TCS Daily

Velvet Revolutions and the Logic of Terrorism

By Frederick Turner - September 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Part of our difficulty in dealing with global terror directed against civilian populations is that we have not, I believe, understood what it was designed to attack. Some see it as a war between cultural blocs, others as a religious war against infidels, others as a traditionalist reaction to the social, economic, and cultural disruptions caused by globalism, others as a continuation of the liberation of oppressed peoples from colonial imperialism. There may be a grain of truth in some of these explanations, but the counter-examples to each of them are glaring.

For instance, the majority of deaths by terrorism in the last several years -- even including 9/11 and the second Intifada -- have been the result of Muslim-on-Muslim violence, perhaps even Arab-on-Arab violence, depending on what is counted. Thus we can rule out cultural and religious war as the prime motivation. Though one can at a stretch describe the Taliban as traditionalists opposing the corruptions of global market capitalism, al Qaeda is a quintessentially cosmopolitan, big-business financed, historicist, international intellectual movement, as globalist in its own way as Microsoft. As for the anti-colonialist explanation, it is hard to see how animist Sudanese farmers, Kashmiri Hindus, Sunni Kurds, Iraqi Shiites, Philippine Christians or Egyptian or Lebanese democrats, all of them targets of terrorism, could be considered colonial oppressors.


The history of warfare shows us that each new military power arises as the result of a new strategy or weapon, with a major socio-economic dimension, that effectively refutes the previous one. The disciplined citizen-hoplite infantryman of the Greek city-states answers and reverses the huge peasant armies of the Persian emperors. The plebeian Roman phalanx defeats the elite Spartan line. The Parthian cavalry archer wears out and turns back the Roman phalanx. The longbow brings down the armored knight. The swift low British man-o-war defeats the galleon. The machine-gun stops the massed infantry attack invented by Marlborough and Bonaparte.


When the suicide bomber first emerged as the paradigm and core symbol of terrorism, it could be argued that it was exactly the weapon to counter the nuclear-armed modern democratic nation state (Israel in particular). The suicide bomb could not, by definition, be avenged or deterred; though it could not target the government, which could always democratically renew itself, it could target the populations trust in its government. Its target was, appropriately, the whole population, because in a democracy the whole population is the sovereign. The bomber could always be disavowed by his state bosses and protectors.


But as I have pointed out, the numbers of Israeli and Western dead as victims of terror are only a fraction of the total number. War is politics by other means. Why did suicide terror metastasize from Israel to the world? What is the basic political enemy of the global terrorist movement? What is it designed to attack? Though it would be tempting to say that the target is the democratic state, the evidence does not quite support it. Many existing democratic states were left alone, and coexisted with, for years before suicide terror emerged, and are so still.


I believe that the evidence points clearly to one target. Thirty years ago it looked as if the totalitarian state was solidly established, successful and immortal. Democratic capitalism had been stopped in its tracks. The nuclear-armed socialist dictatorship could not be attacked or defeated; it could at best be contained, and none of its incremental marginal conquests could be rolled back. Marvelously, however, a new strategy emerged, invented by the worlds middle-class populations, that could bring down the totalitarian state: the velvet revolution. Totalitarian governments rely on elites to govern and control the people and defend themselves against outside ideas. Those elites must reproduce themselves, creating a property-owning educated class with great power but without the revolutionary ideology of their parents; and to remain economically viable the state must produce a skilled artisan class, like the shipbuilders of Gdansk, with the capacity to unionize. Out of these materials, generated by totalitarianism itself, comes the velvet revolution.


The velvet revolution (also named the orange revolution, the purple finger, the rose revolution, the cedar revolution) has swept the world. In different ways, nonviolent, non-ideological middle-class and skilled-worker mass movements have unseated tyrants and established democracies in an amazing range of countries: Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Bangladesh, South Korea, Indonesia, the Baltic states, Mexico, Serbia, Albania, Georgia, the Ukraine, the Philippines, Lebanon, even Palestine, all fell to the regimes of popular sovereignty. China nearly fell in 1989, with the Tiananmen protest, and will become a democracy some time in the next twenty years. If there is one defining event that characterizes the end of twentieth century political modernism, it is this one.


The suicide bomb, with the mass terrorism it epitomizes, is the weapon of choice against the velvet revolution. The target is not, as well-meaning critics of terrorism say, indiscriminate: it is exact and precise. The target is any population that might organize a velvet revolution, the potential sovereigns of a democratic state. It is people who are not ideological, who are willing to let others believe what they want, who want to make a living and be independent, and who want a say in their government. Even in Israel, where it was the citizens of an already-established democratic state that were being attacked, the true target, as we are now coming to understand after the death of Arafat, was the nascent democracy of Palestine. By killing Jews, Arafat could continue to oppress and defraud Palestinians.


Global terrorism is not a revolution, but an attempt to suppress a revolution. What is being defended by suicide terror is not Islam, not traditional moral culture, not the ethnic nation yearning to be free of the colonial oppressor, but the principle of totalitarian rule -- the sovereignty of the dictator or the ayatollah, promoted as national self-identity and independence, or as the will of God. It is the last gasp, historically, of the ancient system by which the huge majority of human beings were ruled since the Neolithic agricultural revolution.



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