Review of Alan Dershowitz's Why Terrorism Works
January 1, 2004

by Bruce Fenton

My friend Bernie and I have had some great discussions about our world, he recently recommended Why Terrorism Works as part of his explanation for his support of the Iraq War. Dershowitz, although bias, brings up many important points and questions, such as noting "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" and asking: what is terrorism? If terrorism is simply the deliberate targeting of civilians, then the bombing of Hiroshima would be terrorism. If we make an exception of these acts (as we certainly should) and argue they brought an end to the war and served the greater good, then we are adding our opinion, and opinion is one place where problems lay. Clearly terrorists think their cause is just and often argue that they too serve the greater good. Dershowitz recognizes that terrorism is not clear cut and that there can even be justification for terrorism. French Resistance members who attacked Nazis were clearly justified. The big question, one I doubt Dershowitz or anyone else can answer, is how we define terrorism. I know it when I see it may be the only logical definition. For actions like the cowardly attacks of 9-11-01, the definition might fit the stickier issue is in areas where the terrorist claims the action was war or even justice. Just as many in the world call the US a terrorist, some claim that Israel is a perpetrator of terrorism and that the difference between them and more classic terrorism is only the method. While Israel and the US use smart bombs terrorists, due to lack of resources, will use suicide bombers the blood left behind is no less red. Dershowitz and most other Americans would strongly disagree with this characterization: the debate that has been raging for ages in Palestine, Israel and the world.

The bigger point is the question of what to do about 9-11, 1972s attack on Israeli Olympic Athletes or the hijacking of the Achile Lauro; actions that civilized people of the world agree are indeed terrorism. Dershowitz examines the origin and prevention of these type of events. Dershowitz's most shocking and angering section is his seemingly never-ending list of clear terrorist actions where perpetrators not only went unpunished but where rewarded for their heinous crimes. Again and again from the1960s to today, cowardly terrorist acts have resulted in increased publicity and freedom for terrorists. On an escalating scale, terrorists achieved their goals with publicity and cave-ins to demands. Many nations became so fearful that, rather than risk another attack or hijacking demanding the release of terrorists they had in custody, they'd simply and quietly let them go. Dershowitz deserves credit for pointing this out, the well documented list alone answers his titles question: terrorism works because nations the media, and ultimately the citizens, give in to terrorism.

His solution is hardly innovative: don't give in. Don't surrender, don't negotiate, don't publicize and don't cave. Grant terrorists such a world of pain from their actions that they know their goals cannot be achieved through terror. Make all terrorism always a negative, never a positive. This has been suggested before and is easier said than done. In addition to blaming media and governments for terrorism, citizens are to blame as well, for we control these organizations through our elected representatives and our advertising dollars. If everyone stands together in defiance of terrorism and fear, we can combat terrorism by pressuring our elected officials to never bow to terror and by ignoring all media that seeks to publicize their actions. Incidentally, this might include the National Terror Alert color warning system: a device that does little more than to provide ongoing periodic publicity to Al Qaeda and feed the fear that terrorists so thrive on. Another attack will happen, we all know this, living in fear and fueling the media machine that terrorists thrive off of makes us less safe, not more so. As far as Iraq, I agree that terrorists must be stopped and agree with much of what Dershowitz proposes. My difference is in whether Iraq is a nation that should have been included in the list of terrorists. President Bush stated on September 15, 2003 that there was no link between Saddam and 9-11. While undoubtedly an evil dictator, there were no unpunished attacks that Saddam made against America. If we are truly to follow the advice of Dershowitz then our efforts should have been focused on Bin Laden, not Hussein. Once again the terrorist has gained freedom and publicity for cowardice and evil. As a nation and a world we must stand up to Bin Laden and his like and pressure our media and government to never surrender, never give in and never glorify cowardly acts of terrorism.
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