The terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, are astonishing. Groups of armed men spread out in the city and began wantonly shooting people. The reports of fatalities are growing, and injuries are reported as over 1000 people. Hostages have been taken, demands of the release of criminals from legal custody made. One television reporter asked her color commentator, “Does the demands of the release of criminals make this more of criminal act than a terrorist act?”
The terrorists of the 21st Century are nothing less than criminals. Organized criminals perpetrating organized crime. The understanding is important because the perception of a problem dictates the response.
When Al Quaeda attacked America on September 11, 2001, the understanding was of terrorism. The idea of a criminal enterprise was not discussed. With the terrorist perspective the response was defined as a military action – nothing less than War. The Taliban, that ruthless criminal government of Afghanistan, harbored and protected Al Quaeda. The Taliban was complicit in the attacks on America. The military response was justified because of the size of the criminal organization. This writer agreed with that approach.
Here is the problem. Once we define the problem as one of military intervention – the next logical step is military intervention with the next problem. This logic led to the unjustified invasion of Iraq by the United States of George W. Bush.
Had we correctly defined Al Quaeda as organized crime, nothing less than strong arm tactics to extort the civilized world, we would have used the more correct response of police tactics. This is not to say that a violent response was not necessary – it was. We submit that the near success of the military intervention in Afghanistan reinforced the idea of physical violence and oppression of civil rights as the predominant solution to criminal activity.
We say ‘near success’ in Afghanistan because the ultimate goal was not achieved. The leadership of Al Quaeda remains intact. Osama Bin Laden has not been brought to justice. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, granting safe harbor to further criminal activities by the organized hooligans. The idea of State sponsored terrorism changed the dynamic of appropriate response.
A police action would have kept the focus on the criminals who commited the criminal act.
The statement by the news anchor questioning whether the acts in Mumbai are terrorist or criminal continues the misunderstanding of the problem. The ciivilized world will not solve this problem until we correctly identify the problem.
The spectacle of war, broadcast in real time, provides distorted emotional gratification for the mob mentality of angry people. Shock and Awe is much more fun than boring detective work. Police work is surgical, targeting the guilty. Military action is brutal, with extensive collateral damage. We are somehow able to dismiss the collateral damage as an unfortunate consequence of war.
As we reflect on the past seven years we can readily see that innocents have been killed while the head of the Organized Criminal enterprise of Al Quaeda remains free. A police reponse would have had much different results.