Gary Perlstein, a Portland State professor in the administration of justice department, recently presented a paper, “Terrorism: What Is It? What Kind Of A Threat Does It Pose For The Federal Government?” to the Federal Executive Seminar at the Green-Wyatt Federal Building.
The purpose of the seminar, as Perlstein explained, was to suggest possible changes that could be made in policy on the middle management level of the federal government.
He was invited to the presentation to give an introduction on how to define terrorism, how it operates and how it is different from other acts of crime and war. Defining terrorism, Perlstein admitted, “is extremely difficult,” and this is “because nobody agrees, since we don’t all have the same morals and values.”
Therefore, he found some truth in the phrase “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
So instead of defining “terrorism,” Perlstein chose “four criteria” in determining whether certain acts can be deemed as such.
The first, he said, is whether the act is political in nature, as it may be ideological, it may be religious, but it is really for power, and not for personal gain.” The act must also be violent, or at least threaten violence, and include “acts that don’t necessarily kill anyone, but have the potential to do so.”
Perlstein also cited that there must be an intention for a “psychological effect beyond the target itself.” Finally, he stated that the targets in these cases are “directed against innocents, or those who are not combatants themselves.”
In terms of the current war the United States is fighting worldwide, Perlstein notes that “we are not fighting a war against terrorism, we are fighting a war.”
He also noted this rhetoric of “fighting terrorism” may serve as “a springboard for other political motivations,” which may include an oil pipeline in Afghanistan “that the Northern Alliance is more willing to put in than the Taliban.”
However, as Perlstein contended, “this may not necessarily be bad,” as it is “not just the rich who make money, but regular people who benefit from stock.”
Afghans may benefit as well, as “there are not a whole lot of things in the country to help people make a living, and that is the reason why they grow narcotics, because it’s one thing that grows there,” and “it’s a good cash crop” for them.
Granted, “the president of Exxon will make more than the Afghan people,” but if they do benefit in some way, “it could help them in the long run,” Perlstein suggested.
The American way, Perlstein noted, is to think “that every problem can be solved,” when there may not in fact be a resolution, short of each side struggling against the other. It is easy, he noted, to come up with a “Western solution while living in the safety of the United States, but we’re not sure what everybody there thinks about it.” The conclusion could be “continual war, or the establishment of a police force there, similar to Serbia.”
Perlstein found the problems with terrorism all stem with the different values and morals amongst people, and coming to terms with it “has to do with socialization.” Any changes in present foreign policy should be to “stop fighting the war and go after the terrorists, but not bomb an entire country to do it.”
Strategies to counter terrorism depend on who the terrorists are, as we “could sit down and have an agreement” with some, but that Bin Laden and his group are “fanatics.” He also cautioned that this fundamentalism, however, is found in all groups and religions, and should not be limited to simply Islam.