Magazine article The Spectator

Nasty Questions That Need Asking

Magazine article The Spectator

Nasty Questions That Need Asking

Article excerpt


by Alan M. Dershowitz

Yale, L17.95, pp. 271, ISBN 0300097662

Prominent in any contemporary dictionary of received opinion should be the assumption that all terrorism has `root causes' that render violence `understandable' because the aggrieved have `no alternative'. It comes with all the shock and invigoration of a cold bath to find someone arguing against this contemporary shibboleth.

Alan Dershowitz believes that the assumption of `root causes' smacks more of after-the-fact political justification than inductive scientific inquiry ... To focus on such factors as poverty, illiteracy and disenfranchisement ... is to fail to explain why so many groups with far greater grievances and disabilities have never resorted to terrorism.

In fact, the `root cause' of much terrorism is its own success - terrorists generally terrorise only when they think it might work. If murder is rewarded with concessions, then murder is encouraged. Kurds and Armenians suffer more repression and dispossession than the Palestinians, but their attempts at terrorism have not been rewarded, so there are few.

Unlike those of the Palestinians, argues Dershowitz. They are his paradigm of successful terrorism, having persuaded the world of the justice of their cause and the 'inevitability' of a murderous response, while ignoring alternatives such as nonviolent protest and rejecting a deal giving them nearly all they wanted. Since 1968 particularly, says Dershowitz, European governments - notably France, Germany and Italy - have appeased and rewarded Palestinian terrorism. His 19-page table of terrorist acts and resulting concessions makes grim, and rather shameful, reading.

Of course, there is an agenda here: Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard Law School, is frank about his Jewish sympathies and has himself been the victim of Palestinian protests and threats. He does not see Arafat (who shares the cover of this book with Osama bin Laden) as a rightful recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize; rather, he should be arraigned for the torture and murder of two American diplomats. At the same time, Dershowitz is a noted civil liberties lawyer who has himself defended terrorists.

The events of 9/11, he says, were ,mass murder for its own sake, based on religious zealotry ... apocalyptic terrorism'. Whatever the varying causes al-Qaeda claims to represent, there is in reality no `root cause' to be ameliorated. So what should we do? We should not, he argues, adopt the oppressive measures of tyrannies - that is a price too high - but we should consider certain awkward and expensive measures and we should ask ourselves nasty questions in advance of having to answer them. …

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