November 15, 2004

Amartya Sen and the War on Terrorism

By Paul

I was surprised to learn that Al Qaida had planned to attack even the Maldives as mentioned in the 9/11 Report:

Furthermore, during the summer of 2001, KSM approached Bin Ladin with the idea of recruiting a Saudi Arabian air force pilot to commandeer a Saudi fighter jet and attack the Israeli city of Eilat. Bin Ladin reportedly like this proposal, but he instructed KSM to concentrate on the 9/11 operation first. Similarly, KSM’s proposals to Atef around this time for attacks in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Maldives were never executed, although Hambali’s Jemaah Islamiah operatives did some casing of possible targets. (p. 150, 9/11 Report)

Would it be ever possible to stop people like Al-Zarqawi graduating from delinquency to extremism and terrorism. The Noble laureate Amartya Sen seems to think so. Sen (age 70) is currently working on a book that focuses on the concept of identity:

"A person can be a U.S. citizen, of Malaysian origin, of Chinese racial roots, a Christian, a vegetarian, a tennis player, a good cook, a heterosexual but supportive of gay rights, a lover of classical music, a hater of opera, and a believer in creatures from outer space with whom it is ‘extremely urgent’ to talk— preferably in English!” Each of these identities might be very important to an individual, he says, but a problem can arise when others use these identities to typecast the individual or to persuade or pressure him or her into being recruited into sectarian groups that are belligerent toward other groups. Identity-based thinking might seem innocent, he argues, but repercussions can be tremendously harmful.

What we need, Sen counsels, is “clarity of thought” to make the world a better place. It is particularly important to emphasize the role of choice in deciding what relative importance we would like to attach—“have reason to attach”—to our competing multiple identities. A Hutu who is being recruited to a group that torments Tutsis can try to see that he is also a Rwandan, an African, a human being. He can resist, Sen insists, “smallness being thrust upon him.”

If Bin Ladin is reading this he might understand this, after all he studied economics.

Posted at November 15, 2004 09:39 AM


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