Monday, March 23, 2009

Steve S. Sin: "Homegrown Terrorism: South Korea's Next Challenge against Terrorism"

Steve S. Sin
Expert on Terrorism
(Image from A Fencer's Musings)

Islamist terrorism has been in the news lately here in South Korea due to a couple of suicide bombings aimed at Korean tourists in Yemen. The first attack killed four Korean citizens, but the second attack failed to cause any Korean fatalities. In both cases, Al-Qaida has been cited by Yemen and Korean authorities as responsible for the attacks.

Robert Koehler, who writes for The Marmot's Hole, reports in a recent blog entry, "Inadequate Understanding Leads to Muslim Hostility: Expert," that a South Korean expert on the Middle East, Lee In-seop (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies), has suggested to the Chosun Ilbo "that because Koreans have an insufficient basic understanding of Muslim religious culture, they frequently earn unintentionally the enmity of Muslims."

One often hears variations on this sort of 'root-cause' argument as explanation for the thousands of Islamist attacks that have occurred throughout the world over the past decade, though such an explanation apparently would not account for Islamist attacks on other Muslims, which have not been infrequent.

Whatever the root causes of Islamist enmity, the Korean government is alarmed and taking measures against the threat of Islamist terrorism here in Korea itself. According to a recent article in The Korea Times, "105 Foreigners on 'Terrorist' Watch List" (March 21, 2009), "the nation's intelligence agency is watching closely 105 foreign passport holders for possible terrorist-related activities." The Times reports that "[a]mong the 105 foreign nationals, those from the Middle East topped with 87, followed by 10 from Africa and the rest from Asia and the Pacific regions," and adds that the intelligence agency "is particularly paying attention to those foreign individuals with suspected ties with al-Qaida and is checking their entry to and exit from the country."

In a blog entry of last September, I posted on this sort of Islamist problem faced by South Korea: "Korea Herald: 'Foreign terrorists active in Korea: NIS report'" (September 23, 2008). In response to that post, I was contacted by Steve S. Sin, who blogs at A Fencer's Musings and is a specialist on terrorism and related issues in Northeast Asia. He asked me if I would be willing to proofread an article of his on the potential for Islamist terrorism in Korea, for he intended to publish it. I accepted because I wanted to learn more, not because I consider myself an expert.

I did, in fact, proofread Sin's article, from which I learned a great deal. It has since been published as "Homegrown Terrorism: South Korea's Next Challenge against Terrorism" in Asian Affairs (Number 29, January 2009) and can be read online. Basically, Sin notes that experts have no doubt that Islamist terrorists are here in South Korea, so the big question is why these terrorists have not acted. Sin suggests that the terrorists might prefer to use South Korea as a 'safe' place where they can plan operations elsewhere throughout Asia and transfer money via hawala networks that allow for the informal transfer of funds. Terrorist attacks here would put a severe damper on those activities.

However, Steve Sin emphasizes that he is speculating on this point, and I have my own concerns, for Islamist terrorists don't do cost-benefit analysis in the same way as secular thinkers, and the 'benefit' of a successful suicide bombing is an eternity spent in sexual ecstasy by repeatedly deflowering celestial virgins, so even if major Islamist groups like Al-Qaida are not intending any major 'martyrdom operations' on the Korean peninsula, we can't be certain that 'freelance' Islamists won't take matters into their own hands.

The recent attacks on Koreans in Yemen might be a harbinger of attacks in Korea itself.

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At 7:43 AM, Blogger Sperwer said...

Geez, in the interest of Force Security, I guess this means no more lunches in the 'ville for us.

A little more seriously, I was sitting out in front of one of the coffee shops on Itaewon high street a couple of weekends ago with some of the usual suspects. We were joined by a longtime Turkish expat resident of Seoul. He's pretty agnostic, I think, although he has had some sort of relationship with some of the American Christian fundamentalist groups that make a point of proselytizing in the Muslim World and mounting expeditons to find the remains of Noah's ark. We got a running commentary from him on various passersby, including a couple of Middle Eastern developers of the "Turkish" kebab houses that are springing up like mushrooms in the 'ville, members of the Turkish diplomatic mission whom he characterized as plants of the Turkish islamist party and a couple of travelling imams visiting Korea to tend/pressure the sometimes wayward flock of local petit bourgeois (wannabee?) entrepenuers. Interesting and a little disconserting stuff. It may be time to unearth the weapons cache from the garden and clean off the cosmoline.

At 8:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That would have been an interesting coffee to share.

In addition to wishing that I knew more people in the know, I wish that I had more linguistic talent. I'd like to know not only Korean (which I don't know, of course), but also Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, etc.

But I don't, so my information is mostly secondhand.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:49 AM, Blogger psieve2 said...

Lee In-seop (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies), has suggested to the Chosun Ilbo "that because Koreans have an insufficient basic understanding of Muslim religious culture,

This is called dhimmitude. It's a jihad that resulted in the Koreans' death in Yemen and why some are in S. Korea. Not all Muslims are terrorists, though they may just be Western educated or in a less-practicing area of the MidEast, but that's why terrorists are there and why they would want to kill Koreans. It's as simple as that, though their tactics will be more subtle in S. Korea. Like in England, they'll run the P.C. machine first, to get the bleeding hearts, who try to "understand" them, on board, and then make anyone else scared to speak out about what pure Islam is all about: peace won by the sword. Considering the mentality of S. Korea, I don't see them having as much resistance as in the USA.
I'm not political, in person, except with family, and I'm nice to everyone regardless of their assumed identity, but what needs saying needs saying.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

PSieve2, you're certainly certainly correct about the Islamists. They want to be 'understood' but not truly understood . . . until too late.

Jeffery Hodges

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