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Revolutionary Organization 17 November - A Darwinian Perspective

FredParisFrance 61 / 7  
Jul 31, 2008   #1
Hello Gloria,

First and foremost, thank you very much for your kind words and your commitment.

Could you please read my essay and give me some feedback?

The prompt is:

With the exception of al Qaeda, select a specific terrorist group and discuss the following features:

1. The purpose or mission of the group.
2. The actions undertaken by this group.
3. The potential for success of this group.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration


---the sources have not been fully integrated yet---

Greek Domestic Terrorism: A Darwinian Perspective on the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November"


Most Americans would mock anyone asserting that Greece should deserve a close examination when it comes to studying the roots of anti-Americanism. As a matter of fact, many would-be Foreign Service Officers of the United States Department of State or Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) certainly imagine that one day they will benefit from an assignment in a nonchalant country, like Greece, in compensation for an excruciating job in a dangerous area such as Iraq or Afghanistan. They would be appalled to discover that a terrorist group of Marxist-Leninist obedience has assassinated a CIA Chief station and injured numerous U.S. military personnel in addition to having launched a rocket on U.S. embassy in Athens between 1975 and 2002. Moreover, those terrorists have performed various criminal attacks against British, French, and Greek officials and institutions, ranging from bank robberies to kidnapping. This Greek terrorist group, commonly referred to as "17N" in Greek mass media, is the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November". Founded in 1975 and named after the bloody repression orchestrated by the Regime of the Colonels against an anti-military junta demonstration of Athenian students, the organization has demanded the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Greece and of Turkish troops from Cyprus. Furthermore, 17N has anticipated the establishment of a Marxist-Leninist government to rule Greece.

Thesis & method

A rapid examination of the ideology defended by "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" and the subsequent actions undertaken to support its cause through the lens of ethology offer new perspectives on the subject of terrorism in Greece. The model employed to carry out this study will be the "Ecological Model" as described by its creator, the psychologist Uri Bronfenbrenner, in "The Ecology of Human development: Experiment by Nature and Design". Rather than considering that the potential success for the group's spin-offs may turn out to be negligible (compared with the tremendous death tolls claimed by other terrorist organizations all over the world), thorough ethological research should be conducted on the proximate and ultimate causes that have had fuelled Greek terrorism since the end of the Regime of the Colonels. A careful evaluation of the significance of the legacy vis-ŕ-vis the terrorist ideology and expertise of the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" could permit to define the patterns and dynamics of what appears to be a symbiotic relationship between mainstream society and political intelligentsia, on the one hand, and violent activists, on the other.

Individual biological and psychological context of 17N members

Inherited and acquired individual characteristics of the 17N members are diversely obvious. Itemized individual features include, without being limited to, age, sex, ethnicity, health, nutrition, and physiological abilities and disabilities, which can be conspicuous because they are part of the individuals' phenotype (such as their skin, eyes, or hair colour) or not noticeable without closer medical examination such as an auscultation or a genetic scrutiny. The major repercussion of biological and psychological assessments is that they could permit to provide indications of the proximate and ultimate causes underlying these individuals' limitations and predispositions when faced with the possibility to adopt political violence. Indeed, social learning theorists argue that aggression results from one's observation and imitation of people who engage in violent acts. Dimitris Koufodinas, the terrorists' operational leader could certainly epitomize this hypothesis for he has engaged in left-wing political activism rejecting the capitalism as a university student. On the other hand, ethologists favour the thesis supporting a genetically inherited origin. For example, Costa Telios who has been the only one 17N member experiencing severe psychiatric impairments might have inherited his disorders. Finally, evolutionary psychologists adopting a biopsychosocial model assume that aggressiveness arises from both inherited and acquired individual features. Minute biological explanations and psychological evaluations of 17N members would turn out to be all the more important as the naissance of the group has remained obscure even for the most prolific academic specialist of the organization, i.e. Dr. Kassimeris

For instance, the fact that "blood bonds, so important in Greek society, reinforced trust and silence, helping to explain the group's operational continuity and remarkable resistance to infiltration" could shed led on the application of the relation linking inclusive fitness and altruism, a theory developed in the 1960s. Indeed, Hamilton has contended that individuals perform altruistic acts towards kin relations as long as the cost of these acts is inferior to these individuals' fitness. In other words, individuals help their relatives on condition that their altruistic acts do not undermine their forthcoming possibility to reproduce or their present offspring's survival. This hypothesis can account for the difficulty encountered by counterterrorist organizations in their endeavours at infiltrating the 17N group and the prompt collapse of the terrorist association as soon as one of the members was seriously injured and interrogated by Greek police officers in 2002. Actually, cohesion was cemented by the relative meagre cost of members' reciprocal altruistic acts towards their relatives because, thus, they ameliorated their reproductive fitness. Yet the menace represented by a long prison term resulting from the icon painter Savvas Xiros's initial defection, greatly imperilling 17N members' reproductive success in a foreseeable future, has rapidly initiated a chain reaction among Xiros's acolytes and the disintegration of the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November".

