imperial hiccups


“Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

-Henry Adams

Municipal buses have always had an uncanny knack for attracting civil unrest.

Be it in Birmingham, London, Baghdad, or downtown Beirut – public buses often act as giant motorized canaries for the fumes of civil disorder and discontent. Why buses serve this function is a complex issue, it’s likely a combination of the physical role they play packing a large number of people into one uncomfortably close environment, and their role as a vital means of the mass transportation that every modern society relies on.

Whatever the reason, throughout modern history harbingers of civil unrest have been among the city bus’s most important passengers. And on April 13th 1975 in East Beirut, a city bus would serve – not for the first time and not for the last either – as the point of nucleation for a savage civil conflict.

In retaliation for the deaths of four Christians who were shot leaving a Maronite church earlier that day, Christian militiamen turned their guns on a bus full of Palestinian refugees on the way back to their ramshackle refugee camp located in East Beirut within the Christian neighborhood they were traveling through. The attack killed everyone onboard except one passenger and the driver, leaving 29 dead, and is widely referred to as the massacre that officially marks the start of the Lebanese Civil War.

And so the 1970s weren’t a tumultuous time just for the hemp-weaving free-loving acid-dropping flower-children of America. While our society was slowly rending itself apart along generational and racial cleavages, over in the Middle East an entire culture – a piece of an entire civilization – was consuming itself with much less subtlety.

This societal decay gave way to the broad social forces which tilled and softened the region for the growth of Islamic fundamentalist terror. During the 1970s every single Arab nation in the Middle East was ruled by one autocratic form of government or another, and it was nearly impossible to find a group of citizens who felt empowered to better their situation through means offered by the state.

So they turned to terrorism.

The unrest of the 1970s set the stage for everything from Saddam’s rise to power, the targeting of Israel by generations of suicide bombers, the emergence of an alphabet soup of terrorist groups ranging from AMAL to Zeal, the Iranian revolution and the US Embassy hostage crisis, the events of 9/11, as well as, the emergence of the Islamic State. To understand our current state of affairs, you must first understand Middle Eastern society as it was in the 1970s, and what made it unique. With that, you can then understand the implications of the social decay that was redoubling with every passing year.

There isn’t one instance of Islamic fundamentalist terror that’s occurred since that can’t be tied back to that decade. From founding new techniques and approaches to inspiring the ideology that would drive future groups, the 1970s lay at the crossroads of everything that we’ve come to call terrorism.

It was during this time, that: in the words of Fawaz Gerges, who was raised in the midst of the most dramatic and deadly civil war the region has ever hosted: “religious fervor in the Arab world fed into rage over economic social, and political impotence,” and “more and more Muslims turned to religion for spiritual sustenance and as a refuge from and a response to the seemingly unstoppable Westernization of their societies and oppressive political authoritarianism.”1

One of these Muslims was Osama bin Laden, who came of age during these angry years, and developed his own ideas about Islam because of them. The story of the Middle East is very much the story of Islam. A religion today that is more tightly bound to a distinct people than any other, Islam is the only religion ever to become the sole uncontested basis of an entire civilization.

While the West has social mores and laws that draws from its predominately Judeo-Christian religious heritage -this isn’t the sole source of Western culture. The Western world was built upon the ruins of very pagan Greek and Roman systems of government, art, culture, and ideals – and was further distanced from religion’s influence by the Enlightenment, which promoted rationality and logic well past spiritualism, making them the cornerstones of Western civilization.

On the other hand, within the Arab-Islamic world the tenets of Islam attempt to govern all aspects of life: from art and social mores to law and local elections. So before you can understand the story of the Middle East in the 1970s, a brief foray must be made into the story of Islam.

Unlike any other major world religion, the holy book of Islam, the Koran, managed to codify not only laws, precepts, mores, and traditions – but an entire language. And in the process it would establish the basis for Arab identity, the exact definition of which is open to debate, but is most often defined as being fluent in some form of the Arabic language.

It’s this sense of Arab cum Muslim identity that’s at the crux of the emergence of modern Islamic terror. To have any chance of understanding today’s terrorism, you must first have some idea of when and where the terrorists themselves get their sense of identity. A few hundred years after he explained Mary of Nazareth’s predicament to her, Muslims believe the angel Gabriel appeared to the prophet Muhammad, grabbed him in a holy bear-hug, and related in the most divine language words which would be recorded by Muhammad’s own hand and, over time, be compiled as the Holy Koran.

