Friday, July 30, 2010

Some insights on "old" and "new" terrorism

Mike Innes has a great interview up on Current Intelligence with Richard Huffman, the publisher and editor of Baader-Meinhof.com. I'll admit I'd never visited Huffman's site before, but it's a fantastic resource on the German terror group, and I'd encourage you to check it out. You should also read Mike's interview, which contains some really interesting bits.
[Huffman:] What is interesting to me is that little of the current research and exploration of the Baader-Meinhof era draws any parallels to our modern terrorism challenges; because to me this is an area ripe for exploration. People don't seem to realize that there was a "War on Terror" 35 years ago that offers fairly stunning parallels to our modern "war on terror." Like in America, Germany pushed through dozens of anti-terrorism laws that curbed civil liberties in crucial ways, yet ultimately seemed to have little actual effect on stopping terrorism. Torture (or "enhanced interrogation techniques")? Check. A right wing media empire that rose to prominence and profits by beating the anti-terrorism drum? Check. Taking the criminal prosecution of the terrorists out of the standard court system? Check. Using the struggle against terrorism to build up police and military budgets? Check. The mantra after 9/11 was always "this is different." New rules need to apply. We need to reconsider our old values concerning civil liberties etc., to address this never-before-seen threat. I would argue that not only had it ALL been seen before, but it was within our lifetimes.
For me, the coolest thing about the whole deal is that this is just some dude who got interested in something and now runs basically the best online resource on this subject on the planet. It tells you something about the incredible diversity of the internet, but also about the exponential multiplication in analytical power that this resource offers us. Of course, the tools for sorting wheat from chaff haven't quite evolved at the same pace, but that's a whole other story (and something I've been thinking about a lot lately). So for now, just take my word for it: this is worth reading.

8 comments:

  1. ".... runs basically the best online resource on this subject on the planet. It tells you something about the incredible diversity of the internet, but also about the exponential multiplication in analytical power that this resource offers us."
    So the power of the internet is proven by the fact that it's the best resource on the internet? Don't ya think that's a kinda circular argument??? ;-)

    As for overall quality, it seems a little light re: the time after 1977. As my military unit still got death threats from the RAF in the early 1990s for participating in the imperialist venture called UNOSOM (with the result that guard duty in the barracks and the outlying amunition depot more than doubled, which pissed me off a lot, so I might be a little biased) I consider that a major fault.

    Also,

    Oh, and the web is big. I think many German public broadcasters have pages with more info on the topic - of course it's mostly in German ...

    For instance, the one of my home state has lots of stuff,
    http://www.swr.de/nachrichten/deutscher-herbst/-/id=2070672/vj6pq7/index.html

    and it links to this interactive timeline on the ARD page:

    http://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/animation/animation24.html

    The problem with "just a guy" who tries to analyse things that went on in a foreign country 30 years ago shows up in the excerpt of the interview you post. Especially his "analysis" of the reactions of the German and the US legal system is pretty ridiculous (and I say this as someone who has studied law in both countries). Cause and effect where very different.

    A major factor to the German response was that earlier criminal procedure was based strongly on the idea that lawyers act as organs of the justice system (Organ der Rechtspflege) - i.e. the "system" trusted the lawyers not to illegally colude with their clients. That idea hit a wall when communist lawyers smuggled documents, drugs and even weapons for their clients. The system was not built to handle that, so there was a hasty response that went too far in a few areas. However, torture always stayed illegal - unless you count solitary confinement in cases where it was the only way to stop the terrorists in prison from giving orders to their pals outside who were trying to free them by taking hostages and blowing up embassies and stuff ... (they usually had the choice to be confined together with ordinary criminals instead, but they always threw a tantrum at that stage, insisting they are not criminals but political prisoners and would forcefully resist being put together with this "scum" in a cell (o.t.h., many of the ordinary prisoners considered them to be scum and might have mugged them), so solitary confinement seemed the better option ...

    Finally, they never where taken out of the "ordinary justice system" in the American sense - they where judged by ordinary courts (Oberlandesgerichte - they usually work as court of appeals, but for special areas [in civil and criminal law] they can be competent as court of first instance, with appeal to the Supreme Court; in other words: only 2 instances instead of the usual 3) act as court with ordinary judges; there where just some additional rules added that applied to these kind of proceedings ...

    (that didn't stop leftist critics from saying, e.g. that legally restricting the number of lawyers a defendant can have (at the same time) to "only" 3 was a horrible, horrible thing to to to those poor political prisoners ....

