Should We Try Collective Punishment Against Terrorist Groups?

From Counter-Currents:

The consensus in the liberal west, guided by Article 33 of the Geneva Convention and muh feelings, is that collective punishment is a non-starter, ineffective and utterly immoral. But calm your tits for a moment and hear us out.

(A quick, parenthetical aside: why should we be bound to this mere document penned by old, dead, white guys anyway? Come on liberals! If you can argue that the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is obsolete, why can’t we argue the same about the Geneva Convention?)

Ok. Let us first note that Article 33 prohibits subjecting groups to “all measures of intimidation or of terrorism.” But isn’t this what the Jihadists are doing to us? So the almighty Geneva Convention is already out the window. Are we supposed to play by the rules while our adversary does not? As Trump would say: “Not gonna happen, folks.”

It is right that we should bring in Trump here, because we think he comes near the right idea on this. He first floated the idea of collective punishment in interviews following the Paris and San Bernadino massacres: “We’re fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

For this statement Trump was called the usual bad names — angry, hateful, sadistic — in the mainstream press. But was this proposed policy really the product of such emotions and inclinations? We don’t think collective punishment is meted out from some need to vent uncontrolled rage or depraved sexuality, or from an inability to distinguish the individuals who attacked us from their kinsmen who didn’t.

Though admittedly a so-called necessary evil, collective punishment is a rational, pragmatic response. It serves a purpose.

Collective punishment is an effective means to force a group, in this case Muslims, to more thoroughly police themselves. It incentivizes Muslim leaders and moderates to discourage radicalism and even to rat out suspected Jihadis in their ranks.

The strategy has a long history — because it works.

Anglo-Saxon England had, instead of a police force, a system of Sippenhaft or Frankpledge wherein communities were organized into Tithings, ten adult males who were held collectively responsible for each other’s actions. William the Conqueror used this system to establish order; each Tithing or Hundred (ten Tithings) that failed to produce the murderer of one of his followers were subjected to heavy fines.

This system worked so well that within twenty years, according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle of 1086, a man could walk across England mid his bosum full goldes ungederad — with his bosom full of gold, unhurt.

This system doesn’t seem particularly inhumane. But this isn’t the same, you might argue, as “taking out their families.”

Well, true. But harsher measures are not at all unprecedented. Treason in ancient China might get you and all your relatives executed. In ancient Rome the system of Decimation, slaughtering every tenth man, helped insure that the cohorts didn’t misbehave or mutiny.

Collective punishments are used to achieve such objectives today in Israel, where suspected Palestinian militants get their houses leveled to the ground by massive, armored bulldozers. This puts pressure on Palestinian leaders, who in turn dissuade the youth in their communities from striking Israelis.

Similarly in the Chechen Republic, the former rebel leader Ramzan Kadyrov imposes some semblance of order on the region by collectively punishing his erstwhile comrades. Suspected Islamic militants can expect their apartments to be demolished — sometimes with them and their families still inside. To avoid such a fate, whole communities have been conditioned to immediately rat out any budding militants. Putin is demonized in the west for installing Kadyrov and endorsing these practices. But the fact that Moscow has been free of Chechen terror in recent years has been largely attributed to them.

Still these methods are a shock to our refined, liberal sensibilities. But should they be so shocking? Isn’t it odd that the same liberals who express horror and outrage at this idea of “taking out their families” have no qualms about collective punishment when it takes the form of retaliatory airstrikes in distant lands, which to us seems a harsher hit on a more arbitrary and potentially messier target. This can be said for Dresden and Hiroshima, for the “Shock and Awe” strikes on Baghdad, and for our penchant in the present for drone-bombing hospitals and wedding parties in remote corners of the Hindu Kush.

Airstrikes and distant military destabilizations in general are preferable to you, though, because they can be whitewashed in the media while still giving us the impression that something is being done, somewhere, about something. But what is really being achieved? Apparently only the creation of more displaced, angry migrants. More victims for us to accommodate. Don’t be racist xenophobes and do open up your hearts and lands and legs to these poor lost souls who, we promise, won’t be terrorists this time.

Considering the alternative, then, which is the status quo of terror strikes and airstrikes in which everyone seems unhappy, let us make this strategic adjustment. We don’t need to go so far as the Chinese or Trump and execute all relatives of a terrorist. But let us call off our airstrikes, call back our military and, instead impose a new Frankpledge on every Muslim community in the West.

Let us offer, for instance, this modest proposal: if we should find that members of a particular mosque have committed an act of terror or a rape, all the members of that mosque will be frog marched into the town square and get put in stocks, there to be flogged with bacon for ten hours. If it happens again, the mosque will be leveled to the ground and all its members will have their thumbs removed with a sharped pig jowl.

Under these conditions, we think it won’t be long before there is peace. A nationalist peace. Muslims will happily go back to their caliphates, their homelands, where bombs are no longer falling, and we will be free to be nice to each other again. More trusting. Doors unlocked. Bags unattended.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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