The divinity of the angel Gabriel’s speech is an important aspect of the early days of Islam and influences its status today. Muslims are certain that the lyrically perfect nature of the language in which the Koran was recorded is proof of its divinity – no fool mortal could’ve concocted words of such eloquence and internal harmony.

And Mohammad isn’t viewed as just another mortal receptacle of Gabriel’s word.

The miraculous nature of the Koran, encoded entirely by Mohammad’s hand, is enforced by the fact Mohammad is believed by some sects of Islam to have been an illiterate before penning Islam’s holiest book. A work with the lyrical symmetry of Shakespeare was penned, Muslims believe, by the hand of an illiterate dune-dwelling desert merchant (peace be upon him) – and therefore can only be the divinely inspired word of Allah.

Today this means that the Koran can only be truly comprehended in its original Arabic, and so part of becoming a devout Muslim is learning the Arabic language. This presents a predicament for the millions of immigrants in the West and others outside the Middle East not fluent in Arabic, a problem which will later be explored. At the time of Islam’s origins, the divinity of Gabriel’s message meant that the language of those who fell under Islam’s sword was grafted onto Arabic because you couldn’t be a proper Muslim without knowing some Arabic

Becoming Muslim wasn’t exactly physically forced on a population, but conversions happened at a high rate in societies conquered by Islam due to the economic and social benefits it would bring – benefits which would remain out of reach without linguistic and religious assimilation. The results of this grafting have persisted, witnessed by the fact that defining Arabic, as a language, presents something of a quandary.

Al-Jazeera is the closest most Americans have come to spoken Arabic, although calling it “spoken” Arabic is a bit of a misnomer. The language spoken by Al-Jazeera anchors is referred to by Americans as either written or Modern Standard Arabic, and called by Arabs themselves fusah, or classical, written Arabic because of its origins in the Arabic of the Koran.

It is the language written and spoken in academia, in governmental settings, and in the media – but oddly to us in the West, spoken conversationally pretty much nowhere else.

As Islam spread across the deserts, peninsulas, coasts and plains of the Middle East the Koran and its language spread with it. When a foreign people had been conquered by early Muslims most of the population became obliged to convert to Islam, and part of that deal was learning the language needed to read and resuscitate the Holy Book of Islam.

And so the Arabic of the Koran became the primary written language of all the lands won by Islam, an influence that bled into the local spoken dialects. The written language of the Koran mixed with every native spoken dialect that it touched – whether Hebraic, Phoenician, Aramaic, or Turkish in origin – as an intrinsic and vital element of Islam is the communal reading of the holy texts aloud. Over the centuries, this mixing resulted in the mutation of a native spoken language into an informal codification of what eventually became each distinct local dialect of spoken “Arabic” that is recorded only on the minds and tongues of those who speak it, from Lebanese to Egyptian to Iraqi.

The intricacies of Written Arabic are taught to Arab students just as we formally learn English grammar here, and Arabs the world over all read and write this common script. But there are no official grammar books – taught in Arabic at least, Westerners have made some effort to create them – written to teach the localized spoken dialects. Each dialect is simply learned as a child grows up within the society, and is much more a distinct language than dialects of Spanish or French. Linguistically, every dialect of Arabic is best considered a language unto itself and not a regional vernacular.

Today there are overarching Gulf, Levantine, and North African dialect sets – separate groups of languages really – which have in each of them a general consensus about conjugation, prepositions, and other syntactical rules. But within each of these sets there are many different accents and idioms that vary from country to country, and within North Africa there’s a Moroccan dialect that Arabs elsewhere only grudgingly refer to as Arabic at all.

And each dialect set is mutually incomprehensible to the other unless one has traveled or otherwise encountered those who speak it, although in recent years wide exposure to other dialects via programming on satellite television has started to change this by giving speakers of one dialect an idea of what someone who speaks another dialect will and won’t understand.

The relationship between fusah, or Written Arabic, and each local dialect is softly analogous to the relationship between Latin and modern French, German, or English. Common etymological roots are shared, and just as those Western languages fall within an Indo-European family, all of the Arabic dialects belong to the Semitic family. And yet an Arab running around speaking fusah on the streets of any Arab city would be greeted by the same sorts of looks as an American speaking Shakespearean English in Cincinnati.