Mesosystem (or microsystem): immediate context of 17N members

Although the 17N members' immediate contexts make the impression to be quite heteroclite, "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" members' dedication to Marxist-Leninist ideals has been their common factor when examining their acquaintances. The group may have remained impermeable to criminal investigations for so long because intelligence and law enforcement officers might have not imagined that 17N members' professions could have been so extremely disparate. Actually, Greek mass media have revealed that they were icon painter, apiculturist, university professor, electrician, real estate agent, or musical instrument maker. Nonetheless, 17N members have shared a common point: their individual mesosystem was infiltrated with a Marxist-Leninist who politicized them. This implies that numerous strates of the Greek society have been deeply affected by the communist ideology.

For example, interactions between individuals and their family of origin can ignite their flame of commitment to terrorism. Alexandros Giotopoulos, the architect and instigator of the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November", can exemplify the role of parents on their offspring's involvement in political violence since his father has been famous for being an important theoretician of the Trotskyite doctrine in addition to being one of its active advocates before World War II broke out. Giotopoulos' university years can also illustrate the key influence of the community and academic world on his forthcoming involvement in political violence since he studied in France during the student revolutionary upheavals in 1968. During this period, he created a revolutionary group aimed at overthrowing the military junta in Greece with a friend named Andreas Staikos.

As a matter of fact, the 17N members' craze for the Marxist-Leninist dogma and its violent implementation could also result from the rivalry due to the sexual competition among them. Indeed, as early as 1859, Charles Darwin has suggested that two phenomena of sexual selection could take place among individuals, the first one between individuals belonging to the same sex (intrasexual selection) and the second one between individuals belonging to opposite sexes (intersexual selection). In his endeavours to promote the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, Giotopoulos might have aroused jealousy in other males evolving in his mesosystem because his political commitment might have enticed available mating partners. Therefore, in their attempts to seduce the aforementioned females, Giotopoulos's male relationships like Dimitris Koufodinas (the operational leader of the 17N terrorist group) might have competed with him through the adoption of the communist doctrine and more radical means for publicizing its ideals until one of them recommended the use of terrorist tactics. This competition among males to secure the position of dominance within the movement and thus gain access to the most alluring females hanging around them could explain the obscure formation of the 17N group. Undeniably, 17N members have certainly not noticed that their political commitment could have increased with their sexual excitement, and if they have noticed this trend, they would have definitely not desired to avow that they have engaged in terrorism to seduce females. Finally, the traditional attachment of the Greek society to patriarchy may account for the quasi-entire masculine composition of the 17N group.

Exosystem: post-Colonels Greek landscape

The very fabric of the Greek society since the collapse of the Regime of the Colonels has shaped the choice of the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" for Marxist-Leninism tainted with nationalism rather than another ideology. Greece has endured four centuries of Ottoman domination before becoming independent in the early nineteenth century in addition to fighting the German invader during World War II, after many sacrifices on battlefields in both cases. Independence was gained thanks to the nationalists' dedication at home and abroad, thus propagating a nationalist pride still present on the Greek political scene. The archbishop Christodoulos, the very emblematic and media-friendly heir of the fight of the Orthodox Church of Greece against the Ottomans, has been the personification of this nationalist sentiment. During World War II, the resistance against the Nazi benefited from the Greek communists' perseverance. Their actions have significantly contributed to the institution of a democratic Greece. These fights have forged a strong sentiment of nationalism and a fierce attachment to communist and socialist values in an important part of the Greek society. As a consequence, the social, economic, political, educational, legal, and religious Greek systems permeated by nationalism and/or communism may account for the emergence and continuation of the 17N as a left-wing terrorist group claiming the establishment of a Marxist-Leninist government in Greece, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Greece and Turkish troops from Cyprus in addition to the exclusion of Greece from the European Union and from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Surprisingly, albeit the 17N members' activities have encompassed the assassination of Greek and foreign officials in addition to car bombings and rocket attacks aimed at Greek and foreign administrations in Greece, which have leaded to an aggregate number of more than twenty people and making this group one of the most lethal in Western Europe during the twentieth century, 17N members have favoured symbolic targets rather than mass murders. In fact, the political missions and criminal acts of the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" may have been the consequence of the generalized reciprocity theory elaborated by Herbert Higgins since 2000.

This hypothesis suggests that mutually beneficial relationships can be maintained through the acceptation of explicit laws and implicit rules among members belonging to a same community, thus, explaining why individuals act altruistically with in-group members while they do not hesitate to be egotistic with out-group members. Accordingly, the so-called inability of the Greek and American intelligence services to eliminate may not have been above suspicion of political interest despite its economic and human cost. Indeed, Greek political elites, whatever their political party, may have found relatively useful to have a terrorist group demanding the U.S. armed forces withdrawal from Greek territories since it prevented a direct confrontation between the Greek and American administrations. The 17N members may have acted as spokespersons for numerous Greek politicians who have never expanded too far the repressive arsenal against these terrorists because 17N members and Greek politicians have shared a common appurtenance to the in-group of the "defenders of the independence of Greece" against the out-group of the "foreign intruders".

