Jonathan Freedland writes: There are certain places that cease to be places in the public imagination. They become shorthand for a loathed political establishment or distant, overmighty government. In America, that place is “Washington, DC”. For Eurosceptics, it’s “Brussels”. And in Britain, that reviled, imperial citadel is “Westminster”.
Yet today, as the airwaves and social media timelines filled with dreadful, violent news, “Westminster” began to lose those quotation marks. As the afternoon passed, it became seen not as the widely despised bastion of the political class, but a real place inhabited by office workers, tourists, security guards and groups of visiting schoolchildren.
On any other day, Tobias Ellwood might be seen as just another Tory MP. But then came word that he had given CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a policeman who lay wounded – and with it a reminder that the MP, a former army officer, had lost a brother in the Bali bombings of 2002.
Or there were those photos of MPs locked in the chamber of the Commons for their own safety, many of them on their phones, searching for news just like the rest of us but with an extra edge: they were worrying about friends, colleagues or their own employees. Everyone had the same thought: what if someone they knew or loved was among those hurt?
As it happens, I was in Westminster (though not in parliament) when the attacker struck, wrapping up a lunch meeting with an MP who was alerted to the news by a text from his wife, checking that he was safe. On television, he’ll look like just another politician. But if people saw him today, they’d have seen a human being.
And yet, when it comes to those involved in politics – the people who keep our democratic machinery functioning – it seems to take violent tragedy to remind us that those we elect to represent us don’t stop being people the moment we vote for them. Last year it was the murder of Jo Cox that reminded people an MP could also be a living, breathing, loving person. At that moment, many felt chastened about the way we speak about politics – so often using violent language to describe political argument. We held back for a while. But we soon fell back into the old habits. [Continue reading…]
Department of Homeland Security will need to hire clairvoyants to carry out ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants
Greg Sargent reports: We keep hearing that President Trump will roll out the new version of his travel ban any day now. The White House delayed it earlier this week, because Trump advisers reportedly thought it could step on the good press he’d earned from his speech, thus inadvertently undercutting their own claims that enacting the ban is an urgent national security matter.
Here’s the real reason for the delay: The Trump administration can’t solve the problem that has always bedeviled this policy, which is that there isn’t any credible national security rationale for it. Unlike on the campaign trail, when you’re governing, you actually have to have justification for what you’re proposing, or you often run into trouble.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had an important scoop on Thursday night that further undercuts the substantive case for Trump’s ban, which would restrict entry into the country by refugees and migrants from select Muslim-majority countries. Maddow obtained a new internal Department of Homeland Security document that reached this key judgment:
We assess that most foreign-born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns.
This new document is separate from another DHS document that was leaked to the press last week. That one also undercut the case for the ban, concluding that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”[Continue reading…]
William McCants writes: When America’s most influential Islamophobes are upset, you know the president made a good choice. “Score one from the swamp,” whined Robert Spencer upon hearing the news that Donald Trump appointed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to be his new national security adviser. Spencer makes a living scaring Americans about the dangers of Muslim soccer moms. “John Bolton lost out to this guy?” sputtered his frequent partner in whine, Pamela Geller, who scoffed at the general for saying, “Every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you’re working for the enemy.”
The Islamophobes are not wrong to sense that McMaster will be hostile to their worldview, according to those who know him best. McMaster spent much of his career fighting and winning wars in the Middle East, which required him to know the local cultures and treat Muslims like humans rather than scripturally programmed robots. “He absolutely does not view Islam as the enemy,” said Pete Mansoor, who served with McMaster in Iraq. “He understands that the world is not one dimensional, that the Muslim world is not one dimensional,” said John Nagl, who also served with McMaster. In other words, the complicated causes of terrorism require complicated solutions.
McMaster’s nuanced views will likely be at odds with those of the president’s chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, and the other members of Bannon’s so-called Strategic Initiatives Group, a policymaking body he co-leads with the president’s son-in-law and chief of staff. Bannon believes the teachings of Islam and a supine West are primarily to blame for jihadist terrorism, as does his counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka. Both scoff at the idea that jihadism arises from a confluence of factors, most of which are not religious. “This is the famous approach that says it is all so nuanced and complicated,” Gorka told the Washington Post. “This is what I completely jettison.”
McMaster’s disgraced predecessor, Michael Flynn, agreed with the Bannonites and was disdainful of the intelligence community’s analysis, which he believed ignored the religious motives of jihadists in order to please President Obama. I served in the State Department when Flynn was still in government and, having seen some of the same analysis Flynn saw, I can say that the intelligence community did not ignore religion; it just didn’t inflate it as the primary driver of jihadist terrorism. The intelligence community was also careful to disaggregate jihadist groups according to their competing interests and to distinguish those groups from non-violent Islamists. With McMaster’s appointment, such analysis is now likely to find a sympathetic ear in the White House. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s new national security adviser, is considering a reorganization of the White House foreign policy team that would give him control of Homeland Security and guarantee full access to the military and intelligence agencies.
Just days after arriving at the White House, Mr. McMaster is weighing changes to an organization chart that generated consternation when it was issued last month.
One proposal under discussion would restore the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to full membership in a cabinet-level committee, according to two officials who discussed internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity.
Another likely change would reincorporate the Homeland Security Council under the National Security Council, the way it was during the administration of President Barack Obama, the officials said. The decision to separate the Homeland Security staff, they said, was primarily a way to diminish the power of Mr. McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week. Now that Mr. Flynn is out and Mr. McMaster is in, both councils may report to him.
Left uncertain is what, if anything, will happen regarding Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, who has played a major role in shaping foreign policy. [Continue reading…]
Ryan Lizza writes: Since September 11, 2001, ninety-four people have been killed in the United States in ten attacks carried out by a total of twelve radical Islamist terrorists. Each of the attackers was either an American citizen or a legal resident. More than half of the ninety-four murders occurred last year, when Omar Mateen, who was born on Long Island, killed forty-nine people at a night club in Orlando.
According to the comprehensive terrorism database maintained by the New America Foundation, since 9/11 there have been three hundred and ninety-six people involved in American terrorism cases, which New America defines as “individuals who are charged with or died engaging in jihadist terrorism or related activities inside the United States, and Americans accused of such activity abroad.” Eighty-three per cent of these individuals were American citizens or permanent residents. (Seventeen per cent were non-residents or had an unknown status.)
And yet, for more than two weeks, President Donald Trump and his top White House aides have been obsessed with highlighting a threat that does not exist: jihadist refugees and immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
It’s true that both worldwide terrorist attacks and terrorism-related cases against plotters in the United States have spiked since 2013, an increase largely attributed to the fallout from the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State. I talked to several counterterrorism experts this week, and they all believe that there will be another attack.
“I do believe the world faces a serious and growing terrorist threat,” Evan McMullin, the former C.I.A. officer and Republican who ran for President as an independent candidate against Trump, said. “But Trump, either by ignorance or malice, is distorting the nature of that threat by targeting very well-vetted immigrants, including legal permanent residents and refugees. He simply does not have a strong national-security case to make against these people, which is why it is reasonable to wonder if he has some ulterior motive for taking such extreme steps against them.” [Continue reading…]
Brian Beutler writes: Trump is courting terrorism to gain political power at the expense of his power rivals. He doesn’t need a masterplan or even a high level of consciousness about it for us to recognize that this is what’s happening.
In the absence of a major crisis, this has the effect of pitting his most committed supporters against a broad opposition: The significant majority of Americans, who find his political style unappealing, alarming, or grotesque. Trump cannot render the country’s massive democratic institutions impotent when most Americans will make common cause with them over him. If the attack Trump is courting comes, the ensuing battle for narrative control will determine whether he, or his opposition, is held responsible for it, and thus, how durable the resistance to authoritarianism will be. His opponents will have facts on their side, but he will have the largest bully pulpit and the means of retribution at his disposal. If at some point, without changing tactics, Trump wins over a broader swath of the public, the real damage to democracy will begin. [Continue reading…]
“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” Trump told military leaders and troops during his first visit as president to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
“And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that.”
The White House then followed up with “evidence” to prove Trump’s point — a list of terrorist attacks that the media deliberately failed to adequately report.
In fairness to Trump, media coverage of the supermarket attack was indeed overshadowed by coverage of the Charlie Hebdo shooting (with which it was connected) that happened two days earlier.
It’s possible Trump feels like that attack, in which three times as many people were killed, got too much coverage since the victims were mostly journalists. Does Trump mourn the deaths of people who he despises and denigrates every day? Surely not.
Moving down the list we come to another attack in Paris — this one occurred in November 2015 resulting in 129 deaths and 400 wounded.
When Trump says “you’ve seen what happened in Paris,” this is the attack he’s referring to… the one we’ve “seen”… on media reports… lots of them — but apparently not enough for Trump.
It’s hard not to wonder whether, more than two weeks into his presidency, Trump is disappointed that there has yet to be a major act of terrorism in the United States.
The only attack that has taken place is one that has indeed received inadequate attention both from the U.S. media and Trump himself: the Quebec City mosque massacre carried out by Trump/Le Pen supporter, Alexandre Bissonnette.
In spite of the criticism Trump has faced as a result of the chaotic nature of his first days in office, he and those around him have remained resolute and focused on promoting terrorism.
It is surely just a matter of time before Trump declares to those gathered in excitement around him: “this is what we’ve been waiting for.”
It’s long past time to recognize the mortal threats within our own borders. Donald Trump can ban all the Muslims he wants; Justin Trudeau can welcome all the refugees he likes.
But the truth is that white nationalist terrorists are as much of a threat to civilized society as their radical Islamist counterparts.
Thomas Mair murdered Cox as she was campaigning to stay inside the European Union. “Britain first,” said the Nazi-loving white supremacist, as he brutally attacked the British MP and mother of two.
Dylann Roof hoped to incite a race war when he fired more than 70 bullets into a Bible study group that had welcomed him into the fellowship hall of Emanuel AME Church.
Alexandre Bissonnette, charged with six counts of murder in a Québec City mosque, is said to be well known to refugee groups for his frequent online insults about immigration and his admiration for Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right Front National.
Mair and Roof both found their sick inspiration in online communities of hatred and violence. It may be that Bissonnette did too.
The great Primo Levi would recognize what connects these men and what is happening to our culture. “The plague is over but the infection spreads: it would be foolish to deny it,” he wrote, more than two decades after he left the Nazi concentration camps.
The scientist survivor was clear about the source of the infection he observed in such clinical detail: “Mainly, at the root of it all, a tide of cowardice, an abysmal cowardice, masked as warrior virtue, love of country, and loyalty to an idea.” [Continue reading…]
The Intercept reports: White supremacists and other domestic extremists maintain an active presence in U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies. A striking reference to that conclusion, notable for its confidence and the policy prescriptions that accompany it, appears in a classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept. The guide, which details the process by which the FBI enters individuals on a terrorism watchlist, the Known or Suspected Terrorist File, notes that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers,” and explains in some detail how bureau policies have been crafted to take this infiltration into account.
Although these right-wing extremists have posed a growing threat for years, federal investigators have been reluctant to publicly address that threat or to point out the movement’s longstanding strategy of infiltrating the law enforcement community.
No centralized recruitment process or set of national standards exists for the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, many of which have deep historical connections to racist ideologies. As a result, state and local police as well as sheriff’s departments present ample opportunities for white supremacists and other right-wing extremists looking to expand their power base. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: The Ferris wheel on Alexanderplatz has come to a standstill and the mulled wine stands are boarded up. The sphere at the top of the TV tower is hidden in the clouds. On the day after the truck attack in the western part of the city, almost all of Berlin’s 60 Christmas markets are closed, including the one at Alexanderplatz. “Out of sympathy and reverence,” says Rudi Bergmann, before quickly adding: “But not out of fear!”
Bergmann has been bringing his Grillhütte stand from Nuremberg to Berlin for the last 20 years, for about a month each time. On this Tuesday, however, his grill is empty. Officials at the Rotes Rathaus, Berlin’s city hall, requested that the Christmas markets be closed for at least a day. Of course, says Bergmann, “you always think it might happen, but then you ignore those thoughts,” he says. Over all those years.
And now? Bergmann shrugs his shoulders. What do you do? Keep on going. Live. Reopen the Grillhütte tomorrow. Because you can’t just hide out of fear. “Doesn’t do any good,” says a woman passing by. “You have to keep going.”
This was the mood in the German capital one day after the attack. Shaken but calm. Berlin has seen a lot in its day. And not only politicians and officials, but also city residents knew that there would eventually be an attack in Berlin. [Continue reading…]
Julian Borger writes: While the German police were looking for clues at the scene of the Berlin Christmas market attack and German leaders called for unity and calm, Donald Trump put out a statement from the other side of the world framing it as a jihadist onslaught against Christians.
“[Islamic State] and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad,” his statement on Monday said. “These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth.”
However, a Pakistani asylum seeker detained at the scene was released on Tuesday for lack of evidence and the hunt was still on for the driver of the truck 24 hours after Trump’s statement.
In contrast to Trump’s declaration, a statement from German president Joachim Gauck did not attempt to reach conclusions, but stressed solidarity among religious and ethnic communities. “The hatred of the perpetrators will not seduce to hate,” he said. “It will not drive a wedge through our coexistence. We will reach out to each other, we will talk to each other and we will care for each other.”
Trump’s readiness to cast blame from afar and to emphasize sectarian division – and the absence of an equivalent statement from his office about an attack on Muslims the same day in Switzerland – has added urgency to concerns that his gut reactions to world events will act as an amplifier and accelerator of global conflict. [Continue reading…]
Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2016
Here we go again! It’s a clash of civilizations.
I guess the next president of the United States hadn’t been briefed before he got on Twitter. Otherwise he would have been aware that in the attack in Zurich the target of the gunman was a group of worshipers gathered at an Islamic center.
The local police have since found a body which they have identified as the gunman and have ruled out any connection to ISIS in the attack.
Even before more details become known, I’m willing to draw some tentative conclusions. The gunman was a gun-owner (Switzerland has a high level of gun ownership) and he hated Muslims.
The attack in Zurich occurred at 5.30pm before the attack in Berlin at 8.15pm in which 12 people were murdered and 48 injured. If the gunman was motivated by revenge of some type it wasn’t for an atrocity that had yet to take place.
Earlier in the day, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey G. Karlov, was murdered by Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old off-duty or former Turkish police officer.
How are these events all tied together — apart from in a Trump tweet and by virtue of having occurred on the same day?
They all involve confusion around the meaning of personal responsibility.
With the assassination of Karlov, Altintas certainly wasn’t carrying out an act of random violence and yet whether the career diplomat (an expert on Korea) and representative of the Russian state shares personal responsibility for Russia’s policy on Syria is open to question. It seems most likely he became a target of choice because his public appearance provided the gunman with an opportunity.
In Berlin and Zurich it’s even clearer that the individual victims were given death sentences by their attackers who saw them as indistinguishable from the vast collective (Westerners and Muslims) that each was taken to represent.
If a change in thinking is called for — and indeed it is — it should focus on the promotion of personal responsibility.
Acts of violence that can inflame passions and irrationality across whole societies, must be seen for what they are: the actions of individuals.
Just as gun-owners across Switzerland are not responsible for the murderous intent on one man in Zurich, likewise millions of refugees across Europe are not responsible for the grotesque violence of a 23-year-old Pakistani refugee initially suspected of having carried out the attack in Berlin. Indeed, the latest report quotes a police source who said: “we have the wrong man.”
But this is the paradox in the get-tough approach to counter-terrorism: Because justice cannot be served on individuals who so often die while carrying out their acts of violence, the reactive impulse to throw a counterpunch often results in wild strikes that land far from the mark.
The violence that grabbed the headlines yesterday is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the three men who carried out the the attacks.
This shouldn’t be turned into a showdown between a self-proclaimed civilized world and an ill-defined adversary.
The Economist reports: In December 2010 Egypt’s cabinet discussed the findings of their National Youth Survey. Only 16% of 18-29-year-olds voted in elections, it showed; just 2% registered for volunteer work. An apathetic generation, concluded the ministers, who returned to twiddling their thumbs. Weeks later, Egypt’s youth spilled onto the streets and toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
The UN’s latest Arab Development Report, published on November 29th, shows that few lessons have been learnt. Five years on from the revolts that toppled four Arab leaders, regimes are ruthlessly tough on dissent, but much less attentive to its causes.
As states fail, youth identify more with their religion, sect or tribe than their country. In 2002, five Arab states were mired in conflict. Today 11 are. By 2020, predicts the report, almost three out of four Arabs could be “living in countries vulnerable to conflict”.
Horrifyingly, although home to only 5% of the world’s population, in 2014 the Arab world accounted for 45% of the world’s terrorism, 68% of its battle-related deaths, 47% of its internally displaced and 58% of its refugees. War not only kills and maims, but destroys vital infrastructure accelerating the disintegration.
The Arab youth population (aged 15-29) numbers 105m and is growing fast, but unemployment, poverty and marginalisation are all growing faster. The youth unemployment rate, at 30%, stands at more than twice the world’s average of 14%. Almost half of young Arab women looking for jobs fail to find them (against a global average of 16%).
Yet governance remains firmly the domain of an often hereditary elite. “Young people are gripped by an inherent sense of discrimination and exclusion,” says the report, highlighting a “weakening [of] their commitment to preserving government institutions.” Many of those in charge do little more than pay lip-service, lumping youth issues in with toothless ministries for sports. “We’re in a much worse shape than before the Arab Spring,” says Ahmed al-Hendawi, a 32-year-old Jordanian and the UN’s envoy for youth. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The warning came to the German security authorities in early September from “our best partners,” as they euphemistically refer to the American intelligence agencies: A terrorist assault might be in the works.
In the weeks that followed, the Germans identified a suspect, a refugee from Syria. They unearthed evidence that he had been casing a Berlin airport for an attack, and they recovered powerful explosives from his apartment, only to see him slip through their fingers. When they eventually captured him, the suspect promptly hanged himself in his jail cell.
The case was notable for its dramatic turns. But it also underscored two central challenges facing the Continent: getting a handle on the security risk related to the arrival of more than a million migrants last year, and addressing the continued reliance of European governments on intelligence from the United States to avert attacks.
Both issues have been plaguing Europe since the high-profile attacks in France and Belgium over the past two years. Governments have scrambled to counter the threat even as migrants, many with little or no documentation of their identity or country of origin, came over their borders in previously unheard-of numbers. The challenge has become more pressing in Germany in recent months after a spate of arrests and attacks, some linked to migrants.
“In a way, we have outsourced our counterterrorism to the United States,” said Guido Steinberg, a terrorism expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “The Germans are not ready to build up their intelligence capabilities for political reasons, so this will continue.” [Continue reading…]
David M Perry writes: In the early going of the second presidential debate, Anderson Cooper said to Donald Trump, “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?” Trump responded by saying his taped conversation with Billy Bush was just “locker room talk,” then pivoted to ISIS. He said, “You know, when we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have — and, frankly, drowning people in steel cages, where you have wars and horrible, horrible sights all over, where you have so many bad things happening, this is like medieval times.”
As a medieval historian, I’ve been watching the ways in which Trump, other politicians, and even plenty of journalists characterize ISIS and its horrific actions as “medieval.” I’ve always thought it was a mistake, but a mistake mostly limited to the world of rhetoric. On Friday, that changed. Three men were arrested for plotting to blow up an apartment complex that houses both a Mosque and many Muslim-Americans. They called themselves – The Crusaders.
The idea that contemporary military and terrorist activities in the Middle East embody a new Crusade isn’t exactly new. What’s startling is that today both supporters of ISIS and radical Christian terrorists have adopted the same language. Both sides are using medieval history to justify their violent intentions.
We have to push back on the notion that this ultra-contemporary conflict is the inevitable result of an unusual episode in the history of Islamic-Christian relations. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Three Kansas men were accused of plotting a bomb attack targeting an apartment complex home to a mosque and many Muslim immigrants from Somalia, authorities said Friday.
Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Eugene Stein face federal charges of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, the Department of Justice announced Friday.
“These charges are based on eight months of investigation by the FBI that is alleged to have taken the investigators deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said in a statement. “Many Kansans may find it as startling as I do that such things could happen here.”
According to the complaint, the investigation was prompted by a paid confidential informant who had attended meetings with a group of individuals calling themselves “the Crusaders,” and heard plans discussed plots to attack Muslims, whom they called “cockroaches.” [Continue reading…]
The Intercept reports: A secret FBI study found that anger over U.S. military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of “homegrown” terrorism. The report also identified no coherent pattern to “radicalization,” concluding that it remained near impossible to predict future violent acts.
The study, reviewed by The Intercept, was conducted in 2012 by a unit in the FBI’s counterterrorism division and surveyed intelligence analysts and FBI special agents across the United States who were responsible for nearly 200 cases, both open and closed, involving “homegrown violent extremists.” The survey responses reinforced the FBI’s conclusion that such individuals “frequently believe the U.S. military is committing atrocities in Muslim countries, thereby justifying their violent aspirations.”
Online relationships and exposure to English-language militant propaganda and “ideologues” like Anwar al-Awlaki are also cited as “key factors” driving extremism. But grievances over U.S. military action ranked far above any other factor, turning up in 18 percent of all cases, with additional cases citing a “perceived war against Islam,” “perceived discrimination,” or other more specific incidents. The report notes that between 2009 and 2012, 10 out of 16 attempted or successful terrorist attacks in the United States targeted military facilities or personnel. [Continue reading…]