Who Do You Speak For?
Douglas Farrah, who gave expert testimony in the recent civil suit against the government of Sudan for its role in the attack on the USS Cole, explains why it the case is important.
This case is important because, rather than simply isolating an individual act of terrorism, these cases attempt to go to the broader Islamist structure that underpins these attacks and makes them possible. The same is true for the 9/11 victims’ lawsuit mired down in the legal system in New York. ...
The ability to inflict monetary damages on state sponsors of terror is significant, if very difficult to achieve because the states are usually able to move most of their assets beyond the reach of the law. But what is more significant is to hold these states (and non-state groups) publicly accountable, to use the discovery process to better understand the systems they so desperately try to obscure, and to build an clearer understanding of the scope of the Islamist groups that want to kill us.
MSNBC reports that U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar said that "There is substantial evidence in this case presented by the expert testimony that the government of Sudan induced the particular bombing of the Cole by virtue of prior actions of the government of Sudan." Apparently the judge agrees that Sudan as a state is liable for its actions. This should remove the inevitable accusation that the West is imposing "collective punishment" on Muslims for the actions of a few. But as some commentators on the Middle East have suggested, the state structure is only one of three institutional frameworks that matter. The other two are the Tribe and Islam itself. Ironically, many countries in the region have customary law which allow a tribe to assume responsibility for actions carried out by one of its members. And this type of collective responsibility (to use the proscribed word) is apparently useful in maintaining order in those societies.
Political scientist Bassam Tibi notes that "unlike the imperial and the territorial dynastic states that were familiar in Middle Eastern history, the externally imposed new pattern of the nation-state is defined as a national , not as a communal, polity....In varying degrees, all states of the Middle East lack this infrastructure....In most of the states of the Middle East, sovereignty is nominal. The tribal-ethnic and sectarian conflicts that the colonial powers exacerbated did not end with the attainment of independence. The newly established nation-states have failed to cope with the social and economic problems created by rapid development because they cannot provide the proper institutions to alleviate these problems. Because the nominal nation-state has not met the challenge, society has resorted to its pre-national ties as a solution, thereby preserving the framework of the patron- client relationship."
In the USS Cole case, the victim's families are using the Western institution of the nation-state to assign responsibility. But that things have come this far is interesting nevertheless.