What happened, and what may follow

About the author
Charles Tilly teaches social sciences at Columbia University in New York City. His most recent books are Dynamics of Contention (co-authored with Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow, 2001) and Stories, Identities, and Political Change, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. He is now writing books on democratization in Europe and on collective violence.

Here are some predictions concerning what we will eventually learn about and from the suicide crashes.

There are two different kinds of predictions: unconditional predictions based on statistical regularities, and if-then predictions based on causal regularities. Forecasts about the weather or population growth come into the first category. The second category is more controversial. What is at issue is not just the validity of any particular connection but a set of assumptions behind them.

Writing on 16 September, I make the following predictions in both categories not because I know the answers, but for precisely the opposite reason. Most of us learn more from discovering that we were wrong than from being right. I am hoping to stimulate creative and constructive thinking about alternatives to dividing up the world into Us and Them, as a preliminary to dropping bombs on Them.

Unconditional predictions

It will turn out that:

1. More than four suicide crews set off to seize airliners on Tuesday, but only four succeeded in taking over their targets.

2. Participants in the effort were never, ever in their lives all in the same place at the same time.

3. All were connected indirectly by networks of personal acquaintance, but not all had ever met each other, or knowingly joined a single conspiracy.

4. Because of network logic, all were therefore (presumably) connected to Osama bin Laden and a number of other organisers or sponsors of attacks on western targets.

5. No single organization or single leader coordinated Tuesday’s action.

6. Some participants in the aircraft seizures only learned what they were supposed to do shortly before action began, and had little or no information about other planned seizures.

7. Instead of emerging from a single well-coordinated plot, these actions result (in part) from competition among clusters of committed activists to prove their greater devotion and efficacy to the (vaguely defined) cause of bringing down the enemy (likewise vaguely defined).

Contingent predictions

8. Bombing the presumed headquarters of terrorist leaders will first shift the balance of power within networks of activists, and second, increase the incentives of unbombed activists to prove their mettle.

9. The US, NATO, or the great powers may insist that all countries choose sides. (reconstituting a new Cold War) If they back that insistence with military and financial threats, they will increase the incentives of excluded powers to align themselves with dissidents inside countries that have joined the US side, and of dissidents to accept aid from the excluded.

10. Most such alliances will form further alliances with merchants handling illegally traded drugs, arms, diamonds, lumber, oil, sexual services, and rubber.

11. In Russia, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, the Caucasus, Turkey, Sudan, Nigeria, Serbia, Algeria, and a number of other religiously divided countries, outside support for dissident Muslim forces will increase, with increasing connection among Islamic oppositions across countries.

12. Bombing the presumed originator(s) of Tuesday’s attacks and forcing other countries to choose sides will therefore aggravate the very conditions American leaders will declare they are preventing.

13. If so, democracy (defined as relatively broad and equal citizenship, binding consultation of citizens, and protection from arbitrary actions by governmental agents) will decline across the world.

Am I sure these dire predictions are correct? Of course not. I write them out both to place myself on record, and to encourage counter-predictions from better informed colleagues.