27 September 2004

Terrorists themselves demonstrate why they cannot be reasoned with, and ought not to be.

Think for a moment about the thing that you are most terrified of. What is it? Being buried alive? Now let me ask you this: What if I knew what that was and were just the sort of person to prey upon that fear?

What if that fear was of being bound hand and foot and then suspended above a pit of hungry alligators? What, furthermore, if I did that to you? There you are, bound hand and foot, hanging above a pit of hungry alligators, looking down (or from your perspective, up) at them. And there they are, looking up at you, mouths wide open, waiting for the feed to begin. As you hang there, looking "up" at them, you can swear you can see them salivating at the thought of you. They lick their chops. Mmmmmm, each one must surely be thinking, as dainty a morsel as ever I shall eat in this life.

What if I had you hanging there because I wanted something from you? What would you be willing to give me? But now wait. Let's say that this really isn't your worst fear. Let's say it's not you suspended above that pit of alligators. Let's say it's the person you love most in all the world, your wife, your son--your daughter. Isn't she beautiful? She's just turned sixteen and she is, after your wife, a vision of loveliness. Surely the angels in heaven could wish they possessed the half of her beauty. Now what would you be willing to give me? (Oh. Did I mention the fact that I have your eyes taped wide open and your head braced so that, if the times comes, you cannot help but watch as your daughter becomes lunch? You will see it all, and hear it all.)

Now I ask again. What demand can I not make? What will you give me to purchase her release? Your own life? No, I don't want that. So. What will you give me? You will probably be willing to do whatever I want. When you think about it, I have the perfect weapon,don't I?

And just what is that weapon? Is it the rope with which your daughter is bound? Is it the alligators? No, my friend, it is your fear. And who is the victim? Your daughter? No, my friend, you are the intended victim. In this scenario your daughter is merely the means to an end.

Now, if you didn't know me better, you might think that I'm bluffing. But you know me well; you know I've done this before, successfully, tens of times already. In fact, you know people to whom I've done this, people who thought I was bluffing and found out--horrifyingly--that I was not. Yes, friend, you know me as a cold-blooded killer for whom this is no more complex than a quick game of checkers.

Perhaps you think for a moment that you might try to reason with me, but then you realize that my logic is so tight as to be indefeasible. My logic is simply this: give into my demands and get your daughter back; refuse me and she becomes alligator food. I must confess that I find the simplicity of it all compellingly beautiful beyond words. Frankly, it almost brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

But you decide to try anyway. "Sir," you ask, "where is the justice in this? It is I who have harmed you, I who owe you what you've demanded, even assuming that your demands are just. My daughter has done you no harm."

I reply: "My dear, misguided friend, you misunderstand. My cause is just. I demand nothing more from you than is my just due; therefore the means that I employ in securing my just deserts are themselves just. So you see, my friend, there is no injustice in what I do here. The injustice is perpetrated by you in denying me what I have justly required of you. Don't dare to lecture me on the requirements of justice. It is you who need lessons in justice, and I who shall provide such lessons."

Maddening, isn't it? How can you deal with me? You know I've done this before; you know I'll do it again. Even if you placate me by acceding to my (just?) demands, next time it could be your neighbor's daughter suspended above those ravenous alligators. Perhaps you don't especially like your neighbor, but his daughter has done you no wrong.

Then the thought occurs to you. You have an opportunity. You could take me out. In doing so, you may lose your daughter's life and probably your own as well. But you can't overcome my tight "logic" (remember what that was?) and you can't appeal to my sense of justice. All you can do is keep me from doing this again--to someone else anyway. So. What do you do?

In the wake of the recent beheadings there have been those who suggest that we should have acceded to the terrorists demands and released the two Iraqi women nick-named 'Mrs. Anthrax' and 'Dr. Germ'. Had we done so, the argument goes, no beheadings would have taken place.

