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Comments

Brigitte

Zohar:
Thanks for the interesting comment. While I, too, have problems with Abrahams' methodology--I agree that historically most terrorists have failed to achieve their ultimate political goals. However, as you know and as I actually told Abrahams after his article was published, terrorists are very successful in getting attention, intimidate their target societies, and trigger over-reactions.
The mass media but also public officials must be careful of not magnifying the attention terrorists crave.
So, while terrorists have a poor track record in terms of their final political goals, they are very successful in winning their publicity related objectives.
In this respect--they win because we (public officials, media, and the public at large) allow them to win.

PBH

Rudy Giuliani or Vampire Ghouliani?

http://www.prosebeforehos.com/government_employee/06/19/rudy-giuliani-or-vampire/

Zohar Kadmon Sella

I was glad to find Abrahams's article online. It made very interesting points, and yet I found it problematic. It's true that when looked at from the perspective of the individual terrorist group, terrorism does seem to fail as a mean for political coercion. But I don't think this study can really substantiate its far reaching conclusion that terrorism "does not work."

First of all, it is not sufficiently sensitive to the fact that terrorism is a long term strategy. Terrorists achieve legitimacy through persistance and, for lack of a better term, reliability -- by simply doing what they threaten to do (Israelis experienced this last summer, when every warning issued by Hassan Nasrallah had consistently and painfully materialized). Abrahams seems to be somewhat caught in the notion that terrorism is inherently self-defeating because you can't delegitimize yourself through violence and at the same time seek immediate concessions from your target community. But defining terrorism in such paradoxical terms is to fail to acknowledge its complexities. Indeed, a single terrorist campaign is rarely "succesful," but this is not the point. Terrorism is first and foremost a way to achieve political visibility -- which is why I agree that we, the media, "let them win" -- and when such visibility combines with persistence and effective leadership, it eventually establishes political legitimacy. Terrorism can have, and does have, tremendous successes if only looked at from a historical perspective. To name the most symbolic example, terrorism didn't stand in the way of awarding Nelson Mandela or Yasser Arafat with the Nobel Peace Prize.

The 2001 terrorist group list that Abrahams studied may simply be too new to be seriously evaluated in terms of successes and failures. Because clearly, so many ethno-national conflicts of the 20th century had a terrorist component that had fueled them only in order to transform the perpetrators -- in the course of decades -- into a legitimate force.

I also disagree with Abrahams's claim that Palestinian terrorism "failed" because it hardened Israelis and diminished their support for territorial concessions. The facts speak for themselves: the disengagement from the Gaza Strip was a direct reaction to the second Intifada.

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