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A Discussion On The Motivations Behind The Paris Terror Attacks

January 12, 2015 1:09 p.m.

GUESTS:

UC San Diego economics Professor Eli Berman, author of "Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism."

Dipak Gupta, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University

Related Story: A Discussion On The Motivations Behind The Paris Terror Attacks

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Our top story on Midday Edition - today we learned that France is mobilizing 10,000 troops to protect so called sensitive sites including the country’s 700 Jewish schools. World leaders joined the French people yesterday in an unprecedented demonstration of unity after last week’s terror attacks. As investigators try to determine how the attackers were radicalized and which Islamist extremist groups they might be affiliated with, we’ll discuss how religion is being used by extremists bent on political objectives.

Joining me is UC San Diego Economics Professor, Eli Berman, author of Radical Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. And Prof. Berman, welcome to the show.

Eli Berman: Hi.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Dipak Gupta is here. He is distinguished professor of political science at San Diego State University. Prof. Gupta, welcome again

Dipak Gupta: Thank you very much.

Maureen Cavanaugh: First of all, let me ask you both this, let me get your reaction to the events of last week in France, Prof. Berman is this kind of attack something that experts in the field had been expecting?

Eli Berman: No, I don’t think so. I think the experts are surprised, not so much by the fact that there were attacks, there have been attacks in the past by this type of maybe somewhat unaffiliated terrorists, what’s new in this one is the level of professionalism. The attackers managed to hit a hard target in the middle of Paris and that changes things in Europe.

Maureen Cavanaugh: And Dipak Gupta, is that your reaction as well?

Dipak Gupta: Yes. Every country in the world today they are expecting some kind of violence, so we can never tell when what we call the lone wolves or very small groups of people would start a violent act, but within that context as Prof. Berman said the professionalism and the connection with the outside groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda those are more uncommon relatively more uncommon things.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Prof. Berman, which scenario is more concerning to you that the three attackers were acting under instructions from a larger organization such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or that are that they came up with this attack on their own?

Eli Berman: Well, it’s difficult to say. On the one hand, had it been part of a grander conspiracy which I think it was not in this case, then it would have shown an unusual level of provocation on the part of Al-Qaeda or ISIS. One of the attackers has claimed to be affiliated with ISIS and the other with Al-Qaeda Yemen, so we didn’t know. The other scenario is also worrying from a counterterrorism point of view because this is like the anarchists of a hundred years ago. A whole bunch of people who have some grievance and want to do something about it and what’s difficult about that is they’re very, very difficult to track. And if there’s a failure here and this is the great challenge from the French security point of view is how to keep track of over a thousand ex-jihadists if you will, who have trained in any one of these terrible places Yemen or Syria, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These folks are living in Europe, they speak the local languages, they’re very difficult to find if you lose track of them and that’s the challenge and that’s where French security seems to have fallen down. So both of those scenarios are very disturbing, the second is the one that I think we are in. And I want to emphasize, we’ve seen attacks like this before, the Boston Marathon bombings, the attack on the Canadian Parliament and the attack in Toulouse, the one at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, these were all kind of ex-jihadists but they have shown a relatively low levels of training. And if you take a look at the video it’s chilling, these folks look like they knew what they were doing, they knew how to handle their weapons, they knew how to get to their targets, that knew surveillance and advanced, they look like a well-trained pair of assassins.

Maureen Cavanaugh: And subsequently we have seen photographs of Amedy Coulibaly who seems to be training, these are sort of personal photographs that he has taken with weapons and so forth so that this seems to be something that all three of these attackers had in common.

Eli Berman: Yes, it’s a problem not only in the Europe, it’s a problem here as well.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Prof. Gupta, since the attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher Market terrorist experts have pointed out that this kind of violence unlike terrorism in the past doesn’t seem to have a clear objective, would you agree?

Dipak Gupta: I do agree, because it’s not very clear what is the ultimate objective is other than creating a shock, but then again terrorism has been defined as a combination of violence and theater, therefore within that context it does make sense that they are trying to create the maximum amount of visibility. So if you can kill the newspaper, a group of newspaper editors in the middle of Paris then it creates a huge sensational news item that will have a long leg to stand on and that’s what they are seeking. But in terms of their political goals it’s very difficult to understand what that might be other than trying to tell all the like-minded Islamists to simply stand up and follow up on what they are doing.

Maureen Cavanaugh: For instance Eli Berman, Al-Qaeda used to have the political objective of getting westerns out of Saudi Arabia, that news that was the original Al-Qaeda that was their objective.

Eli Berman: Indeed.

Maureen Cavanaugh: What is their political objective now?

Eli Berman: What’s Al-Qaeda’s political objective, or what’s the objective of these attackers?

Maureen Cavanaugh: Well, Al-Qaeda.

Eli Berman: I think Al-Qaeda’s political directives are of the most part local. I mean way back when they want to get the Americans out of Saudi Arabia because they felt they can topple the regime and take over Saudi Arabia themselves, it might seem misguided and fantastical but that’s what they thought. Now I think they would like limited control in parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen. And in Yemen for instance they were achieving that.

Maureen Cavanaugh: And so how would an attack such as the one we saw last week further that political end?

Eli Berman: Oh it doesn’t at all further that political end. And that’s why it comes back to your other question Maureen, which is a group that has objectives that you can kind of map out has rather than the predictable targets and so you could try to defend those targets, you could try to track the people that said that they have those objectives. In this case they are a little like the anarchists, they want to publicize something but it’s very unclear what it is, it doesn’t make that much sense.

Maureen Cavanaugh: You harken back in your discussion of this Prof. Gupta to the anarchists as well and to other terrorist groups that have come down through especially the 20th century. Is there kinship between what we are seeing now and the kind of political violence or terrorist violence that we are seeing in the past?