    Oh wow, didn't want to write that much but ...

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  2. Eh, preview didn't work. Please excuse all the typos ...

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  3. Positroll -- Thanks for your comments. I should obviously have caveated what I wrote with "in English," but you get the point.

    So the power of the internet is proven by the fact that it's the best resource on the internet? Don't ya think that's a kinda circular argument???

    Again, unclear language by me probably.

    1. There are a lot of cool, interesting, and very diverse things on the internet.

    2. The scope of the internet means that individuals can do very deep on each of these diverse subjects, meaning that the informational and analytical pool are both deep and broad.

    3. Someone who is willing to dive very deep on a single subject and present source material collated in one place for the use of others can do a great service to other students of the subject.

    4. Masses of information don't always translate into masses of insight, but at least the massing and accessing is easier nowadays.

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  4. I won't disagree with you there. I just would add the caveat that it is helpfull if the person doing the digging knows what he's doing, in order to be able to give a framework for deeper understanding of the stuff.
    That's why I like to read blawgs by law profs on legal questions, ecoblogs by economics profs and business people or blogs on COIN by people who have been there, done that ... (btw, the great link-list of the page shows that Huffmann is aware of the problem).
    That doesn't imply the page you linked to isn't interesting etc. - it's just that I would take the info it provides with a grain of salt, as I do with most stuff I read on the internet (and as everybody should do w.r.t. my comments ... ;-) )


    P.S. "I should obviously have caveated what I wrote with "in English," but you get the point."
    As the saying goes: "Arguing with a lawyer is like mud wrestling with a pig: after a while you realize that the pig actually enjoys it."

    So I just channeled my inner lawyer back then. Now I'm ready to concede that it was a very normal thing to write - for an American ... :-)
    ... runs away ... hides ...

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  5. So I just channeled my inner lawyer back then. Now I'm ready to concede that it was a very normal thing to write - for an American ... :-)

    Obviously this is because you and I both know that the only things ever written worth reading are in English.

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  6. @Gulliver - thanks for the shout out and good words

    @Positroll - I think the effort that Huffman has put into this project is worth more praise than you allow. if you take the time to navigate through all the content that he's accumulated - and spend some time looking over the primary material he's compiled and that he himself has generated (esp. interviews and podcasts) - you might come to a better appreciation of what this normal guy has done.

    Your critique, in general, is misdirected and unwarranted. What's more, both Huffman and Current Intelligence magazine are highly accessible. If you have any substantive disagreements with the interview or Huffman's take on things, get in touch with him and challenge him, or send us a letter to the editor doing the same. We'd be happy to consider it for publication; our only criteria is that it be balanced and fair - you certainly don't have to agree with us - and that Huffman is done the courtesy of knowing who it is who's commenting.

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  7. @M.I.

    I think I came over more critical than I intended (I was in a bad mood that day). I would agree that the effort is highly useful for people who don`t speak German. Naturally, for someone who partially lived through the times and has read a lot about these things already, the "newsworthyness" is somewhat reduced. Basically, I repeated Gullivers error re: languages in reverse by not clarifying that point ...

    re: the analysis, I stand by the content of what I said, though the word "ridiculous" seems too strong in retrospect. There are some parallels that sure are worth exploring (especially in the light of the recent revitalization and expansion of the Kontaktsperregesetz to organized crime, http://www.germanlawjournal.com/index.php?pageID=11&artID=973 ).

    Re: the courtesy of putting my name on it: Sorry, but I like my "anonymity" here (though I guess the guys running this blog could find out who I am pretty easily). I might decide differently if I were working in criminal or constitutional law, but as I haven`t done so for years, I don`t consider my insights on the topic to be worth publishing ...

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  8. Positroll

    Fair enough. Re. the point about analysis - still a little unfair, I think. Huffman may have claimed somewhat grandly that his ambition is to write the "definitive account" of the Baader-Meinhof, but 1) that's not the same as arguing that he's going to provide us with the big social science theory that explains it all, and 2) I don't think there's any real pretention in what he's trying to do - and no reason to fault him for not doing something that he's not really claiming to do to begin with. Comparison exercises often come under attack; doesn't mean they shouldn't be attempted. :)

    Wrt anonymity, I get that. I only meant to point out that a letter to the editor at CI would be welcome - but I'd have to think hard about whether we could actually publish a critical letter from "Anonymous". That said, it would depend on the content of the letter, so...

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