So a Westerner stating that they speak Arabic is a rather vague statement, whether they mean the written fusah derived from the Koran or one or many dialects would remain unclear. But among Arabs there is still a feeling of shared identity from a shared mother-tongue that is rooted in a sacred text. So long as you grew up speaking one of the Arabic dialects and learning fusah in school chances are those around you will consider you an Arab, and share a sense of community with you. And, much more often than not, this coincides with a shared religion.

This mother-tongue is rooted in the Koran and on some level Arab identity is too – the vast majority of Arabs are Muslim. But it’s important to remember that not all Muslims are Arab, as Muslims with Southeast-Asian and Persian roots play important roles in the fomentation of Islamic extremism, and Arab-Muslims actually make up a minority of the world’s total Muslim population today.

Islam and Arabness are more patently intertwined than any other religious-culture pair, hence the term “Arab-Islamic,” which could refer to one of the Prophet Mohammad’s original followers as much as an Israeli citizen who practices Islam, a Japanese-speaking Muslim in Indonesia, or a Tagalong-speaking Filipino child who practices Islam at home but studies with Christian missionaries. So the term used by Arabs to describe their community and identity as a whole, the ummah, has an inescapable connotation of a confessional society but also highly flexible rules for membership.

Although who exactly falls within the ummah is highly mercurial, it’s a sense of shared-identity only as consistent as the literally unwritten rules governing the disparate dialects spoken by Arabs across the world.

And due to the close link between Islam and Arabness, citizens in many nations – including Indonesia, which hosts the largest population of Muslims on the planet – who aren’t necessarily fluent in any dialect of Arabic can still feel as if they’re a part of the same confessional community as an Arab who can trace his bloodline directly to the prophet Mohammad.

Arab identity, its current state and its past permutations, is a concept large enough to fill dozens and dozens of books. And for the most part Arab identity has remained a largely benign abstraction. But then in the 1970s, horrible conflict tore across Lebanon and then spread into the rest of the region.

Horrible enough to charge communal Arab identity with the power needed to foment blasts of extremism that sought to level the entrenched institutions of the land. With Arab identity imbued with a new sense of power, novel groups emerged which offered organizational reinforcement to the growing and mutational force of communal Arab identity.

This force, which drew power from dramatic violence and the strength of a shared heritage soon helped foment new groups attempting to take the place of the institutions and bureaucracies they’d destroyed, groups that splashed like embers from the fires of martyrdom and revolution. Although it was Palestinians who were killed by Lebanese in the aforementioned bus bombing, Lebanon’s Civil War wasn’t between Palestinians and Lebanese.

It was between Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim sects – with the Palestinians belonging as minority immigrant members of the latter group who were killed by Christian Lebanese. But understanding what Palestinian immigrants were doing in Lebanon in the first place and why the Christian and Muslim sects were so easily cleaved apart and then set at each other’s throats requires some knowledge of Lebanon’s history and the international forces acting on the region at the time.

These forces can trace their lineage back first to the carving of the Middle East into the political borders of the present, and then to the violence that subsequently transpired due to the instability of a region whose sense of national identity was determined not by political will, but imperialist edict.

Lebanon and the rest of the nations in what is today called the Middle East were born in a unique fashion. Following the close of World War I, under the auspices of the Treaty of Versailles the victorious Allies went about carving up what had for centuries been the Ottoman Empire. Today’s Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Israel were all part of that once cohesive Empire. Each of the Allied powers had been promised spheres of influence in the Middle East and so – paying little attention to geographic or societal realities – the region was dissected into discrete states where none had previously been.

This process seemed so haphazard and random that a chip in Jordan’s eastern border is cheekily referred to as Churchill’s hiccup, as if the only possible reason for the indentation’s existence is that Britain’s Prime Minister, perhaps chugging a pint of bitter, must’ve belched and jerked his pen while he was drawing that particular border.

Because the construction of these nations was so obtuse in terms of the forces that make a nation cohesive, a fair amount of blame has been heaped on the British and the West in general for imbuing the region with an inherent instability. Today this lackadaisical cartography is seen as the beginning of imperialist interference in the matters of Middle Eastern society, and has fueled the rhetoric of Islamic extremists ever since.

And imperialist interference is exactly what it was: the Allied Powers fully intended to create manageable chunks of resource-rich land in the form of discrete nations. The Allies weren’t attempting to create the violent instability that has persisted in the region, and those who chose to do the shooting and fighting are complicit in the magnificent death-toll racked up in the region. However, from the perspective of the imperialized, strife was written onto the region by the exploitative pens of Empire.