Dipak Gupta: These have been a transnational global trends overall. And I mentioned before anarchism and all of these trends they lasted roughly between 30 to 40 years. And we have anarchism, then anti-colonial movements, then we have had the leftists and the Marxists movement and now starting 1990s we are seeing a predominantly religious movement. But within each religiously inspired movements we see all different traits, ISIS is more of an insurgent group meaning that they want to hold on to territories.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Because they want to create a caliphate?

Dipak Gupta: They want to create a caliphate. But Al-Qaeda on the other hand didn’t really think about holding on to one single territory. And then again, then there can be nationalistic groups like Hamas is a nationalistic group, they are not interested in carrying out their attacks all over the world, they are targeting Israeli government and people but not the rest of the world. So within the Islamic movement there are many, many different kinds of political goals and the groups have divergent goals in terms of their activities.

Maureen Cavanaugh: What Prof. Gupta just said about the different objectives within the people who might be lumped together as Islamist extremists, do you think that gets lost when we have conversations about this that actually although Islam is being used as sort of a cover, a means to an end to lot of the groups that the actual political objectives of these groups are different?

Eli Berman: Oh yes, I think that the first thing we have to say here is that it is very, very important not to confound Islam, the religion with what this people are doing to attack people shopping for the food before the Sabbath in a grocery store in Paris, you don’t need have to be Jewish. I think that’s cowardly and despicable, Christians, Muslims that’s a wonderful thing about the rally happened in Paris that there was unity in saying that’s a cowardly despicable act, we won’t stand for that. This isn’t Islam, this is a radical fringe of cancer that’s grown within Islam that mainstream Muslim leaders are trying to get rid of.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Now Prof. Gupta there’s this concept of the four waves of terrorism, how does that apply here?

Dipak Gupta: It’s like I said when there is something that comes up as a global trend, lots of different movements they hitched on to the same broad idea. For example right now many people might think that Islam is the cause of all these problems but think about it if I put the evidence in front of you statistically if Islam was really the cause then all the countries where there are Muslim population will have their own terrorist attacks, but that’s not happening. For example India has the second largest Muslim population yet the number of Indian Muslims joining Al-Qaeda or ISIS is minuscule if any. There hasn’t been a single Indian Muslim at the high level of Al-Qaeda echelon.

Maureen Cavanaugh: And the Mumbai attacks?

Dipak Gupta: Mumbai attacks were done by Pakistanis.

Maureen Cavanaugh: And why is that?

Dipak Gupta: Because it depends on what we may call political entrepreneurs. People who just come up and they are the political leaders they take little bit of religion, little bit of mythology and they concoct an ideology that they spread to their likeminded to the likeminded people and create movements. And that has been happening in some of the Islamic countries and some of the Islamic groups. And if you look at the vast majority of the Muslim world you will see that this part is truly a minuscule part.

Maureen Cavanaugh: You also make the point that you feel that movements like these are somewhat generational that radical objectives of the father is not necessarily radical objective of the son?

Dipak Gupta: That’s right.

Maureen Cavanaugh: And so eventually these movements die out or change?

Dipak Gupta: That has been the historical evidence so far in 130 some years.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Let me go to Prof. Berman, do you believe that these kind of Islamic militant extremism will die out?

Eli Berman: I don’t think it will happen just as a matter of history. But I do think that there is a large number of, there is a latent population of people who are very violent, very racist for hateful beliefs. What’s changed is that those people have the ability to be activated or even self-activated. They can be harvested now by kind of finding them on internet, they can be rotated through these conflict zones and trained and gained experience. And that means if they go from being people who might do some small violent thing that really isn’t going to do that much damage even if a few lives are taken to actually be able to carry out an operation like Charlie Hebdo or the attack on the grocery store, on the supermarket, which kind of raises the threat to a whole new level.

Let me just talk about the economics for this for a moment. To try to defend all the targets, which is what the French government is doing now and they should be doing right now, where they’re deploying 10,000 troops, 5000 troops just to defend 700 Hebrew Jewish [indiscernible] [00:14:33] which of course have to be defended if the kids are going to the school which is a human right, but that can’t go on forever it’s just too expensive try to defend all the possible targets. We have to do is you have to find the supply and you have to shut it down. Now the mistake was to lose track of this very small members of dangerous individuals, that’s in the short term. But in the long term what has to happen is a relationship with the communities in France which is tolerant which is not seen [indiscernible] [00:15:02] tolerant, not just from a civil liberties point of view, but because if you become phobic and you isolate the communities you make it easier for the recruiters to pick off these youth at risk if you will and send them off Syria or Liberia or Yemen for training. That’s the key element in the long term here.

Maureen Cavanaugh: And Prof. Berman just told us what he would like to see, how he thinks this should be combated. Let me go to you Prof. Gupta, and my final question to you is what would you like to see the US and the West do differently to try to perhaps contain and diffuse this kind of Jihadist extremism?

Dipak Gupta: Well, there is no silver bullet and to support what Eli was saying was that this idea of four waves have absolutely no predictive power it’s only a description. And therefore how long it would last nobody can tell. And we have entered a new era of the internet, instant communication and creation of virtual communities in that within that area we can tell, we can definitely see a radically changed reality where this sort of an idea have much longer life. So what the US can do is to make sure we attack it on all fronts, ideological fronts. We have to create a society where there is equal opportunity and inclusion rather than exclusion and that by the way is the silver bullet if there is one.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Thank you both so much. I have been speaking with Dipak Gupta, distinguished professor of Political Science at San Diego State University and UC San Diego Economics Professor Eli Berman, author of Radical Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. Thanks again.

Coming up - Is it too easy for deep pocket opponents to overturn San Diego City Council votes? - a discussion on changing this city’s referendum process. It’s 12:22 and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition.