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Does Fighting Terrorists Create More Terrorists?

Monica Marks is a professor of Middle East Politics, who specializes in politics in Tunisia. When it comes to discussing Israel, the bulk of her recent tweets on the war in Gaza discuss the plight of Gazan civilians caught between Israel and Hamas. She aligns with a point that that gets mentioned anytime any military fights terrorists: “by fighting terrorism we create more terrorists in the future.”

Rhetorically this would mean you’d need Judo to dodge and frustrate the terrorists; Israel used Iron Dome just that way, but it didn’t cause Hamas to evolve into a responsible political party. ISIS and Palestinian terror groups have all used military losses as recruitment propaganda just like they do with rape and murder.

Does Monica’s seemingly commonsense wisdom still hold up in today’s Gaza? Will more Gazans join Hamas because Israel is fighting back? The short answer is not many.

To use warfare as a recruitment tool, you need a pool of people who could be susceptible to joining a terrorist group but have not done so. Hamas has influenced everyone born under their rule and controls the media, education, food, water, power, medicine, and access to jobs. It’s a gangbanger mentality; the rulers give out just enough so a young person can feel like he’s making it even though he’ll probably live with his mother until he meets a violent end.

Hamas is at peak indoctrination so their victories or Israeli victories will not win over the recruits because they’ve been recruited or will soon be harvested. No special events are needed. Anyone who has not already bought into the Hamas murder cult isn’t going to do so in meaningful numbers. Outside of Gaza is different; antisemites are stirring worldwide, but anyone sympathetic to terrorism is someone waiting for a trigger. During the massacre, civilians saw the movement of Hamas members and decided to tag along. That is not all civilians, that is not most civilians but it is a highly agitated pool of civilians. Hamas is at a recruiting peak, they don’t even have to ask people to join. Nothing Israel will do will make Hamas more popular than it already is. The argument that fighting terrorists will make more terrorists misses a larger point: states need to outlast and outfight terrorism.

Monica Marks believes she is showing the big picture when she writes, “But the hydra of future violence is fed by trauma, anger & hopelessness”, but it’s conventional wisdom. While that is not so true in Gaza it might still be true elsewhere as a description of a process – but is it intrinsically true? Is the cause and effect correct? The US attacks Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda gets more recruits, those recruits are still vicious and become ISIS. The assumption is desperation, fear, and pain make people join.

Having seen the reaction of so many people with respect to this massacre, including myself, I see a lot of confirmation bias as an immediate reaction. The hawks and the doves see their point of view validated by the massacre, and it is hard to step back and evaluate, but looking at this assumption about the use of power is essential.

Sometimes, counter-terror leads to more violence in the future, which can be traced to an event, but since the bias is only triggered, it’s harder to blame the triggering event. The KKK rose out of the loss of the American Civil War, and certainly many Southerners were traumatized by the war, and people masked up and murdered African Americans, suppressing their civil rights with impunity until the civil rights era. While violence by terrorists was pronounced and effective, it’s hard to argue Whites were any more violent postwar than they had been during slavery; violence was probably lessened. During the Civil Rights struggle marked by non-violent strategies, it was common to accuse activists of stirring up trouble. However, the North did not engage in terrorism before or after the Civil War, although lynchings could occasionally happen. The Northerners were just as scarred by the Civil War and frequently as racist too.

A different but illustrative example is Mauritania, which maintains slavery of Africans despite it being officially illegal with the consent and support of poor Arab farmers. This is very similar to the pre-Civil War US, where poor white farmers were offended by the idea of equality with slaves, and there are economic and social reasons for that. If you have a lot of poor, slaves are still poorer and thus poor but free people are second from the bottom of society. It also means the poor and free people are getting a more significant share of economic resources than slaves. The end of slavery would mean a better life for former slaves but more competition for the already poor and free. Of course, the conceit of superiority to the slave is important. In Ottoman Syria, which includes today’s Israel, Jews were kept as second-class citizens much like African Americans in the postwar South. No easy recourse to law, trades, denied access to many institutions, and constantly subjected to violence. Like the Tulsa race riot, terrorists are drawn to use their ingenuity to destroy success among liberated people and African Americans have been successful. Israelis are a liberated people. Palestinian terrorists are primarily aggrieved by the perceived loss of racial and religious superiority and domination.

We know traumatized individuals are likely to exhibit signs of trauma including being violent, and while surviving war could lead an angry, desensitized individual down a dark path, it is preexisting prejudice bigotry and sectarianism that are the real factors for terror groups. Hamas, like Hezbollah, likes to have human shields because they want to actualize for themselves – as well as for propaganda – that when they don’t have the freedom to be racist they are victims. It’s not a coincidence that all Palestinian terror groups are pursuing an ethnically pure state or that one of the primary targets of ISIS was Muslim Kurds. ISIS was born out of the power vacuum created by the collapse of Sunni tyranny in Iraq and they too are an example of a fallen elite. These prejudices are universal; Saeb Erekat once described a possible Kurdistan: “Kurdish independence would be a poisoned sword against the Arabs.”

There are parallels between Pan-Arabism, the Arab State, and America’s “Manifest Destiny” which leads people to exterminate Aboriginal people. It’s no coincidence the Arab reaction to Jewish Independence was ethnic cleansing at home.

The failure of Israel to prosecute the war against Hamas will not affect the causes of terrorism but could increase recruitment and violence outside of Gaza. I don’t believe anyone in the Israeli military wants to make a policy of killing civilians; I am sure some leaders are losing sleep over Palestinian civilian losses and if they are I am glad the gravity of civilian lives is felt. Most of Gaza wasn’t born when Hamas came to power; they too have been victims and good people will be lost among them, but the only way to defeat the racist sectarianism of Islamic terror is to keep fighting until the terrorists question why they fight for bigotry. It has to be burned out. People hoped that Gaza would grow up, that Hamas would evolve into something decent like people had hoped for Fatah. It doesn’t happen for either because, in their bones, they don’t see equality and neighborliness as good things, so Israel needs to fight. If there is a chance to move civilians to a safe zone, the IDF will and it should, but it doesn’t have to apologize or even pause for anyone – as long as not pausing makes strategic sense and not giving Hamas a diplomatic victory counts.

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