Economic Terrorism

The American philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” With that in mind, it’s worth considering the situation of tanzanite dealers who have been targeted by ambulance chasers intent on profiting from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In the 1930s, Neville Chamberlain announced that his negotiations with Adolph Hitler would result in “peace in our time.” World War II began shortly thereafter. In 1952, Sen. Joseph McCarthy announced that he had a list of known Communists in the State Department. McCarthy ultimately was censured by the Senate, but not before he ruined many lives. In the 1990s, we acquiesced in dealing with the terrorist group that eventually perpetrated the horror of Sept. 11, despite ample evidence that al Qaeda was responsible for many terrorist attacks. In a recent Wall Street Journal column titled “Peace Doesn’t Come From a Process,” Robert L. Pollack argued that Osama bin Laden was certain he could influence U.S. policy after our government’s decision to flee Somalia.

These events are instructive as we confront the situation of suits being filed against tanzanite dealers for alleged connections to al Qaeda. But the only evidence that the dealers provided a source of income to al Qaeda is the unsubstantiated diary of one of the principals of the first attack on the World Trade Center. The result is a legal attack on legitimate businesses with no connection to al Qaeda other than the fact they are in the tanzanite business.

On the basis of these allegations, Tiffany, Zale, and QVC announced that they would no longer sell tanzanite. No one, however, has decided to quit selling diamonds, although there’s also “evidence” that al Qaeda financed its activities by selling diamonds.

Several months ago, the industry concluded negotiations with members of the government and some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to implement a program to control the sale of diamonds from the source to the retail counter. This was intended to end the association of diamonds with the horrific behavior of criminals in Africa who lop off the limbs of their victims to compel their cooperation in the diamond supply channel.

History shows that negotiating with terrorists only invites more terror. Confronting terrorists—whether Nazis, al Qaeda, Sandanistas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Irish Republican Army, the PLO, or “greenmail” attorneys—is the only way to deal with them. Identifying diamonds and tanzanite as the core problem ignores the moral questions about those who perpetrate murderous acts. Only they are responsible for such actions. Who will bring them to justice? Addressing the problem through administrative processes of how gemstones get to market may make us feel that we are doing something positive. But the reality—and the larger, more important question—is what is happening in Africa now and what the world chooses to do about those who continue to kill and maim. Will we ever learn from history?