TCS Daily

Terrorism Lessons From 1870

By Arnold Kling - July 11, 2005 12:00 AM

"Fools Crow thought of the final design on the yellow skin in Feather Woman's lodge. He saw the Napikwan children playing and laughing in a world they possessed. And he saw the Pikuni children, quiet and huddled together, alone and foreign in their own country."
-- James Welch, Fools Crow

The conflict between modern democracies and Islamic terrorists reminds Lee Harris of a blood feud. The idea of a blood feud in turn reminds me of Fools Crow, a novel about the travails of the Pikunis, a small band of the native American Blackfoot tribe, in 1870.


For the Pikunis, blood feuds are normal. The traditional way of life includes raids on other bands. In a typical raid, horses are stolen, one or two of the enemy are killed, and the scalps are taken home.


As Lee Harris might put it, the horse-stealing and scalping are theatrical gestures. They are attempts to humiliate the other band, not to defeat them. Going on a raid is a rite of passage for young members of the tribe. In fact, the title character in Fools Crow earns his name and his honor on one such raid.


As the Napikwans (white men) begin to encroach on the Pikuni lands, some of the Pikunis express their frustration and resentment by scalping and horse-stealing. However, instead of leading to a tit-for-tat response, as in the traditional intra-tribal feuds, these gestures provoke a massacre in which native Americans are annihilated by the whites.


The Paralysis of Moderate Muslims


Following the London subway bombings, Thomas Friedman expressed a point of view that I imagine is fairly widespread in the West.


"because there are not enough police to police every opening in an open society, either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists -- if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings -- or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way -- by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent.


And because I think that would be a disaster, it is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst. If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere. Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village."


Friedman's point of view seems eminently reasonable and logical. He is calling on moderate Muslims, for the sake of self-preservation, to do something to stop the barbaric theatrical gestures of the terrorists.


Up to this point, however, moderate Muslims have seemed paralyzed. We might wonder why this is the case.


In Fools Crow, there are moderate native Americans. However, they, too, are paralyzed. Their failure to restrain a small group of terrorists is what leads to the massacre. Perhaps James Welch, writing from the native American point of view, can offer some insights into the reasons for this paralysis. Here are some ideas that I took away from the novel.


1. The native Americans felt they were in a no-win situation. They saw fighting the white man as futile. However, they saw peace with the white man as being on terms that would make it impossible for native Americans to pursue their traditional way of life. For many of the Blackfoot, this is unacceptable. One character says, "the day will come when our people will decide that they would rather consort with the Napikwans than live in the ways our long-ago fathers thought appropriate. But I, Three Bears, will not see this day. I will die first."


2. Moderate native American chiefs were viewed as weak and unmanly, particularly by younger men.


3. Even though the native Americans viewed Owl's Child (the terrorist leader) as wicked and detrimental to their cause, they could not take the humiliating step of turning one of their blood brothers in to the white soldiers.


4. The native Americans did not have the cultural and institutional foundation with which to cope with the crisis.


"As Fools Crow lay in the shadowy lodge...he felt the impotence that had fallen over his people like snow in the night. Before the coming of the Napikwans, decisions had been made. There was always the arguing, but in the end, the men had made a decision and all had abided by it. Fools Crow's grandfather had told of a much simpler life when the decisions were easier -- when to move camp, when to go to the trading house across the Medicine Line, where the hunting would be best, if it was time to raid the Crow or Snake horses."




It is possible that the culture of the world Muslim community, including its religious and secular institutions, simply is not yet equipped to confront the radicals in the way that Thomas Friedman and the rest of us might wish. A lack of social capital, or what James Bennett calls "civil society," means that the Muslim community's circuits are overloaded. Like the Native Americans living in Montana in 1870, Muslims are confronted with too much change happening too quickly.


We live in a "can-do" society. If a terrorist group arose from within Western culture, after one or two atrocities it would be strangled by a myriad of networks, community organizations, and political entities capable of enforcing group norms.


Perhaps Muslim society cannot address radical terrorism with its existing institutional base. If so, then it will take time for new organizations to emerge within the Muslim world that are capable of effectively promulgating and enforcing prohibitions against terrorism.


I am not trying to absolve moderate Muslims, and moderate Muslim leaders, of responsibility for helping to end the barbaric gestures of terrorism. I agree with Friedman that in the end the only humane way to end the war between the West and radical Islam is for moderate Muslims to exercise better leadership. However, the approach that I would favor with moderate Muslims is high expectations rather than ultimatums.


We should not be tolerant or passive in response to terrorism. We should continue to pursue, incarcerate, and kill terrorists -- without apologies or mindless insinuations. As to the Muslims who are not active terrorists, we should be particularly hard on those who voice moderation in Western-style press conferences but who preach hatred when they think that no one from the West is watching.


However, we should not rush to declare that the moderates' cause is hopeless. Their task may be more difficult than we can appreciate. If we are to avoid turning our clash with radical Muslims into a re-run of 1870, we will need patience.


Arnold Kling is author of Learning Economics.


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