The argument seems to rely upon a very dangerous assumption, which is that we can rely upon it that there is some bit of rationality, or even a sense of justice, on the part of these terrorists to which we can make appeal. I deny this. I make this statement because I do not believe that terrorists have any sort of commitment to rationality, or even to justice as we would understand it, not because they are religious (or, more particularly, Muslim) but because of their actual reasoning.

Let's take a look at their reasoning. Their justification for the 9-11 attacks was something we did. We did something to them, so they attacked us. We had it coming. This seems quite satisfactory not only to them but also to many of the leftists among us.

However--and this is where we get to the 'logic' of it all--this line of reasoning relies upon a logical fallacy. Think about what happened to 'us' on 9-11-01. 'We' were attacked. Some say it was because of 'our' policies; others say it was because of 'our' sins. Supposedly there is a logical relation between 'our' policies, or 'our' sins, and what happened to 'us' such that 'we' deserved what 'we' got.

Now the reason that I have placed terms such as we and us and our in scare quotes is not that I deny that anything significant happened to us on 9-11-01. The reason is that the logic in this argument is fallacious. To be blunt: those who rely on this logic are committing the fallacy of division, attributing to parts the characteristics of the whole.

The logic I am discussing goes, I think, something like this: A nation N has a policy P which has--arguably--harmed a group G. Citizen C is a member of the nation N and, hence, also has the policy P which has harmed a group G. Since--arguably--the US is liable for the harm it has caused G by virtue of its policy P, C is also personally liable. It is easy to see how someone (especially someone educated in government schools) might find this logic persuasive.

But applying that same logic to, say, your favorite sports team ought to show the difficulty. Team T is an excellent team. Player J is a member of Team T. Therefore, Player J is an excellent player. See the problem? That which is true of the whole is not necessarily true of each of the parts. And in the same way that an excellent sports team can have a member who is not an excellent player, a nation can have citizens who do not share or support its policies, citizens who are not guilty of the "crimes" for which they have been punished by death. It is quite possible, though, I admit, not very likely, that no one who was murdered on 9-11 either shared or supported whatever policies of the US for which they were murdered. Ought we to waste even as much as a few seconds trying to reason with people for whom division constitutes acceptable logic? No. If people are going to use fallacious logic to justify their killing, then they are too dangerous to negotiate with. And they cannot be appeased because there ought to be a rational connection between a demand (say, for justice) and the way that demand is satisfied (say, payment of a debt either by the one who owes the debt, or a third party who is willing to pay the debt for the debtor). And terrorists have demonstrated time and again that there is no rational relation between their demands and the people they kill in pursuit of those demands.

There is another reason why we ought not accede to terrorists demands, even when they are threatening to kill someone we love. The success of terrorist acts increases the likelihood that such acts will be resorted to again and again. If I can get something I want from you by threatening harm to someone you love, and you give in to me, perhaps I won't harm your loved one this time. But if, after giving me what I've demanded, you have something else that I want, then you can believe that I'll be back: You've already demonstrated that you'll deal. And I know what your price is.

As evidence of the absence of anything rational in terrorist behavior, look at the relation between who they kill and what their grievances are. To the minds of these people the lives of any two Americans are equal in value to 'Mrs. Anthrax' and 'Dr. Germ'. How reasonable a claim is that? In what way can a construction worker be related to a murderess such that the construction worker is justly to be killed if the murderess is not released. Aye, there's another rub. Note the dissonance: 'Mrs. Anthrax' and 'Dr. Germ', though not released, are still alive; two Americans are dead because 'Mrs. Anthrax' and 'Dr. Germ', though still alive, are still being held. (Keep in mind also that, to these people, Nick Berg's having his head sliced off restored the dignity of the Arab male's body (which dignity suffered great harm at Abu Ghraib, you'll recall)).

I'm sorry. We cannot, in the long run, afford to give these people what they want. Their demands are unreasonable. and what they offer us in return is nothing compared to what they want, which is nothing less than dominion over us, which is preceisely what they shall have every time they are capitulated to.


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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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