This instability played itself out in the 1950s and ’60s as, inspired by Nasser’s coup of Egypt’s constitutional government, military coups followed in rapid succession in Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Algeria, and Libya. A few generations later, another chain of uprisings would domino across the region, but with rather different underpinnings. Because Nasser “popularized and institutionalized militarism in Arab politics,” dictatorships became commonplace and the resulting “militarism and authoritarianism have grown into cancers”2 which thrived in the region.

But no matter where the fault lies, the fault lines created in the Middle East would again and again rock the region’s residents with conflict and death in the years to come. This happened nowhere more famously than a land known today as either Israel, Palestine, the Occupied Territories, or as the Zionist Entity – depending on who you ask.

Give or take a few generations, the Biblical Promised Land has been through a nearly endless series of small- and large-scale conflicts.

In 1967 one of the larger conflicts, the Six Day War between Israel and five of her neighbors, resulted in a windfall of land for the inchoate Israeli state, which incorporated land from the defeated Egyptians, Syrians, and Jordanians into its own borders. In doing so Israel displaced the thousands who had been living on the land, thousands who had no place to go. Their ethnic identity as Palestinian precluded almost all of them from citizenship in any of the other neighboring Arab countries and so refugee camps were eventually constructed both within the new borders of Israel, and within some of the neighboring Arab countries.

Blame for their fate has since been placed both on the unwavering shoulders of the conquering Israelis and on the proud shoulders of the neighboring Arabs who refused to incorporate their own kinsmen into their societies. It is a problem that has no solution in sight and which has only been exacerbated by even more dire refugee crises in recent years, but which does give hints about the innerworkings of the nations affected by it. Lebanon, with its close proximity to the conquered lands, was a prime area for the construction of refugee camps for the homeless Palestinians. Its unique political structure also created a pliable state, primed for the introduction of refugees and terrorism.

Created by the same flurry of lines drawn in the sand that yielded Churchill’s hiccup in the aftermath of World War I, Lebanon’s odd political underpinnings are those of a consociational democracy: a system of nominally democratic rule which is based on decision-making that is done via shady backroom dealings between discrete parties who represent each of the state’s minority groups. Since Lebanon’s Christian, Sunni, and Shi’ia populations were close enough in size to preclude any of them from establishing majority-rule, Lebanon turned to a consociational democracy in an ultimately futile attempt to establish a fully-functional national government.

The French colonialists created a framework of rule that was fleshed-out by a census taken in 1932, controversial at the time and never accurately updated since. The results of the census created a carefully balanced formalized system of power-sharing between Lebanon’s three main sects: Shi’ia, Sunni, and Christian – with the Druze and other sects thrown a bone here and there.

This loosely knit polity became a cosmopolitan hotbed of trade, enterprise, and tolerance from its inception until the fateful 1970s. At that point the neighboring conflicts reached into Lebanon and shook loose the stability that had once precariously held the country together.

Lebanon’s tendency towards instability was also written onto the state because during its construction the founding fathers of Lebanon “neglected the sine qua non of all nation building, namely an effective military.” The lack of security and stability that resulted from this would soon come to haunt Lebanon, whose people considered their military a joke. It was better trained, they said, “at ballroom dancing than at fighting.”3

By the 1970s this inherent instability was beginning to show, and the start of that decade marks the birthday of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, more commonly known as the PLO. With the relocation of hundreds of thousands of refugees into Lebanon from the lands won as spoils by Israel, came the formation of an organization dedicated to the restoration of the Palestinian lands to their rightful Arab owners.

This relocation came after the Palestinians’ brief stay in Jordan was ended when a wary King Hussein gave them the boot after they hijacked three airliners and landed them in the kingdom, and declared a “liberated zone” – an act foreshadowed by the PLO’s refusal to pay taxes or use national license plates, and insistence on creating tolled check-points on royal roads. Yassir Arafat, who championed these refugees cum militants, has since passed away but not without first passing into legend in the eyes of Arab peoples. Before he died in Paris from either Israel assassins, cirrhosis of the liver, AIDS, his wife, polonium poisoning, or simply old age, Arafat was lionized by his people because of his defiance of Israeli and Western will.