Macrosystem and chronosystem: Greek cultural context across the ages

Despite the important diversity in the Greeks' cultural background due to important exchanges of population with Turkey and Bulgaria at the dawn of the post-Ottoman period and the immigration of Greek Cypriot after the Turkish invasion in the 1970s, the Greeks' collective imaginary has preserved a quaint depiction of the Klephts (mountain brigands) and their momentous participation in the national liberation from the Turkocracy in addition to a profound respect for the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) which resisted the oppression of the Nazi. Those common points in Greeks' macrosystems were also present in Koufodinas's cultural background (the founder of the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November") since he has deified Athanasios Klaras (alias Aris Velouchiotis) who was the founder and leader of the Greek People's Liberation Army. The bottom line is that Klaras's support for guerilla tactics in asymmetric warfare, in addition to his life in Greek mountains for long periods during the war, are not without being reminiscent of the Klephts' lifestyle.

A vindication for the transmission of cultural elements from generation to generation among the Greek population could be discovered in Richard Dawkins's work on memetic selection dating as far back as 1976. This scientist has assumed that the transfer of information across time and space could stem from cultural replicators, labeled "memes", which are modeled on the evolutionary principles applying to genes. Therefore, a certain idealization of political violence against oppressors employing insurgency tactics, and its subsequent acceptation, by the Greek population may reflect the propagation through the centuries in Greek communities at home and abroad thanks to a dedicated meme. In other words, the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" members' commitment to terrorism and its relative tolerance on the part of the Greek authorities and population may be the fruit of the Greek macrosystem (i.e. prevalence in society) and chronosystem (i.e. evolution over time).


Eventually, the present rapid evaluation of the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" has laid emphasis on the significance of the interacting contexts, or ecosystems, surrounding the 17N terrorists from birth to death and playing a prominent part in their development in addition to the development of conspecifics in touch with them. First, the individual biological and psychological context of 17N members has revealed that further research on their individual biological profiles could be useful for defining to what extent their genetic relatedness can explain terrorist organization's imperviousness to anti-criminal infiltration and its resilience over time. Second, the 17N members' mesosystem (or microsystem), the terrorists' immediate context, has suggested that further research for exposing the extent to which 17N members' exposition to sexual competition could have been the trigger activating their desire to engage in violence. Third, the 17N members' exosystem has evoked the possibility that the political involvement for Marxist-Leninist theories could have originated from the socioeconomic circumstances in the post-Colonels Greek landscape. Fourth, the 17N members' macrosystem and chronosystem have insinuated that the Greek culture could have reinforced the 17N members' motivation to engage in political violence for traditional Greek beliefs and ideals have valued armed rebellion against oppression. Therefore, the mission of the group has been brought about by the 17N members' exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem whereas the nature and intensity of the actions undertaken by 17N members have risen from their mesosystem (or microsystem).

In conclusion, the dislocation of the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" arouses the question of the potential success of this terrorist group. Since this criminal association has stemmed from intricate biological, cognitive, and social interactions, the answer may lie in a quantitative and qualitative analyses of the 17N members' personality based on biopsychosocial models such as the Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Model. Indeed, adapted anti-terrorist and counter-terrorist applications aimed at responding to terrorist threats in Greece and sociocultural impediments checking their effective implementation could be discovered thanks to these analyses. Indeed, despite the trial and conviction of fifteen 17N members have severely hampered the organization; its demise might not be absolute because one communiqué has been released by 17N members since the trial, who apparently asserted that the end of the group was not on the agenda. Moreover, the legacy bequeathed by the "Revolutionary Organization 17 November" has seemed to be claimed by another Greek terrorist organization called "Revolutionary Struggle". This offspring of the most famous contemporary Greek terrorist organization has had the same mission and has aimed to employ the same violent means.

In the evolutionary arms race taking place between terrorists and law enforcement agencies, one trail to be followed could be associated with the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Greece. For instance, the penetration of the Greek clergy has been so deep and so durable over time that its full cooperation with intelligence agencies, or infiltration in case of clerical rebuttal, may prove useful to collect information on terrorist networks. Indeed, the predator-prey relationships existing between terrorists and law enforcement agencies has required to plunge into the depths of the Greek society to accumulate as many information on terrorists' activities as possible. Subsequently, the dense network of popes on the Greek soil in addition to the clerics 'extensive knowledge of local current affairs, due to their proximity with the population, could be exploited to target Greek terrorists. Nonetheless, one could raise the question of ethics. The crux of the matter lies in the Greek society's willingness to preserve high moral standards at the risk of protecting assassins or to lower its values to shield the contemporaneous style of Greek democracy.

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