City of Brass

City of Brass


torture is terror

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

The recent electoral losses of the Republican Party have indeed been good for conservatism, if for no reason other than the sprouting of new, fascinating conservative blogs run by principled and thought-provoking voices like Daniel Larison, Rod Dreher, and the whole gang at The Next Right. Larison in particular tends to highlight newer voices that I’d never otherwise come across, such as the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, which has become one of my recent favorites.

It’s at the LOG where I found this excellent argument for how torture and terrorism are linked in terms of their psychological methodology:

Torture is intended to utterly break down a human being, to strip away their humanity and self-determination, to make them utterly and completely powerless. That is a psychological state, and thus the violence of the act is in a sense peripheral. That is why physical and psychological torture need to be viewed as the same thing – neither better or worse than the other.

Terror operates similarly. Terrorists attempt to kill as many people as possible but only because higher death tolls create more fear, more panic, and ultimately more reaction than smaller death tolls. Again, the violence of the act is secondary to its psychological end. Ironically, terror seems to have been far more effective than torture in achieving its goals.

This is a very powerful insight, because it highlights an essential cognitive dissonance within the ranks of those who argue that torture is the key to preventing terrorism (for example, former vice-president Cheney, and most of the Republican Party insiders, with the exception of John McCain to his immense credit).

What is needed is a generalized principle under which both opposition to terrorism and opposition to torture can be articulated. From a religious perspective, muslims have been arguing (usually defensively) that terrorism (ie, hirabah) goes against Islamic teachings for quite some time – see my own ongoing articles on hirabah here on beliefnet and my earlier hirabah posts. Recently, several muslim organizations issued a joint statement against torture (to which I also signed). Many of the same religious arguments that are made can be applied equally to both concepts, but are being used on a case-basis rather than as one general philosophy. How do we integrate these moral arguments into one cohesive framework?

Related: LOG has an ongoing series about torture, of which the above is just the latest. The whole series makes for a powerful moral, conservative case. We’ve also been discussing torture over at Talk Islam, particularly the muslim statement against torture.



  • http://www.newsy.com/videos/questioning_dick_cheney/ Rosa

    Great post! It is so hard to have that kind of discourse in the public sphere. The reason Cheney is able to shore up support the way he has is because he is using rhetoric that people relate to. Our well-honed diet of action movies tell us that torture can be necessary, that it helps the good guys, that it is justice. So with a nudge and a wink (http://www.newsy.com/videos/questioning_dick_cheney/) Cheney can sell his argument. The real life implications of allowing the state to institutionalize the systematic torture of human beings never comes is a too nuanced “liberal” argument that goes ignored.

  • cj

    Recently on deansworld you said “99% of the comments I get at beliefnet are crap so i dont usually monitor those threads”
    I’d like to point out that most of your articles are crap, like this one, thus the comments are justified.
    Someday I hope you grow up and widen your mind. Not likely, considering that you believe in the superstition that is islam.
    Torture is not equal to interrogation, except in your narrow mind.

  • http://phelps.donotremove.net Phelps

    This theory is fatally flawed because the assumption behind it is flawed. The point of terrorism is not to generate “fear”. Fear is not an end. The real point of terrorism is to provoke a disproportionate response, which allows the terrorist group to recruit more fighters who are incensed by the response, and eventually grow from “terrorist” to “guerrilla” like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Somali warlords. Terrorism is a recruiting tool for groups that aren’t even big enough to wage asymmetrical war.
    So in that sense, torture can be seen to strengthen a terrorist group, but only if that torture is seen to be disproportionate to the events that led to it.

  • Your Name

    Regarding the vein against the evils of defense when republican :
    # If the especially sensitive among us judge antipathy, especially in the extreme, to be a species of torture, then restraint, especially when it painfully limits one’s freedom to do what one will, whether for good or for ill, must therefore be judged by them to be a species of torture more blatant. Accordingly, the physiological pains born of the psychological pressures deliberately exerted to limit the freedom of another must, for them, be a species most certainly blatantly cruel. They prescribe rather that, in the light of the probability, however remote, that foe become friend, we abstain from unkindness even to those supposedly sworn to destroy us. # For Christians rigidly true to their faith, the purpose of life is to live it as the embodiment of antipathy’s antithesis in the extreme, which is to say as Empathy Incarnate, such that, lest others should suffer, they should suffer for others. In fact, they are to certainly suffer for others, lest others should suffer at all. For the plight of the ailing soul, the principal Christian prescription is a kindness to one’s enemies which necessitates the total avoidance of any unkindness to any one. Hence we are righteously advised by those who lay claim to kindness in the extreme, that they may think well of themselves, to be kindest to those unkindest to us, in order that we may live for our principals. Besides, even if our enemies destroy us for the sake of their principals, at least we will have died for ours.

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