Arafat’s defiance, manifested by the PLO, came to be rooted in southern Lebanon because the Lebanese government “was too weak to shoulder its security responsibility and force the PLO to respect the country’s sovereignty,”4 and stop the PLO from staging attacks against Israel from within Lebanese borders. Lebanon was not a decisive single-minded monarchy like Jordan.

And for every attack the PLO was able to execute, the Israelis would respond in kind, beginning the cycle of violence that’s still pulling innocents into its deadly vortex today. The PLO was able to exist as “a state within a state”5 because Lebanon’s existence as a polity was so inherently flimsy. Lebanon was not founded so much as ordered into existence, with the people encompassed by its edict having no say in how, or why, or by whom they were ruled.

The only alternative to being part of Lebanon was relocating your entire family. In Middle Eastern cultures transplanting your family would often mean uprooting several generations of immediate relatives and many branches of cousins, and leaving the country. Lebanon provided the perfect growth medium for the PLO and the other organizations which would soon sprout as offshoots from it in a state deeply cleaved by religious and ethnic identities. Identities cleaved so deep that they severed any sense of national identity.

These fissures were readily apparent to anyone taking the time to talk to a member of Lebanese society. At one point during the Lebanese Civil War, a sixteen-year-old Christian-Lebanese boy asked a reporter if the reporter wanted to know what he thought of the Palestinians in Lebanon. When the reporter affirmed that he did, the boy replied with a grin and his middle-finger.6

As is often the case, “religious difference can inflame nationalist sentiments in ways that encourage mass support for martyrdom and suicide terrorism.”7 This was compounded by the state itself being hamstrung by the corruption that’s inescapable within consociational democracies, which are unable to move as one unit against internal uprisings. This indecisiveness presented a vacuum of action and order that other organizations soon coalesced to fill. And so the modern history of Lebanon isn’t so much one of a singular government and people, but one of a rotating and mutating array of “states within a state” hosted within Lebanese borders.

Another term for a “state within a state” is a “State Shell.” State Shells have popped up within and along the borders of weak states throughout history – the PLO being one of many examples – and present unique clues into the political development and formation of modern Islamic extremism.

At the broadest level, State Shells are semi-autonomous polities hosted within a nation that are able to impose their own will and organizational structure on some segment of society beyond the reach of local government regulation.

Strictly speaking, State Shells are cohesive organizations which have “a monopoly on the means of violence; territoriality; taxation; and public bureaucracy”8 within their stomping-grounds. The depth and breadth of the will they are able to impose varies greatly from situation to situation, but generally State Shells establish a following in a society by filling gaps left open by the government.

The less able a government is to provide public works and order, from hospitals to courts to support for the needy, the bigger the opportunity a State Shell has to gain credibility and then power within a pocket of that state. A crucial common-denominator among all State Shells is economic independence from the host government – State Shells must be able to raise their own funds, either through their own taxes, outside support, or often via ransoms and the illicit trade of drugs, guns, and plundered resources.

Another characteristic of State Shells is that they rule through an unflinching use of violent coercion, a trait embodied by Arafat. Once after executing a man who refused to preach the PLO’s propaganda he went to the man’s home, found his ten-year-old son, gave the boy a gun and after telling him it was the Israelis who’d shot his father instructed him to “use this to take revenge.”9

Many of the world’s most recognizable terrorist groups are prime examples of State Shells filling the gaps created when a government – beset by political violence, incompetence, or upheaval – is unable to fully govern. Within a State Shell there is no such thing as the rule of law, and the exercise of Godfatheresque impersonal power that’s based not on a code of justice but individual whim is paramount over political representation or citizenship. Although they do provide public works, a State Shell’s overall effect is not a positive one on the society that hosts it, as they are by nature exploitative and predatory.10

Examples of this behavior span numerous continents and countless generations. And in what were supposed to be the waning years of Operation Enduring Freedom, an eduring threat to the freedom of Iraqis and Syrians alike emerged from the ashes of an incompetent occupation and a macabre civil uprising, as the Islamic State declared the establishment of a modern caliphate in the ancient lans of empires gone by.  But understanding the Islamic State, alternatively known as ISIS, ISIL, IS, or transliterated from Arabic as Da’ish – is impossible without first examining State Shells whose existence is already well-established and which have already lasted multiple generations.

In Columbia, the FARC has established a robust State Shell that reaped a stunning toll on the local population since its inception in the 1920s when it rode the revolutionary wave stirred-up by the Russian Revolution into existence.

