Mayors across the U.S. see Donald Trump as a threat to national security

Politico Magazine’s fourth national Mayors Survey (which had 73 participants) found that: mayors of varying constituencies and political stripes agreed on one key priority: diversity training and outreach, with a focus on tolerance and inclusion. Sixty-two percent of mayors said their police forces had a program to engage the Muslim community, and over a quarter of respondents cited “community relations and distrust of law enforcement” as a key challenge to counter-terrorism efforts.

“It’s prudent for us to establish real and sustainable relationships with immigrant and Muslim communities,” wrote Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “It is equally important to address those that are marginalized and secluded of all groups, particularly youth, to stabilize communities and lower the opportunities for recruitment and propaganda.”

Wrote one mayor anonymously: “Communities are still very much segregated. And public education needs to be intentional about teaching respect in a diverse society.” One mayor cited as a key accomplishment “strengthening our relationships with the many ethnic groups who live [here]. 1 of 4 residents were not born in the US and 1 of 3 are a person of color.”

National politicians, the mayors charged, are harming counter-terrorism efforts through anti-Muslim rhetoric. “Islamophobia is a huge threat to the well-being of my constituents,” wrote a mayor of a major Midwest city. “The president gets that, congress doesn’t.” Added another: “Some candidates for President and Congressional leaders don’t understand that good relations, tolerant policies, and community outreach is critical to getting tips and leads on terrorist activity and keeping our cities safe.”

Asked which presidential contender would be the worst for security, 51 percent named a certain billionaire real estate mogul.

“Donald Trump will be the worst,” wrote Mayor Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma, Washington, population 203,000. “Peddling hate, fear and xenophobia will not make us more safe.”

“Trump would be a disaster,” concurred Mary Salas, of Chula Vista, California, whose city has a population of about a quarter of a million.“He’d create terrible foreign relations — a dangerous climate.”

Still, some mayors took a contrarian view on where the real terrorist threat is emanating from.

“Austin’s experience with terrorism, whether it’s someone flying his plane into the IRS building or shooting at the police station and the Mexican Consulate, has been exclusively domestic in origin,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. Said Kitty Piercy, of Eugene, Oregon: “I think having a national wildlife refuge taken over by out of state militia is pretty frightening. We may need to think of American terrorism in whole new ways.” [Continue reading…]

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A nation of field mice where fear runs rampant

In an article titled, “One Nation Under Fear,” Mark Edmundson writes:

How did a people who settled a continent, created enormous wealth, and fought and (mostly) won war after war devolve into a nation of such tremulous souls? And how did it happen so quickly? Where once there was the generation of the Second World War, ready to leave home and fight fascists on the far sides of the world, we now have a nation that at times seems composed largely of field mice, prone to quiver when they detect an unfriendly shadow.

In the latest wave of mass hysteria, the barriers of entry to the United States imposed on people with darker skins will once again be raised higher.

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 does not make any mention of skin color, yet the officials who are responsible for enforcing this law will inevitably notice skin color when determining if it needs to be applied. Since the law will apply, for instance, to British citizens who are also Iranian nationals simply by virtue of having an Iranian father — such an individual might have been born in the UK, have never visited Iran and not possess an Iranian passport — the way in which they will get flagged for questioning will most likely be because they are Middle Eastern in appearance.

Ostensibly, the law was designed to block U.S. entry to Europeans who have joined ISIS.

Let’s imagine how that would work: A British citizen who fought with ISIS in Syria has now returned home and then decides to fly to New York. He shows up at the airline check-in desk, presents his passport and the clerk, seeing the stamp entered when he visited Syria, says: “Sorry mate, no trip to America for you!” The thwarted traveler responds: “Damn that Terrorist Travel Prevention Act!” … except, of course, such an individual would in reality neither declare nor present any evidence that they had been in Syria or belonged to ISIS. The terrorist would — surprise, surprise — break the rules.

In truth, this isn’t a serious piece of legislation. Those who drafted and passed this law were engaged in a piece of political theater. Indeed, anyone who can coin a phrase like “terrorist travel prevention” would be better employed at The Onion than in the U.S. Congress.

The only people who will be reliably prevented from travel are those innocently trying to do what most travelers do — visit relatives and friends; engage in tourism or business.

The terrorists are not so dumb that they would run afoul of such restrictions — just as no terrorist would subvert his own objectives by tangling himself in the vetting process imposed on asylum seekers. [Read more…]

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Jakarta, Paris, San Bernardino: The age of ‘marauding terrorist firearms attacks’

Christopher Dickey writes: While America slept, terrorists struck in Jakarta on Thursday, and their multi-pronged attack hit, most dramatically, a symbol of the United States: a Starbucks coffee shop.

Despite bombs going off, a hostage-taking, and an extended gunfight with Indonesian police around Thamrin Street (near several embassies, luxury hotels, and the offices of the United Nations), casualties were fairly low by the standards of modern terrorism. Initial reports say seven people died, including five attackers, which would seem both a credit to the response of the Indonesian authorities and a reflection of the killers’ ineptitude.

A website linked to the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility in the name of the putative caliphate for the attack, “targeting foreign nationals and the security forces charged with protecting them in the Indonesian capital.”

Back in November, police reportedly picked up ISIS chatter about a “concert” planned for Indonesia, and perhaps 100 Indonesian citizens are believed to have joined ISIS’s ranks in Syria.

But the particular affiliations of the madmen are less important than their method in this case. The siege by squads of terrorists using assault rifles and low-grade explosives to slaughter innocent people at cafés, stadiums, hotels, shopping malls, and such has become standard operating procedure for violent extremists all over the map. [Continue reading…]

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Q&A: Why did terror hit Jakarta’s streets – and what happens next?

By Noor Huda Ismail, Monash University

Explosions and gunfire on Thursday left seven people dead in Jakarta. The blasts and gunfight between Indonesian police and the suspected attackers took place near the busy Sarinah shopping mall in central Jakarta. Indonesian President Joko Widodo spoke of “acts of terror”.

Five suspected attackers are reportedly among those killed. What affiliation if any they had to a terrorist group is currently unknown.

Since 2000, Islamic hardliners in Indonesia have carried out several high-profile bombing attacks. Notably, the Bali bombings in 2002 killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

The Conversation spoke to Noor Huda Ismail, a counter-terrorism analyst from Monash University, on the landscape of Indonesia’s terror groups and the threat the country faces.

[Read more…]

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Israel faces new brand of terrorism, this time from young settlers

The New York Times reports: To hear his father tell it, Mordechai Meyer, 18, a high school dropout, has spent the past few years camping out with his teenage friends in the rolling hills around Jewish outposts like this one in the northern West Bank. They want “to live simply, to build their own things and to commune with God,” said the father, Gedalia Meyer.

But Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, says the younger Mr. Meyer belongs to a Jewish terrorist network, some of whose members have been charged with grave crimes, including the July arson attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents in the West Bank village of Duma. The two suspects in that case also spent time in these hills.

The existence of the network, known as the Revolt for the title of its manifesto, became known about six months ago, after the arrest of several suspected members. This latest manifestation of Jewish terrorism is the creation of young extremists rebelling against what they view as the inertia of the Israeli establishment, and it has fermented in lawless outposts like Baladim, a tiny encampment outside Maale Shlomo, and Geulat Zion to the north. [Continue reading…]

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French proposal to strip citizenship over terrorism sets off alarms

The New York Times reports: The French police have carried out thousands of heavy-handed searches since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, and a raft of new laws is poised to permanently concentrate even more power in the hands of the Interior Ministry.

Yet among civil libertarians, no government proposal has raised as much alarm as a recent one to strip citizenship from French-born dual nationals convicted of terrorism.

The idea, promoted by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a Socialist with a conservative twitch, has struck at the core of France’s ideals of the rights of citizens, while underscoring the quandary the government faces as it confronts a widening threat from terrorists born and raised in France.

While the proposal to strip them of citizenship — known here as “déchéance,” or “forfeiture” — is backed by the right and much of the public, it has provoked furious debate and outraged the left, including many of Mr. Valls’s colleagues in the Socialist Party.

Mr. Valls has described the measure as “highly symbolic.” But critics fear that it would deepen fissures in French society by creating two classes of citizens.

Socialists are usually extremely reluctant to distinguish between French citizens, said Patrick Weil, the country’s leading historian on immigration. “The principle of equality is one of the pillars of French identity,” he said. “That he wants to distinguish between French citizens is creating a tsunami. It’s a terrible break with the fundamental principles of the French republic.”

At the same time, opponents of the plan point out that such a change in the law would hardly deter would-be terrorists. No one has been able to envision a situation in which a binational French suicide bomber might not press the button for fear of losing citizenship. [Continue reading…]

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Are most Jewish terrorists ‘crazy Americans’?

Haaretz reports: Laura Wharton, an American-born political scientist who represents the left-wing Meretz party on the Jerusalem city council, is not surprised by the large number of children of English-speaking families among the terror suspects, noting that immigrants from these countries tend to be highly ideologically motivated, and are more likely to have radical extremists among their ranks. “I think in general people who immigrate to Israel from English-speaking countries, in fact from all wealthy countries, need a stronger incentive to make the move,” she says. “They also want to make their mark when they come here, for better or for worse.”

Sara Yael Hirschhorn, who has spent many years studying American immigrants living in the West Bank, believes the radicalism could reflect a failure to integrate smoothly into Israeli society. “I think it has to do with the fact that these people are not assimilated in the way that their native Israeli or perhaps other immigrant peers have managed to be,” she observes.

In some cases, she says, these teens may be acting out against their parents for not doing enough to make their mark on Israeli society. “It could be a rebellion against parents they thought had come to do some great ideological pioneering, but instead, turned out to be average suburbanites in places like Ma’aleh Adumim,” notes Hirschhorn, who serves as the University Research Lecturer and Sidney Brichto Fellow in Israel Studies at the University of Oxford.

The author of the upcoming book “City on a Hilltop: Jewish-American Settlers in the Occupied Territories Since 1967,” Hirschhorn has concluded that roughly 60,000 American Jews live in West Bank settlements, where they account for 15 percent of the settler population.

The number of American immigrants living in Israel, including their children, has been estimated at about 170,000.

This is not the first time that U.S. citizens have been associated with or convicted of terror activities in Israel. In 1994, Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein, a physician from Kiryat Arba, massacred 29 Palestinians while they were worshipping in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Yaakov Teitel, originally from Florida, has been convicted of various acts of terrorism and hate crimes against Palestinians, homosexuals, Messianic Jews and left-wingers. Boston-born Baruch Marzel, a Kahane disciple, has a criminal record that includes assaults on Palestinians, policemen and left-wingers. Former New Yorker Ira Rappaport, a member of the Jewish Underground that emerged in the 1980s, was found guilty of involvement in a car bombing that left the former mayor of Nablus maimed.

Already back then, American immigrants had acquired a reputation as potential extremists.

Chaim Waxman, a retired professor of sociology and Jewish studies at Rutgers University, who has published extensively on immigration to Israel from the United State, recalls teaching a course at Tel Aviv University in the 1980s when reports about the Jewish Underground first started surfacing.  “I remember the students talking about those ‘crazy Americans,’ even though only one member of the Underground was an American,” he recounts. “But that is an impression that many Israelis have.” [Continue reading…]

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A century after Sykes-Picot

Eugene Rogan writes: The British wartime alliance with the sharif of Mecca would be concluded after months of increasingly anxious negotiations, with both sides driven by wartime fears. Sharif Hussein had reason to believe the Young Turks sought his overthrow. Moreover, to realize his ambitious goal of carving an independent Arab kingdom from Ottoman domains, he needed Great Power support. The British feared their recent string of defeats to the Ottomans would encourage colonial Muslims to rebel against the Entente Powers. War planners in Cairo and Whitehall hoped that an alliance with the custodian of Islam’s holiest shrines would neutralize the appeal of the Ottoman sultan-caliph’s jihad at a moment when Britain’s military credibility was at its lowest point since the start of the war.

On the eve of the Arab Revolt, the Anglo-Hashemite alliance offered far less than both sides originally believed they were securing on first entering into negotiations. The British were not the invincible power they had appeared to be in early 1915 when first setting off to conquer Constantinople. The Germans had inflicted terrible casualties on the British on the western front, and even the Ottomans had dealt them humiliating defeats. Sharif Hussein and his sons had every reason to question their choice of ally.

Yet the Hashemites were in no position to bargain. All through their correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon, the high commissioner in Egypt, Sharif Hussein and his sons had presented themselves as leaders of a pan-Arab movement. By May 1916 it was apparent that there would be no broader revolt in Syria and Iraq. The most the sharifs could do was challenge Ottoman rule in the Hijaz. Success depended on their ability to mobilize the notoriously undisciplined Bedouin to their cause.

Arguably, the alliance survived because the Hashemites and the British needed each other more in the summer of 1916 than ever. Sharif Hussein had strained relations with the Young Turks to the breaking point; he knew they would seize the first opportunity to dismiss—even murder—him and his sons. The British needed the sharif’s religious authority to undermine the Ottoman jihad, which officials in Cairo and Whitehall feared recent Turkish victories had strengthened. Whatever the results of a Hashemite-led revolt, the movement would at least weaken the Ottoman war effort and force the Turks to divert troops and resources to restore order in the Hijaz and possibly in other Arab provinces. For their own reasons, both the British and the Hashemites were in a hurry to launch the revolt. [Continue reading…]

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Terror: After Paris, Tunisia and California, can we stop it spreading?

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Jason Burke writes: On a bleak day in November, Annelise Augustyns led her two children to the playground near their home in Brussels. Just over a week before, Islamist militants had killed 130 people and injured many more in a series of attacks in Paris. The Belgian capital had been under unprecedented lockdown for three days amid fears of a new attack there. Several of the Paris attackers had been traced to the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek, a few miles from Augustyns’ apartment. They included at least one man who was now on the run.

To protect the population, the Belgian government had shut schools, cancelled sporting events and deployed soldiers on the streets. If the scenes were reminiscent of earlier conflicts, the enemy now was very different: a hybrid terrorist and insurgent entity in the Middle East calling itself the Islamic State.

Augustyns, a local government administrator, glanced at the armoured vehicle posted outside the entrance of the Gare du Midi. “We are worried of course,” she told me. “But what to do? We have to get on with our lives.”

Her words summed up the feelings of many across Europe that week, and indeed across much of the world last year. If 2014 was a year that set a grisly new record in the number of casualties inflicted by terrorist attacks – 33,000 people were killed, almost double the year before – then 2015 appears to have been worse. [Continue reading…]

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Fear of terrorism may cause more physical harm than terrorism itself

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Melissa Dahl reports: On Tuesday morning, kids all over Los Angeles arrived at school only to be told to turn around and go back home. Every last school in the Los Angeles Unified School District was closed on Tuesday as a result of a bomb threat that warned of an impending attack on “not one school, but many schools in the district,” superintendent Ramon Cortines said.

The threat is now thought to have been a hoax, something New York authorities — who received a similar message — had already suspected. “These threats are made to promote fear … we can not allow us to raise the levels of fear,” Police Commissioner William Bratton said. But in some ways, whether or not the threat was real is almost beside the point. Either way, the fear is real, and that alone can be dangerous. The latest medical research suggests that, over the years, simply being afraid of terror — even if you never actually witness any sort of attack — may be enough to trigger measurable, physiological harm.

That finding comes from a study published late last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by a team of physicians at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The researchers gathered 11 years’ worth of data from more than 17,000 healthy Israeli adults, who had completed multiple physical health tests as well as surveys measuring their fear of terror. (For example, they were asked how strongly they worried about a terror strike harming themselves or their family, and how tense they felt when in a crowd.)

Their results showed that those who feared terror the most were also most likely to show signs of poorer cardiovascular health — specifically, a resting heart rate that increased over the years. A person’s resting heart rate — their pulse, in other words — typically decreases with age, and a heart that beats 60 times per minute is considered normal. In contrast, some of the people in this study who feared terrorism the most had a resting heart rate as high as 80 beats per minute. An increased heart rate signals a higher risk for cardiac problems, like heart attacks or strokes, and as the Washington Post noted, previous research has found that people “whose resting heart rate rose by 15 beats per minute were 90 percent more likely to die” over the course of a two-year study. And here’s another striking part of this research: These people in the survey suffered real, physical damage because of their anxiety over terrorism, even though none of them had ever actually witnessed an act of terrorism themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Saudis ridiculed over ‘anti-terror’ coalition — new alliance likely to stir up sectarianism

By Brian Whitaker,

Amid widespread derision, Saudi Arabia has announced that it will lead a new military coalition to protect “the Islamic world” against terrorism.

Speaking at a news conference in Riyadh, deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – the king’s favourite son and chief architect of the military disaster in Yemen – said the move stems from “the Islamic world’s vigilance in fighting this disease which has harmed the Islamic world first and is now harming the international community as a whole”.Saudi Arabia has put itself in charge of the coalition and, according to Prince Mohammed, “There will be an operations room in Riyadh for the coordination and support of efforts to fight terrorism in many parts of the Islamic world.”

More than 30 predominantly Muslim countries have allegedly signed up to join the coalition (full list here). They include the other Gulf monarchies, but with the notable exception of Oman which also previously declined to get involved in the war in Yemen.

The move seems partly intended as a response to complaints that Saudi Arabia is not doing enough to combat terrorism and that it is more interested in pursuing its quarrel with Iran than fighting ISIS. There has also been growing criticism of its efforts, over many years, to promote the intolerant religious ideology that now fuels ISIS and similar organisations elsewhere.

However, it looks as though the anti-terror coalition may nevertheless be designed to pursue a sectarian agenda. Judging by its reported membership, the “Islamic world” does not include Iran, the main representative of Shia Islam, or Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria – though it does reportedly include Lebanon which has a large Shia population along with large numbers of Sunni Muslims and Christians. Asked at the news conference if the coalition would only be targeting ISIS/Daesh, Prince Mohammed replied: “No. To any terrorist organisation that appears in front of us, we will take action to fight it.”

This is especially alarming because the Saudi regime has some very strange ideas about what constitutes terrorism and will presumably now be pressing other countries to accept them. Under a law introduced last year, virtually any criticism of the kingdom’s political system or its interpretation of Islam counts as terrorism:

Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organization, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside [the kingdom].”

Article 4: “Anyone who aids [“terrorist”] organizations, groups, currents [of thought], associations, or parties, or demonstrates affiliation with them, or sympathy with them, or promotes them, or holds meetings under their umbrella, either inside or outside the kingdom; this includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form, or using slogans of these groups and currents [of thought], or any symbols which point to support or sympathy with them.”

Article 6: “Contact or correspondence with any groups, currents [of thought], or individuals hostile to the kingdom.”

Article 8: “Seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”

Article 9: “Attending conferences, seminars, or meetings inside or outside [the kingdom] targeting the security of society, or sowing discord in society.”

Article 11: “Inciting or making countries, committees, or international organizations antagonistic to the kingdom.”Last December the cases of two women who defied the ban on driving cars were also referred to the special anti-terrorism court.

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As America’s fear of terrorism grows, a ‘wacky gun enthusiast’ supposedly threatens no one

“Right now it looks like he’s a wacky gun enthusiast and a police buff, yet he was going around pretending to be a federal agent – that’s troubling,” a source told the New York Daily News.

Mark Vicars

He had a fake federal air marshal ID in one pocket, a Ruger .380-caliber pistol in the other and was driving around Long Island with ballistic body armor and a loaded AR-15 assault rifle. He also had an arsenal of weapons at his gated home.

But don’t worry folks, Mark Vicars wasn’t a threat to anyone, Nassau County officials insisted Friday.

The amount of firepower is comparable to what terror couple Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik had during the massacre they committed Wednesday in San Bernardino, Calif.

So why did the Nassau County Police Department spokesman Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun tell reporters, “At this time we don’t see any immediate threat to the public”?

[C]ops don’t believe that Vicars was up to anything nefarious — except for masquerading as a federal agent.

“We don’t see any nexus to any terrorism at this time,” LeBrun said, adding that no anti-American literature or links to terrorism were found at his home.

How about links to organizations such as Stop Islamization of America? Or indications of support for any of the current xenophobic, anti-immigrant GOP presidential candidates?

(Note also that in the current climate, “anti-American literature” is apparently a red flag raising suspicions of terrorism. It sounds like the police were less alarmed by the weapons Vicars owned, than they would have been had they found in his possessions a few books by Noam Chomsky.)

Even if it turns out that there’s no evidence to suspect Vicars might be ideologically motivated to engage in an act of terrorism, why should a heavily armed individual like this be any less a cause for public concern?

Along with his arsenal of weapons (“seven illegal firearms, three high-capacity magazines and 8,300 rounds of ammunition”) he was found (without prescription) to be in possession of steroids used for muscle growth — drugs known to cause aggression and violence.

For America’s gun lovers, pieces of steel are symbols of personal freedom, even though for many such individuals, this bond of affection thinly masks underlying fears of the rest of society.

This is the paradox of gun-bound right-wing patriotism: the country in whose name so much red-blooded passion gets vented, is one upon whose streets it is supposedly only safe to walk while carrying a weapon.

If Mark Vicars needed body armor, muscle armor, an arsenal, and a fake identity in order to feel strong, there must be a very weak and vulnerable man on the inside.

Unfortunately, fear is contagious and nowadays grips some sections of American society.

Unfortunately, the fearful are liable to lash out — to shoot first and ask questions later.

At a time such as this, a country needs leaders who through their own example can demonstrate that courage is stronger than fear. Instead, we are left to choose between the strident and the timid — an environment in which the loudest voices easily drown out all others.

A society built on fear will ultimately be no society at all, since fear leads to isolation.

As much as ISIS and other terrorist groups do indeed pose a real threat to America, a much greater threat is posed by fear itself because of the corrosive effect this has on social bonds.

Far from making America stronger, the easy availability of weapons simply makes this country more dangerous.

Rather than looking for ways to individually and collectively become more defended, reinforcing and amplifying our fears, what we need are more expressions of human solidarity and mutual support.

Unity built around antipathy is just another way of validating fear. Our real strength, however, can only be found on common ground — an understanding of and commitment towards a shared destiny.

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Terrorism response puts Belgium in a harsh light

The New York Times reports: A month before the Paris terrorist attacks, Mayor Françoise Schepmans of Molenbeek, a Brussels district long notorious as a haven for jihadists, received a list with the names and addresses of more than 80 people suspected as Islamic militants living in her area.

The list, based on information from Belgium’s security apparatus, included two brothers who would take part in the bloodshed in France on Nov. 13, as well as the man suspected of being the architect of the terrorist plot, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Molenbeek resident who had left for Syria to fight for the Islamic State in early 2014.

“What was I supposed to do about them? It is not my job to track possible terrorists,” Ms. Schepmans said in an interview. That, she added, “is the responsibility of the federal police.”

The federal police service, for its part, reports to the interior minister, Jan Jambon, a Flemish nationalist who has doubts about whether Belgium — divided among French, Dutch and German speakers — should even exist as a single state. [Continue reading…]

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The global surge in terrorism

The Atlantic reports: The grisly attacks in France and Lebanon last week have fixed attention on the violence perpetrated by ISIS. But a study published this week indicates that the world’s deadliest terrorist organization actually operates thousands of miles south of Paris and Beirut, in Nigeria.

The 2015 Global Terrorism Index, published by the Institute for Economics & Peace, found that Boko Haram, the Nigerian jihadist group, was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, compared with 6,073 at the hands of ISIS. Boko Haram, which was founded in 2002 as an Islamist movement against Western education and morphed into an armed insurgency in 2009, has rapidly expanded its scope and ambitions over the past two years, achieving international notoriety in the spring of 2014 by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls. Much like ISIS, the organization controls territory in Nigeria (although it has lost some of it over the past year) and has declared a caliphate in that territory. The group is also international; although based in northeastern Nigeria, it has launched attacks in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In the latest incident, Boko Haram is the suspected author of an attack in the Nigerian city of Yola that has left more than 30 people dead. [Continue reading…]

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Americans fear terrorism because they are easy to terrify

Mark Edmundson writes: Among the puzzling questions of world history and national identity, a few stand out. How, one might ask, did the Vikings, once the roving terrors of the world, manage to become equable Nordic socialists with lessons to teach us in the arts of decency and fairness? And how did the tough, soldierly Romans, conquerors of the world, manage to evolve into the charming, pleasure-loving Italians, with their gifts for good food, good wine, and civic instability?

Soon, a similarly unexpected question may be asked about Americans. How did a people who settled a continent, created enormous wealth, and fought and (mostly) won war after war devolve into a nation of such tremulous souls? And how did it happen so quickly? Where once there was the generation of the Second World War, ready to leave home and fight fascists on the far sides of the world, we now have a nation that at times seems composed largely of field mice, prone to quiver when they detect an unfriendly shadow. As a people, we seem to value security and prosperity above all. When someone threatens either, or seems about to, we become (in this order) confused, then terrified, and then very angry.

Those who dislike us around the world (and of course there are more than a few) tend to see us as a powerful, imperial beast, brutally pursuing our own ends across the globe. We are strong and violent, and when we want something, we assert ourselves with overwhelming force. But is that really the case?

What appear to the outside world as instances of bullying, and what appear to us as expressions of strength, may reveal themselves, on closer examination, to be actions driven by fear. We are a people obsessed with security. Our imagination of what counts as a threat to our security is hyperactive and becoming more so all the time. Two years into World War II, it took the fierce attack on Pearl Harbor to persuade Americans that it was finally time to fight. Once persuaded, they did. Now it takes only the least incitement to make us feel threatened. When even the most shadowy forces and conditions imperil what we call “our security,” we assault them with the furor of the easily scared. [Continue reading…]

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