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Marketing Terror

Mia Bloom

     ... political scientist. As acts of terror grab headlines and influence domestic and foreign policy, worldwide, Dr. Bloom analyzes the current international environment, what can be learned from the past and actions that might have positive influence on the future in Dying to Kill:  The Allure of Suicide Terror. She is assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, a consultant to the New Jersey Office of Counter-Terrorism, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has appeared on PBS, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Fox News.

How can the world stop suicide bombers? Address underlying issues that drive people's desire to turn themselves into a bomb, says political scientist Mia Bloom. She studied world-wide terrorism over the past century and concludes that effective security apparatus might be able to prevent a majority attacks. But, she says, until a country removes the underlying causes of terrorist activity -- inequality, abuse and injustice, occupation, and deplorable socioeconomic conditions -- you cannot stop people from wanting to be bombers.

This is true globally, Dr. Bloom found, whether the terrorism is driven by religion or secular ethno-nationalism. The good news in this “"fourth wave"” of terrorism in the past century, is that she sees indications of a positive trend emerging following the 2004 Belsan school attack and the bombing in London.  She says the more the larger Islamic community sees violence as a negative, the less likely organizations will be to use suicide bombing in order to inculcate and mobilize populations.

We could stimulate the process, she believes, confident that Europe has a long way to go addressing the socioeconomic conditions of their immigrant populations of Muslims, failing to treat them equally, not integrating them. The United States could be lifted as a bright light to the Muslim world as a place where Muslims can be full citizens, she believes, but there ends her sense of what America is doing right.

What disturbs Dr. Bloom most? The United States has needlessly squandered immense political capital. By and large, she says, the world understood the Coalition in Afghanistan following “9/11.” But by not finishing the job there, going into Iraq in a scenario world public opinion roundly rejected, then exacerbating the situation with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and Koran abuse, the U.S. lost an excellent opportunity to build upon the public diplomacy.

She now worries about America's false sense of security, its failure to understand the depth of outrage over abuses within the larger Islamic world, its failure to grasp the “"rock star"” status suicide bombers attain, its failure to understand that America is now virtually indistinguishable from Israel and Israel's treatment of Palestinians, undercutting any good that Americans might be doing in Iraq.

Worse, it appears, Americans have been led to believe terrorists can be cordon off in Iraq, fought at a distance. Again, she names a false sense of security that allows America to justify things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and Koran abuse. She implores America to realize, before it's too late -- it is precisely these measures that are whipping up the antagonism within the Islamic world. Maybe we're fighting terrorists in Iraq now, she says, but she fears we will experience the pain felt in London and Spain when the attackers were attacked on their own soil.

The answer? Jump over the heads of the terrorists, deal with underlying grievances of the population. Dr. Bloom can show that when that happens, today's audience for suicide bombings is looking elsewhere.

[This Program was recorded July 18, 2005, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.]

Conversation 1

The actions of suicide bombers are directed toward audiences, internal and worldwide, Mia Bloom tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, reporting that harsh counter-terror policies fail to end terrorism. Occupations are a global focal point for suicide terrorism, Dr. Bloom says, identifying four “"waves"” of terrorism in the 20th century.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:45

Conversation 2

Suicide bombings become outmoded when the populations terrorists say they represent reject the use of violence, Dr. Bloom shows, then expands on this world-wide historical reality. Those who hold official power play the decisive role in ending violence, Dr. Bloom demonstrates.  She offers global examples of similarities among and differences between terrorist groups who justify their claims using religion and those using secular nationalism.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:21

Conversation 3

Patrick Henry's “"Give me liberty or give me death” rings true for suicide bombers, Dr. Bloom reports.  She voices alarm about politicians’"assertion that the U.S. is fighting terrorists in Iraq"... so we don’t fight them here,” and that most Americans fail to understand the larger Islamic world's outrage about abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and of the Koran. If things don't change, she fears the U.S. may share London's and Spain's pain, noting the Saudis expelled their own extremists, exporting them to Iraq and America.

Conversation 1 RealAudio9:15

Conversation 4

It's difficult to orchestrate systematic campaigns of terrorism, Dr. Bloom says, explaining both how it is done and why it has not yet happened in the U.S.  Palestinians' dramatic swing away from peaceful solutions toward violence was prompted by the failure in 2000 of the Oslo Accord process, she reports, drawing larger, grim lessons from that failure.  Ideological ethno-nationalist groups with territorial issues have incentives to be “"spoilers"”when they are not participants in a potential peace, she says, offering alternatives to violence as a litmus test for loyalty.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:51

Conversation 5

When existing powers address legitimate grievances, violence has waned in a number of countries, Dr. Bloom reports, offering qualified support for “"outbidding the outbidder."” She remembers the nations who supported the U.S. on September 12, 2001 -- Iran and other “"unfriendly"”Middle East places, while Saudi, Egyptian and Pakistani “"allies" celebrated. Eager for America's Islamic community to be a bright light to the rest of the Islamic world, she says the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo squandered enormous political capital, benefiting Osama bin Laden. She notes that America is now virtually indistinguishable from Israel in the Islamic world. If you don't address systemic underlying issues, she says, you cannot stop people from wanting to be bombers.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:51

Conversation 6

Indications of a positive trend against violence began emerging after the 2004 attach against school children in Beslan, she reports. The more a community considers violence a negative, she says, the less likely organizations will be to use violence to mobilize populations. She stresses that the real hope for ending violence begins with addressing socioeconomic conditions of immigrant communities and treating them as equals.

Conversation 1 RealAudio2:53



Violence breeds violence.  We thank Mia Bloom for documenting how suicide bombing has contributed to this vicious cycle. We also thank her for looking deeper to see how to break the grip of terror as a means to address urgent and genuine needs of too many of the world's people. Now it's up to us to build on the allure of justice, equality and fairness which Dr. Bloom has demonstrated gives power to the powerless, releases terrorism's blood grip.

Related Links:

Dying to Kill:  The Allure of Suicide Terror is published by Columbia University Press.

The Center for International Studies at MIT has produced a a complementary study reproduced by Alternet under the title: The Hard Truth About Suicide Bombers.

Christopher Dickey provides a supportive view of Dr. Bloom's work from the perspective of the New York City police department.

In his book and television series Walking the Bible, Bruce Feiler looks closely at the physical reality, the land, that is the “holy land.” In his later book, Where God was Born, he explores the geography of faith amongst the “people of the book,” Abraham’s children: Jew, Muslims and Christians.

Is Islam undergoing a reformation? Reza Aslan thinks it is and that terrorism directed at the West is a by-product.

Sandra Mackey has lived in and written extensively about the political-social-cultural-historical complexity of the Middle East and about the rise of fundamentalism around the world.

Geneive Abdo has been both a Nieman and a Guggenheim Fellow. For a decade she lived and reported from the Middle East, principally Cairo. She is the author of No God But God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam in which she examines Islamic feminism and Islamic democracy, neither of which, she says, is oxymoronic; nor will they look like the American version.

In How Israel Lost, Richard Ben Cramer argues that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has coarsened and corrupted Israel. He cautions that the same could happen to America in Iraq.

A former member of the National Security Council, Robert Pastor now directs the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University. Much of his work revolves around the challenge of building and sustaining democratic governance in challenging environments.

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