Friday, July 30, 2010

Understanding the Suicide Bomber

There's an interesting article at Strategy Page on some of what the Israelis have learned about suicide bombers over the years. We learn, for example, this:

Israel...has captured at least fifteen suicide bombers who did not (could not or would not) carry out their mission. These terrorists were extensively questioned, as were family and friends. The Israelis also collected similar data on dead suicide bombers, including email or tapped phone calls and other material the bomber left behind. The Israelis, like the suicide bomb organizations, came to the same conclusion; that certain personality traits make someone very willing to carry out these attacks. And the chief characteristic is usually not fanaticism, but deference to authority and public opinion. This is one reason why the Palestinian media campaign to glamorize suicide bombers is so dangerous.

The most interesting information in the article, however, is the explanation for what many in the West find a deplorable practice by the Israelis:

Eventually, the Israelis found several weaknesses in the suicide bomber system. The first one discovered was transportation. Most of the suicide bomber volunteers lived in the West Bank, and had to be transported to areas with a large Israeli population. As the Israelis discovered, most of the cost of each suicide bombing went to paying a driver or guide to get the suicide bomber close to a target area. Using a system of checkpoints and profiling, the Israelis began to catch most of the suicide bombers.

But some still got through. So the Israelis went back to a 1990s technique that, while it worked, was widely criticized as unfair and inhumane. Namely, the family home of the suicide bomber was destroyed. The bomber usually came from a family that housed several generations in one house (which was often the family's major asset. Before resuming this practice, the family actually profited from the bombing, receiving up to $30,000 for their son (or daughter's) sacrifice. Soon after the house destruction policy went into effect, there were reports of family's forcibly restraining adult children from joining the suicide bombing effort (or reporting the kid to the Israelis, who would then arrest the bomber volunteer.) While that dried up the source of the more competent bombers, it did not eliminate all the bombings. So Israel cut the West Bank off from Israel. Thus for the last five years, there have been hardly any attacks. Because the Palestinians continue their suicide bomber recruitment program (especially on children's television shows), the Israelis don't plan on reopening their borders to the Palestinians any time soon.

The knowledge that their act will result in the destruction of the only living quarters available to their loved ones is a powerful deterrent to those who might otherwise be inclined to commit mass murder. In other words, razing their families' houses is not an act of vindictiveness or spite, as it's often portrayed in our media, rather it's a deliberate attempt to provide a disincentive to the potential terrorist who doesn't value his own life but does care deeply about his family.

Evidently it works.


Reaching the A Students

Pete Spiliakos at No Left Turns offers some thoughts on a problem that has concerned me for a number of years - how to reach our brightest young people with conservative arguments that they'll find compelling.

Spiliakos writes:

My own experience with really bright, hard working, ambitious, and politically engaged (but not obsessive) kids is that conservative messages rarely get to them in a detailed or friendly form outside of major election campaigns. There are exceptions, but those kids are a minority and usually have to find conservative media on their own. That means that, for most of these kids, their perceptions of politics are framed by media institutions that are liberal-leaning to various degrees of intensity and openness. They are also going to go to colleges where their professors will be varying degrees of liberal. This makes a generalized friendliness to liberal politicians and policies the default position.

The populist conservative media isn't really much of a help. The vast majority of these kids don't listen to the radio for politics (neither talk radio nor NPR.) They aren't going to watch Hannity or Beck. Those shows aren't really designed for them anyway. Those shows work best for those who have already bought into the conservative narrative and they don't really take on the best arguments of the other side. But these kids will have heard the best arguments that liberals have to offer and they are smart enough not to forget them.

This is all very true, unfortunately, as is this:

The communication problem with this group is tough. We need a set of institutions that speak to an audience that will have heard many of the best (or maybe second best) liberal arguments for this or that liberal policy. As Murray pointed out, if conservatives "take a cheap shot" or "duck an obvious objection" to their arguments, they will lose this audience.

Which is why it's good, I suppose, that they don't listen to Sean Hannity. Anyway, Spiliakos has much more to say about this at the link.

It does seem to be the case that many young people simply imbibe liberal assumptions from their cultural or academic environment and never stop to wonder whether those ideas are really true. They rarely hear those ideas challenged and are often surprised, like a zoologist who chances upon a species heretofore thought to be extinct, to encounter people who don't assent to them. When such encounters occur the bright young person is prone to assume that the doubter is simply uninformed or otherwise backward.

I don't know how this can ever be changed until more smart young conservatives choose to do what liberals did back in the 60s and 70s which is to begin their own long march through the institutions. When more bright young men and women who hold conservative views undertake careers in cinema, education, law, journalism and other fields which shape the culture, the situation that Spiliakos laments might change. But unless they do, I'm afraid that liberals we will always have with us and liberal worldviews will be the default position for so many of our most intelligent young people.



A number of readers have expressed concern that Viewpoint hasn't been updated for the last three days. The reason for this apparent dereliction is that my computer crashed on the morning of the 27th and has been in the shop ever since. I now have it back, but it still doesn't seem to be running as it should, and, since I have no idea how to diagnose it or to solve the problem, I don't know how long I'll be able to keep it going.

It's been frustrating, of course, but there's nothing to be done about it short of having the hard drive wiped clean and starting over. Should that be necessary I suppose we'll be down for several more days, but as long as the devilish thing is working I'm eager to get back to posting.

Thanks for bearing with us.