Not “War” Against Terror: It’s a Blood Feud

Via Peter Schramm at No Left Turns, Lee Harris argues that the “war against terror” is misnamed. Better to regard it as a “blood feud”:

In the blood feud, the orientation is not to the future, as in war, but to the past. In the feud you are avenging yourself on your enemy for something that he did in the past. Al Qaeda justified the attack on New York and Washington as revenge against the USA for having defiled the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia by its military presence during the First Gulf War. In the attack on London, the English were being punished for their involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the blood feud, unlike war, you have no interest in bringing your enemy to his knees. You are not looking for your enemy to surrender to you; you are simply interested in killing some of his people in revenge for past injuries, real or imaginary — nor does it matter in the least whether the people you kill today were the ones guilty of the past injuries that you claim to be avenging. In a blood feud, every member of the enemy tribe is a perfectly valid target for revenge. What is important is that some of their guys must be killed — not necessarily anyone of any standing in their community. Just kill someone on the other side, and you have done what the logic of the blood feud commands you to do.

In the blood feud there is no concept of decisive victory because there is no desire to end the blood feud. Rather the blood feud functions as a permanent “ethical” institution — it is the way of life for those who participate in it; it is how they keep score and how they maintain their own rights and privileges. You don’t feud to win, you feud to keep your enemy from winning — and that is why the anthropologist of the Bedouin feud, Emrys Peters, has written the disturbing words: The feud is eternal.

I suspect he’s onto something with his categorization, though I can’t think of too many blood feuds “artists” that have adopted an apocalyptic ideology to justify themselves. Though I don’t see any reason why they can’t, since Harris refers simply to the “externals” of the conflict rather than to its motivations (which he’s done elsewhere – linked in his article).

My previous post on Lee Harris’s work is here.


  1. Speller says

    It’s a Jihad on their end and after a limited revenge a holding action on ours.

    They have a sword and the will to use it.

    We have only a shield on our side,… waiting for the next thrust to get through.

    Their prophet Mohamet says keep on thrusting and the world will be Islam.