Today its protection-money fueled income is estimated at $500 million, the majority of funds relying on the large American market for cocaine. The FARC, the Spanish acronym for a group whose name translates as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, feeds off the American drug trade, and wouldn’t be able to raise the funds it relies on without America’s vast demand for its product. In 2000, the FARC killed as many as 25,000 people in the countryside, mostly in brutal massacres, often preceded by torture.

The Colombian government – which has never been able to solidify rule because of attempted coups, constant bribery, and virulent corruption – at one point attempted to appease the FARC by giving them uncontested control of a swath of land roughly the size of Switzerland. Within this area people were “treated as commodities” and whoever resisted was simply executed. By the close of the 20th century, The FARC “no longer represented the shaggy-haired university idealists of the Cold War era, but a criminal army built on the forced recruitment of teenage boys and girls.”11

And within this army, desertion doesn’t mean death only for yourself, but also your entire family. Known just as aptly as “narco-terrorists” as a State Shell, the FARC thrives on extortion, murder, smuggling, kidnapping, and all the other means of brutally enforcing control found wherever government regulation and direction lapses. But ironically, the FARC does provide security for those who don’t struggle once they’re caught in its web.

It wins loyalty by implementing programs of social and public works to superficially better the lives of the Colombians whose lives it controls, and so many are willing to pay the FARC off for security and services with their own liberty.

Following in the FARC’s pattern, but demonstrating a more international taste, is a cousin of the PLO. Hamas has expanded from its birth in the Palestinian refugee camps to establish a vast economic web that’s pulled money and resources from neighboring economies into its own domain.

Its name is the phonetic English equivalent of an anagram standing for “The Party of Islamic Resistance” and, appropriately, spells out the Arabic word for “Zeal.” Taking inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which plays a key role in the evolution of Islamic extremism, Hamas features an unlikely mix of Islamic fundamentalism balanced by nominally democratic principles.

This rather quirky approach paid off in early 2006, when Hamas won political control of the Occupied Territories from the Palestinian Authority, an offshoot of the PLO.

Earlier, during the Gulf War, Hamas had received a windfall from Saudi Arabia when that monarchy diverted funds earmarked for Arafat’s PLO to Hamas because of Arafat’s support of Saddam Hussein. It used this money to intensify its attacks on Israel from the prior year by over twenty-five percent in 1992, securing its reputation as the prime aggressor against Israel.12 Hamas’s overt funding is estimated to be eighty-five percent foreign-based, with money pouring in from Saudi and Iranian state donations – on one occasion via a $150 million telethon complete with an enthusiastic charismatic host and burka-clad women fastidiously answering the ever-jingling phones.

1998 saw Hamas’s newly freed spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, pull in over $300 million on a whirlwind tour of Arab capitals. Other private donations from expatriates and businessmen from within the Arab world help fund Hamas’s ends, which aren’t only terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Hamas has won the loyalty of Palestinians by funding “schools, orphanages, mosques, health-care clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues in the poorest areas,” and as a result winning support not just from Joe Palestinian but from “trade unions, agricultural cooperatives… and among student unions.” But like the FARC, Hamas is far from entirely benevolent. As the PLO took a more conciliatory approach to Israel, Hamas sought to exploit this and formed “shock committees” which acted as death squads to interrogate via torture and terror suspected collaborators with Israel.13


Those are only two examples of State Shells at work. Peru’s Shining Path, Spain’s now-tamed ETA, and Ireland’s IRA circa the 1960s and 1970s are other prime examples of terrorist State Shells. However none of the groups, explored above in detail, ever made a significant attack on American personnel. And although the Islamic State certainly presents a clear and present danger to security in the Middle East, as of the spring of 2015 they hadn’t yet goaded the American military into a full-scale ground engagement.

An attack large enough to affect American foreign policy has only been pulled-off by one State Shells. And so it was a State Shell with a story and strategy all its own that in 1983 strode confidently across the line every other terrorist group had previously only dared to toe. In many ways this attack permanently blurred the lines between terrorism and warfare, lines which fade when you step several thousand years back into history and learn about the man history could consider both our first terrorist and our first commando.

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time traveling in America before, odds are you’ve almost certainly slept right next to him.  Unaware that the example he set would inspire how Ramzi Yousef would kill as much it would inspire millions of others to pray.


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