Monday, September 12, 2011

A Different Tactic Against Terrorism?

A Colombian car bomb near Cali.
During yesterday's 9-11 commemoration at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley praised Colombia as "a model of inspiration in the battle against corruption."

That may very well be true, since Colombia has suffered more terrorism - from leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and plain old criminal gangs - than nearly any other country in the world.

A quick Google search finds that during the first week of September, 15 people were kidnapped off of a boat in Nariño Province (at least 14 were soon released) and in the last days of August five police officers were killed by a bomb in Cesar Province and three civilians and three soldiers were injured by a bomb, again in Nariño Province. And those were only some of the incidents which actually made the news. You can be sure that over recent weeks many peasants have been threatened, driven from their homes, even murdered by outlaw groups. But these crimes, which could be considered terrorism, get little notice internationally because they affect Colombians, overwhelmingly poor ones.

Yet, as terrible as that terrorism and murder is, the number of victims is small compared to other causes of death, even in Colombia, where the armed conflict directly kills several thousand people per year.

Who can forget this image?
For example, each year about 14,000 Colombians die of AIDS, 3,000 kids under age five die of malnutrition (and some 7,000 more kids die of other preventable causes), and about 25,000 Colombians were killed by tobacco. Similarly, the 3,000-or-so people murdered on Sept. 11, 2001, were only a tiny proportion of the 30,000-plus Americans killed that year in traffic accidents and almost as many killed by firearms.

Every death is a tragedy, and the murders committed by terrorists are in some way particularly horrifying. Yet, these numbers make me ask whether the 9-11 killings received far more attention and response than they deserved.

It's hard to imagine having simply ignored Al Qaeda's attacks in New York and Washington, and yet it seems clear that many more lives could have been saved by, rather than waging war, investing the money and effort instead in child nutrition projects in the developing world, or in curing AIDS, malaria or cancer. That would also have done wonders for the U.S.'s international image.

Such a response would also have deprived the terrorists of what they seem to crave most: attention and outrage. Sure, it would have been unthinkable to have simply ignored the 9-11 attacks and those which happen so much more frequently in Colombia. But...if all those resources spent waging war and scanning people's travelers' body cavities were spent instead on education, job training and environmental reconstruction, perhaps it would take much of the angry human fuel away from the terror groups. Meanwhile, we can imagine bin Laden and the FARC leaders sitting in their caves brooding: "Why don't they pay any attention to us? Why doesn't anybody care about what w're doing?"

Education - anti-terror strategy?
Perhaps they'd eventually just get frustrated, and, if not find jobs in the insurance industry, then crawl off somewhere and live off of plain old crime, such as drug smuggling.

After all, for all of Colombia's gains against the guerrillas, the conflict is far from over. And both of the U.S.'s 9-11-related wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have gone badly.

No, it is unthinkable to not retaliate against terrorists. But, perhaps these numbers suggest that our responses could be more balanced and effective.

Another strategy, of course, would be to decriminalize drugs, which would deprive these terror organizations of much of their incomes.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Mochicho said...

MIguel, nos gustaría poder traducir y publicare esta entrada en El Molino.

por favor déjame saber:

Mochicho said...

Publicacion de tu entrada sobre las zorras

Casey Bahr said...

Thank you for posting this article. I'd wanted to say many of the same things in my own blog that day, but couldn't find the energy for it. It is an interesting, but tragic, aspect of human psychology that we tend to focus on particular spectacular events and by so doing completely miss the bigger picture.

Pura vida.

Miguel said...

Thanks for your comment Casey. You're certainly correct, which is why many people fear flying - bec. of those TV images of fiery crashes - but not driving, tho it's much more dangerous.

However, economic interests also push policy choices: Lots of powerful corporations made millions on the wars and other measures which followed 9-11. And the powerful auto and tobacco industries resist policies which would reduce the number of people their products kill, because they'd cut profits. Compare society's huge efforts against terrorism to its paltry campaigns against tobacco mortality, even tho tobacco kills many more people.

None of which, of course, demonstrates that the responses to 9-11 weren't merited, only that they're worth reevaluating.