, “Marooned in the Cold War: An Exchange between Mark Danner and George F. Kennan, Strobe Talbott and Lee H. Hamilton,” World Policy Journal, Spring 1998. URL: ‘ Berman, Paul, Terror and Liberalism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Discussion: Little Drummer Girl 
* The world of terror versus counterterror. Its depiction of tradecraft, including recruitment and interrogation (isolation, sensory and sleep deprivation, drug use, other psychological pressures), is fairly accurate. 
* In this movie, Charlie (played by Diane Keaton) was selected by the Israelis to infiltrate the Palestinian terrorist cell. She was a non-Jewish actress who was known to be pro-Palestinian, who had been seen at an event with Palestinian terrorist Michele, who had a knack for creating false identities for herself and switching among them and who had a personality whose political opinions could be converted. The group also knew how to approach her (through a politically engaged man) and had the means to do so through Joseph, who Charlie mistook for Michele. 
* Al Qaeda is probably trying to prevent being infiltrated by testing newcomers during recruitment and having periodic loyalty testing among the group’s regulars. From President Bush’s Sept. 20 speech: 
* “We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions — by abandoning every value except the will to power — they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.” Terror and Liberalism * Berman elaborates on Bush’s line throughout his book, arguing that despite the completely different ideologies, the uniting factor of all those groups is they believe they are morally permitted to do anything to achieve their goals. 
* Berman doesn’t address bin Laden’s goals of removing the United States’ influence from the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, and ridding these areas of the secular governments now in place. Watched “Dirty Bomb,” a NOVA documentary. 
* Materials to make dirty bombs are readily available to terrorists, and dirty bombs could be the ideal terrorist weapon because they can disable a city, causing widespread panic and huge economical loss. Assignment due today: Write a three-page paper about the relevance of Demons to bin Laden and his goals for Al Qaeda. 
*May 6: The Ideology of Anti-Terror
* Discussion: Wrap up 
* In this class, we’ve tried to understand the political environments and ideologies on both sides 
* Bush administration’s ideology: The violence of Sept. 11 is an expression of another ideology like fascism and communism, and the fight against terrorism can be used to forward political goals, such as the war with Iraq. 
* The evolution of the Bush administration’s ideology: Started with the reaction that it would go after Al Qaeda, extended to considering countries that harbor terrorists enemies and then to considering rogue states with weapons of mass destruction enemies, as well. 
* Bush’s doctrine is not just that we will fight pre-emptive or preventative war, but also that we have a new ideological basis for US foreign policy that will lead us to get involved to protect ourselves. The morality of suicide bombings 
* According to Fadlallah’s moral logic, although suicides are explicitly denounced in the Koran, they can be justified because the Koran also requires people to fight against oppression and these suicides are the only means they have to do so. Also, the division between suicide attacks and missions that almost certainly will kill the fighters is slight. Readings for today: 1) From Confronting Fear: A History of Terrorism. pp. 253-377, 406-413, 451-512, 537-549. 
* Laqueur, Walter, “The New Terrorism,” pp. 253-267. 
* Lederberg, Joshua, “The Diversity of Bio-Weapons,” pp. 268-274. * Barber, Benjamin R., “Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World,” pp. 275-281. 
* Kramer, Martin, “The Moral Logic of Hizballah,” pp.282-293. 
* “Excerpt from ‘Hamas Website,'” pp. 294-303. 
* Katz, Samuel M., “The Hunt for the Engineer: How Israeli Agents Tracked the Hamas Master Bomber,” pp. 304-344. 
* Labeviere, Richard, “Dollars for Terror: The United States and Islam,” pp. 324-344. 
* Rashid, Ahmed, “Taliban,” pp. 345-362. 
* Cooley, John K., “Unholy Wars,” pp 363-377. 
* Yardley, Jim, “A Portrait of the Terrorist from Shy Child to Singleminded Killer,'” pp. 406-413. 
* Michel, Lou and Dan Herbeck, “American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing,” pp. 451-485. 
* Kaczynski, Theodore, “The Unabomber’s Manifesto,” pp. 486-492. 
* Murakami, Haruki, “Underground,” pp. 493-512. 
* Makiya, Kanan, “Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World,” pp. 537-549. 2) Frank, Joseph, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995. pp. 396-498. May 9: Politics and Terror: Surveying the New World
* Readings and assignments due today: # Costa-Gavras, Z (1969) # “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America.”: # “Herf, Jeffrey, ‘What is Old and What is New is the Terrorism of Islamic Fundamentalism?’ Partisan Review, January 2002.”: