Nabila Ramdani writes: With a grotesque matter-of-factness, suspected “Islamic terrorist” Yassine Salhi blamed “problems at home and at work” for beheading his boss last Friday. Salhi used a knife in the attack at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier in eastern France, before driving his delivery van into chemical canisters in an unsuccessful bid to blow up a factory.
Seifeddine Rezgui, who gunned down at least 38 people on a tourist beach in Tunisia on the same day, managed to get hold of an automatic weapon, but his profile was similar to Salhi’s. Neither man had a criminal record, and each was described by friends and neighbours as “normal”. There is no evidence of either travelling abroad to train for combat, and both had provoked little interest from the security services. They were thought to be “self-radicalised”, rather than members of a wider cell.
Unlike Rezgui, Salhi survived and is said to be offering “personal reasons” as mitigation for his sadistic criminality. He has played down his links with global jihad, according to sources close to the case, instead suggesting that he simply did not like his victim. Yet, crucially, he has told interrogators that he was interested in provoking a “media coup”: making a name for himself in front of an audience of millions. [Continue reading…]
Rick Perlstein writes: The terrorists attacked their target in New York on a sunny Tuesday in autumn — but not the sunny Tuesday we now commemorate. The year was 1981 — a year in which, as Bryan Burrough observes in Days of Rage, his sprawling history of America’s post-’60s radical underground, the country had suffered the greatest number of fatalities from terrorism in that era of radical violence. That figure would not be surpassed again until the year the World Trade Center was bombed.
The 1981 attack is one of dozens of acts of cinematic violence narrated in Days of Rage, and it encapsulates some of the book’s key themes. A leader in the group that staged the attack was a man named Sekou Odinga. Born Nathaniel Burns, he had returned from Algeria, where he’d worked as a deputy for Eldridge Cleaver, who had established the Black Panther Party’s “international section” there (and was accorded official diplomatic recognition from Algiers). “We have a solidarity group in China,” Cleaver told a writer visiting his lair, which had a giant electrified map with colored lights that could be flicked on and off to represent revolutionary battlefronts all over the world. “Its chairman is Chairman Mao.” Cleaver also informally directed a new group from Algeria: the Black Liberation Army, a collection of terrorist cells that crisscrossed the United States, ambushing cops in cold blood. Upon its dissolution, Odinga helped start an even more shadowy and brutal organization, so informal that it went nameless, although its members referred to it as “the Family.”
The Family had an advantage over the Black Liberation Army, what its leaders called a “white edge”: a band of worshipful white fellow travelers who provided cover by renting cars and forging IDs. What the disciples didn’t know was that in the New York action, Mutulu Shakur and his comrades were going to carry out a “revolutionary expropriation” in order to buy cocaine. While two white accomplices, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, waited in a U-Haul truck, Shakur and two other men leaped out of a nearby van, shot a Brink’s guard to death, loaded $1.6 million in cash into the van, and sped off. Police officers intercepted the U-Haul vehicle and were about to release its white occupants — eyewitnesses had said the criminals were black — when Shakur’s crew sprang out of the rented truck and raked Rockland County’s finest with machine-gun fire, killing two. Boudin and Gilbert ended up holding the bag, which had been the plan all along.
If the attack proved anything, it was the extraordinary resilience of “revolutionary” violence in the United States long after it had any conceivable chance of bringing about social change (assuming that such a chance existed in the first place). It also drew attention to the cultish behavior of the Family, their systematic exploitation of revolution-besotted acolytes, the incompetence of law-enforcement agencies in tracking them down, the underground network that assisted them, and the blood — barrels of it.
No less noteworthy is that even in our terror-obsessed era, the scale of this decadelong florescence of revolutionary domestic terrorism has been all but forgotten. [Continue reading…]
In post 9/11 America, terrorism has been used to justify wars, drone strikes, torture, secret detention, kidnapping, extrajudicial killing, mass surveillance, and the unfettered expansion of the national security state.
In recent days, numerous commentators, many of whom have surely previously been disturbed by the way the fear of terrorism has been used to manipulate this country’s political system and global outlook, are nevertheless now arguing that in America today the term “terrorist” is not being used broadly enough.
Since the white male Charleston killer, Dylann Roof, is unlikely to be branded a terrorist by public officials or in most of the media, Anthea Butler suggests:
Nevertheless, Butler writes:
The Charleston shooting is a result of an ingrained culture of racism and a history of terrorism in America. It should be covered as such. On Friday, Department of Justice spokeswoman Emily Pierce acknowledged that the Charleston shooting “was undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community” (though terrorism is not among the nine murder charges brought against Roof, so far). And now that Roof has admitted to killing those people to start a “race war,” we should be calling him what he is: a terrorist.
Ship him off to Guantánamo?
Terrorist is a politically charged and legally dubious term precisely because it gets used to shut down debate and curtail analysis. It is used to justify sidestepping due process and ignoring human rights.
The terrorist is the ghoul of modern America — the term functions more as an instrument of exorcism rather than illumination.
In America and elsewhere in the West, fear of terrorism dovetails with the inclinations to treat skin color as a mark of foreignness, and the tendency to view the foreign as threatening.
Calling Dylann Roof a white American terrorist, isn’t going to diminish the levels of racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia across this country.
Calling Roof a terrorist, merely elevates his infamy, grants him the attention he obviously craves and turns attention away from the flawed legal system that allowed a worm of hatred inside his mind to be transformed into an act of deadly violence.
In America, infamy is no harder to obtain than a gun.
I recognize that there is a common sentiment which justifiably perceives an undercurrent of racism in the way in which people get labelled terrorists — that it’s a term that sticks much more easily to non-whites and especially to Muslims — but I don’t think this indicates we lack a sufficiently expansive definition and application of the term.
On the contrary, we would be better off not using the term at all, rather than trying to make its application more racially inclusive.
Jared Keller argues:
by not calling Roof’s atrocity terrorism, we gloss over the past — and present — of white America’s war of terror against its black citizens.
To my mind, that assertion, much as it contains an element of truth, is also indicative of the cultural stranglehold with which the war-on-terrorism narrative continues to grip America, fourteen years after 9/11.
The only way in which we can sense the gravity of a mass killing is by calling it terrorism, because it goes without saying — supposedly — that nothing is more serious than terrorism.
The real problem here is not the failure to call Roof a terrorist, but rather a failure to acknowledge that America faces many issues that are actually much more serious than terrorism:
Racism, inequality, environmental degradation, an unsustainable economic system, and foundationally a societal breakdown that results from individual interests being placed above collective welfare.
In a mind-your-own-business society, the mass murderers always seemingly come out of nowhere. No one sees them coming, because no one was paying enough attention. A live-and-let-live philosophy easily shifts into a live-and-let-kill reality.
In a word, we live in a country where people do not care for each other enough.
We do not live in a country where the number of terrorists is being undercounted.
After the shooting, President Obama said: “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”
But why wasn’t that point reached long ago? The signs of this ugly form of American exceptionalism has been evident for decades.
Most Americans don’t own a gun and yet gun owners are more likely to think of themselves as “a typical American” (72% vs. 62%). Indeed, gun owners are more likely to say they “often feel proud to be American” (64% vs. 51%).
The most vocal among the 24% of Americans who own a gun are using their weapons to intimidate the whole population. Through their arrogance, ignorance and selfishness, they seem to imagine they have a stronger claim on what it means to be an American than everyone else.
After the Charleston shootings, National Rifle Association board member Charles Cotton blamed the deaths on one of the dead, Clementa Pinckney, who as a state senator had voted against a law allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons without permits.
“Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead,” Cotton wrote. “Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”
Gun owners like Cotton, regard guns as the protectors of freedom, and see gun control laws as threats to their own freedom. In practice, they prize their weapons more highly that the lives of the tens of thousands of Americans who get killed each year by firearms.
As Gary Younge writes:
America does not have a monopoly on racism. But what makes its racism so lethal is the ease with which people can acquire guns. While the new conversation around race will mean the political response to the fact of this attack will be different, the stale conversation around gun control means the legislative response to the nature of this attack will remain the same. Nothing will happen.
After Adam Lanza shot 20 primary school children and six adults in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 before turning his gun on himself, nothing happened. Seven children and teens are shot dead every day in America and nothing happens.
So these nine victims will join those who perished before them – a sacrifice to the blood-soaked pedestal erected around the constitution’s second amendment that gun lobbyists say guarantees the right of individuals to bear arms.
At some point, America as a nation needs to challenge its superstitious reverence for a piece of paper, and demonstrate that it is no longer willing to see the lives of so many of its citizen’s needlessly wasted.
The UK government has announced plans to bring in a new extremism bill in yet another attempt to strengthen its counter-terrorism powers. If enacted, the bill will join dozens of other pieces of legislation aimed in the same direction.
This latest addition to the already swollen terrorism statute book takes the UK further down a dangerous path, giving the government power to punish citizens even before they commit a crime.
It is hard to imagine that just 15 years ago, the UK did not have a single permanent piece of terrorism legislation. The threat of the IRA was handled with temporary provisions that were renewed each year, rather than with permanent measures.
The government powers that have accumulated since then have a direct effect on the presumption of innocence – a fundamental legal principle. Most terrorism powers now essentially distribute punishment before someone has even been charged – let alone convicted of a terrorism offence.
The new extremism bill seems to be made up primarily of such administrative measures. It includes banning orders and employment checks aimed at enabling companies to look into whether a potential employee is considered an extremist. The UK does not currently have a working definition of extremism so there is no consensus on what activities, attitudes and beliefs could lead to someone to be labelled an extremist.
Significantly, the new bill includes the creation of extremism disruption orders. These would give the police powers to apply to the high court to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. Those activities might include the risk of public disorder, harassment, alarm, distress or creating “a threat to the functioning of democracy”.
This is particularly concerning due to its vagueness. What exactly is a threat to the functioning of democracy? Not voting, or encouraging people not to vote, as comedian Russell Brand did in the run up to the 2015 election undermine the democratic process – is that enough for Brand to be subject to such measures?
These powers, dubbed extremism ASBOs by some, were first proposed last March, but were vetoed by the Liberal Democrats. The idea is to “stop extremists promoting views and behaviour that undermine British values” but by criminalising belief and behaviour without the need for a trial, these powers mark another step towards making the UK a pre-crime society.
Wall Street Journal: Police arrested four alleged right-wing extremists early Wednesday suspected of planning attacks on mosques and asylum seekers in Germany, the country’s top prosecutor said.
The Federal Prosecutor’s office said the four suspects procured explosives to carry out terrorist attacks in small groups on targets including mosques, accommodation for asylum seekers, and well-known Salafis—people who follow an ultra-fundamentalist branch of Islam.
According to the prosecutor’s office, 56-year old Andreas H., 39-year old Markus W., 22-year old Denise Vanessa G. and 47-year old Olaf O. are suspected of forming a right-wing terrorist group with other suspects called “Oldschool Society,” or OSS, no later than November last year.
Hussein Khalid writes: The merciless killing of more than 140 innocent students at Kenya’s Garissa University College last month by al-Shabab terrorists requires a serious government response — both from Kenya and the United States. Unfortunately, my government has decided to double down on a long-standing counterterrorism strategy that includes human rights abuses and the indiscriminate targeting of the country’s Muslims. This is guaranteed to make the situation worse, not better. As Kenya’s loyal partner, the United States must persuade Nairobi to drop this unsound strategy.
The Kenyan government is cracking down on those who have sought to engage in counter-radicalization efforts simply because they have dared to question its tactics. Without presenting any evidence, Kenya’s top police official recently tried to label my nongovernmental organization, Haki Africa, which documents and challenges human rights abuses perpetrated by Kenyan security forces, as a possible associate of al-Shabab. Our bank account was frozen simply because of the work that we do. Another organization, Muslims for Human Rights, was similarly targeted.
This action was just the latest in an increasingly worrying trend of harassment and intimidation of civil society organizations. Such a heavy-handed approach is more than unjust; it is also ineffective and counterproductive. By alienating an important and sizable Kenyan community, the government is losing a key ally in its fight against violent extremism. If this pattern continues, I fear the security situation in my country can only get worse. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel interviews Bruce Hoffman, author of Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle For Israel 1917-1947: Former Downing Street Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell negotiated with the IRA for nearly a decade under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and peace to Northern Ireland. Hoffman cites Powell’s book, “Talking To Terrorists,” three times in his new work.
In conversation a year ago, Powell admitted that powerful Western governments throughout the 20th century — particularly the British — operated with appalling hypocrisy by initially claiming that men like Nelson Mandela, Martin McGuinness, and Menachem Begin were terrorists, then, in the blink of an eye, portraying these men as honorable statesmen and forgetting about past atrocities.
Crucially, Powell admitted, states use the word “terrorist” as a form of insult and to help hold the balance of power when certain dissident actors threaten their legitimacy. And if so-called terrorists are using violence for purposes governments like, well, they tend to skip over that, Powell said.
In recalling this conversation to Hoffman, he nods his head in agreement.
“Look, that is absolutely right,” he says. “Terrorism is resorted to for practical reasons because there is no other tool available. And those who use terrorism, and then subsequently become the targets of terrorism, understand its power and how difficult it is to counter it. Not just militarily. But especially in terms of international perception. And that’s where Begin really was a master strategist.”
Hoffman, like Powell, says he is not championing terrorism. But as a realist, he claims the point of his book is not to get bound up by moral judgments when speaking about the subject.
Given that Israeli politicians fundamentally understand how Jewish terrorism played such an effective role in helping bring about the State of Israel, is it naïve to think they might have more of a sympathetic understanding of why Palestinians currently use terrorism to try to achieve their political objectives?
“Well it’s far more simple than that,” Hoffman replies. “No country that is created where terrorism has played some role wants to admit it, for fear of that weapon being used against them. And that’s what is really at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [Continue reading…]
The twin towers, Madrid, July 7, Charlie Hebdo… the list of terrorist political acts and their victims feels endless. When people are killed and lives threatened for political motivations, demands for immediate reprisals and military counter-measures usually follow suit.
Military force and policing is our default tactic – and talking to terrorists, by contrast, feels counter-intuitive. After all, surely talking to murderers, criminals and fanatics will only legitimise their aims and tactics.
And yet, from Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress to Gerry Adams’ Sinn Fein to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation, history shows that talking with terrorists has often been a prerequisite for peace.
A recent debate organised by Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations brought together a former terrorist, the daughter of a victim of a terrorist bomb attack and experts on extreme violence to discuss whether we should in fact talk to terrorists.
The resounding conclusion was that there is no choice other than to talk to terrorists to bring their violence to an end. But, for genuine dialogue which addresses root causes as well as violent symptoms we need to shift our own ways of thinking too. We need to talk with those who are defined or labelled as terrorists, not simply to or at them.
The events leading up to the marathon tragedy aside, to some extent the story of the Tsarnaev family is the story of many immigrant families to the United States. Every family’s particular set of circumstances is different, of course, but the Tsarnaevs shared with others an intense condition of dislocation. What do we know about this?
If I had a penny for every time I thought, in the process of writing this book, There but for the grace of God . . . I don’t mean that every immigrant is at risk of becoming a terrorist, but I do mean that the immigrant existence is precarious and the things that go wrong can seem so minor—until they add up to tragedy. If Tamerlan’s dream of a boxing career had come true—and he was certainly gifted enough—the Boston bombing probably would not have happened. But I also have to wonder about smaller things. What if the Tsarnaevs’ sisters’ marriages had been happy? What if the beauty salon at which Zubeidat worked hadn’t fallen victim to the financial crisis? What if life had been just a little bit wealthier and just a little bit easier? Perhaps they would not have felt so much the outsiders.
The Tsarnaev case illuminates debates among experts about the path taken toward extremism—specifically, Islamic extremism—by some young people in Western countries, Europe as well as the United States. Can you tell us what this debate is about, and how the Tsarnaev story fits in?
Since 9/11 we have somehow come to accept the “radicalization” narrative, which basically holds that people become terrorists through a series of consecutive, traceable steps laid out for them by large international Islamic organizations. Reality is messier, and also smaller. First of all, radical beliefs are not a predictor of terrorist behavior: most people who hold radical beliefs never become terrorists, and some terrorists don’t hold radical beliefs. Second, this theory ignores the benefits of becoming a terrorist: it’s a shortcut to becoming a somebody, to belonging, perhaps even to becoming “great.” Look at the people who carried out the terrorist attacks of this past winter in Sydney, Paris, and Copenhagen. What do they have in common with one another and with the Tsarnaev brothers? They come from marginalized immigrant existences. They see a chance not only to become a part of something and become somebody but also a chance to declare war on a great power. And the great power accepts that declaration, which is I think the shortsighted and tragic way in which the war on terror has contributed to the glamorization and aggrandizement of terror itself.
Bryan Burrough writes: Ever since 9/11, the threat of terrorist bombs on U.S. soil has become a major concern, drawing the attention of hordes of federal investigators and journalists. What few Americans remember clearly today is that barely 40 years ago, during the tumultuous 70s, such bombings were more or less routine, carried out by a half-dozen significant groups of underground radicals, from the Symbionese Liberation Army (best known for kidnapping the heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974) to lesser-known outfits like the F.A.L.N., a Puerto Rican independence group that bombed a Wall Street–area restaurant, Fraunces Tavern, killing four people in January 1975. Amazingly, during an 18-month period in 1971 and 1972, the F.B.I. counted more than 1,800 domestic bombings, almost five a day.
By far the best known of the radical underground groups was Weatherman, later known as the Weather Underground, which detonated dozens of bombs across the country from 1970 until it dissolved in late 1976. A splinter faction of the 60s-era protest group Students for a Democratic Society, Weather has been the subject of a dozen books, memoirs, and documentary films; its best-known leaders, Bernardine Dohrn and her husband, Bill Ayers, remain icons on the radical left to this day. Yet despite all the attention, very little has ever been revealed about the group’s internal dynamics, even less about its bombing tactics and strategies, a topic that few Weather alumni, mostly now in their 60s, have ever been eager to discuss publicly.
Partly as a result, Weather’s seven-year bombing campaign has been misunderstood in fundamental ways. To cite just one canard, Weather’s attacks, for much of its life, were the work not of 100or more underground radicals, as was widely assumed, but of a core group of barely a dozen people; almost all its bombs, in fact, were built by the same capable young man—its bomb guru. Nor, contrary to myth, did Weather’s leaders operate from grinding poverty or ghetto anonymity. In fact, Dohrn and Ayers lived in a beach bungalow in the seaside village of Hermosa Beach, California.
Of far greater significance is the widespread confusion over what Weather set out to do. Its alumni have crafted an image of the group as benign urban guerrillas who never intended to hurt a soul, their only goal to damage symbols of American power, such as empty courthouses and university buildings, a Pentagon bathroom, the U.S. Capitol. This is what Weather eventually became. But it began as something else, a murderous core group that was obliged to soften its tactics only after they proved unsustainable. [Continue reading…]
David Wise writes: To keep a target under continuous surveillance, according to one experienced FBI source who asked to remain anonymous, could require three eight-hour shifts or perhaps two 12-hour shifts, with four special agents each shift. Several cars would be needed, sometimes even airplanes. If only one car was used, the person might quickly realize he was being followed.
“If you are just sitting around in the street, somebody’s going to notice you,” Parker explained. “If it’s a real sensitive case, you just cannot be made. You would run five or six cars, maybe seven or eight. If you don’t want any chance of the target making you, the average is three shifts, four guys to a shift, two cars — that’s a minimum. Three shifts, so 12 agents. If it’s a really important case, you could easily double that.” That minimum translates into 24 agents in three shifts of eight agents to keep watch on a single target.
Parker, who spent much of his career tracking Soviet and Russian spies, noted, “Most surveillance subjects are not moving more than a few hours a day. So you may also have to set up an OP [observation post],” often a house or apartment overlooking the target.
Just as the French services wiretapped the cellphones of the Paris terrorists, the FBI does not limit itself to physical surveillance of a subject. “You would also have technical means,” one surveillance specialist, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “If you run 24-hour surveillance, you have telephones, both cell and land lines, MISUR [microphone surveillance] and stationery lookouts.”
Agents might also lock onto the GPS of the suspect’s car, to see where he or she is going. In one high-profile espionage case, the FBI placed radio receivers at fixed points around the Washington area and was also able to plant an electronic device in the suspect’s car. When the target car passed by one of the receivers, the time and location were recorded. This setup was similar to the E-ZPass system, which is used by commuters to breeze through toll plazas without stopping.
With so much manpower required to monitor just one suspect, FBI supervisors often resist mounting a 24/7 surveillance. It takes away agents who might be working other cases. A smaller field office might not have enough agents. [Continue reading…]
M. Steven Fish writes: There is a widely held belief in the United States today that Islam is a religion that goads its followers to violence. And indeed, global terrorism today is disproportionately an Islamist phenomenon, as I show in my recent book. The headlines in the past months have been full of Islamist-fueled violence, such as ISIS killing its hostages, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and yesterday’s attack on a Copenhagen café.
And a cursory look at the data shows that from 1994-2008, I found that 204 high-casualty terrorist bombings occurred worldwide and that Islamists were responsible for 125, or 61 percent, of these incidents, accounting for 70 percent of all deaths.
I exclude from the data all terrorist incidents that occurred in Iraq after the American invasion, and I consider attacks on occupying military forces anywhere to be guerilla resistance, not terrorism. I also use a restrictive definition of “Islamist” and classify attacks by Chechen separatists as ethnonational rather than Islamist terrorism. In other words, even when we define both “terrorism” and “Islamist” restrictively, thereby limiting the number of incidents and casualties that can be blamed on Islamists, Islamists come out as the prime culprits.
So, all that would seem to suggest Islam is more violent, right?
Not so. Rewind fifty or a hundred years and it was communists, anarchists, fascists, and others who thought than any means justified their glorious ends. Even now, Islamists are by no means the sole perpetrators. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Colombia’s “narcoterrorists” blow up civilians and have nothing to do with Islam. In the United States, law enforcement considers the “sovereign citizens movement” to be a greater threat than Islamist terrorists. However, Islamists do commit most of the terrorism globally these days.
Look more closely, though, and you’ll see they don’t attack in the West very often. Of the 125 attacks committed by Islamists that I studied, 77—62 percent — of them were committed in predominantly Muslim countries, and their victims were overwhelmingly other Muslims. Another 40 attacks took place in just three countries — Israel, India, and the Philippines. Only four of the 125 attacks happened in the Western Hemisphere or Europe. They were ghastly and dramatic, just as they were intended to be. But they were, and still are, rare.
That means the risk of an American being killed by any act of terrorism in a given year is roughly one in 3.5 million, and the chances are that the act of terrorism won’t be committed by an Islamist. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: As Barack Obama prepares to host a summit on preventing homegrown terrorism, he faces a backlash from those he says he wants to empower: American Muslim community leaders, who warn that the summit risks stigmatizing and even endangering them.
Hanging over the “countering violent extremism” (CVE) summit, to be held Tuesday through Thursday at the White House and State Department, is Wednesday’s brutal murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina.
In the wake of the killings, Muslim leaders, some of whom met with Obama recently, say that whatever the summit’s intentions, it will reinforce a message that American Muslims are to be hated and feared, a spark in what they consider to be a powder-keg of Islamophobia in the media and online.
The killing of Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, “really underscores how dangerous it is for the US government, including the White House, to focus its countering violent extremism initiatives primarily on American Muslims”, said Farhana Khera, the executive director of civil rights law firm Muslim Advocates.
“We’ve long said to the administration, to those in government, that directing the bulk of CVE resources to US Muslims undermines the safety of all of us and endangers US Muslims, because it sends the message our community is to be viewed with fear, suspicion and even hate.” [Continue reading…]
He was undoubtedly one of the worst “lone-wolf” terrorists in modern history. On July 22, 2011, after trying to take out Norway’s political leadership in Oslo with a car bomb and killing eight people, Anders Breivik boarded a ferry wearing a homemade police uniform and took it to a nearby island where he murdered another 69 people, most of them teenagers attending a youth camp run by the country’s Labour Party. Hunting them down methodically, as if he had all the time in the world, he acted in the coldest of cold blood. Some of them were shot in the head at point-blank range. The killer, the “wolf” of that moment, committed his act, he claimed, to stop the “Islamicization” of his country. He was also against “feminism,” “cultural Marxism,” “Eurabia,” and his country’s ruling Labour Party.
Just stop for a moment and try to imagine the response here, had such a thing happened. I guarantee you that, in security terms, our world would have been changed in major ways. It would have grown even more controlled, surveilled, and militarized. More money would have flowed into the coffers of the national security state. More private contractors would have been hired. You know the routine. In the U.S., smaller versions of such attacks, like the Boston Marathon bombing, have galvanized the country and so helped further expand the national security apparatus, as well as the locking down of ever more places and things. In these years, fevers of panic about terror and terrorists have repeatedly swept the country. Put another way, otherwise pathetic individuals who would normally have no way of affecting our American world turn out to be remarkably capable of altering our lives and society in major ways.
Norway is a small country. One in four Norwegians reported knowing “someone affected by the attacks,” including the prime minister at that time, Jens Stoltenberg. Under the circumstances, it’s remarkable that Stoltenberg insisted “the Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness, and greater political participation” and ordinary citizens refused to react in the American fashion. In the wake of an “incident” that might have transformed any society, a madman’s cold-blooded political slaughter of innocents, Norwegians, individually and en masse, chose not to panic or let their world be altered by Breivik’s horrific acts. They did not build a greater counterterror security structure; they did not change their laws or create special terror legislation; they did not try Breivik in some special way; they did not even close their parliament and ring it with fortifications. They were determined not to let Breivik deprive them of the openness they valued. They exhibited neither hysteria nor bloodlust. It was, in our world, the bravest of collective acts, stunning in its restraint.
If only we Americans could say the same. Now, as TomDispatch regular Matthew Harwood of the ACLU writes, alarm over what is supposed to be our latest terror threat — “lone-wolf” attacks — is on the rise here in the U.S, and is more or less guaranteed to change our society for the worse. Though curiously, our most notorious “lone-wolf” killer, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghans — nine of them children — and wounded six more in a night of cold-blooded mayhem in Kandahar, Afghanistan, caused hardly a ripple here. All that’s now needed is a high-profile lone-wolf attack in “the homeland,” and it doesn’t have to be anywhere near as devastating as Breivik’s or Bales’s. (Most lone-wolf operations, as Harwood indicates, are not especially effective or destructive.) In the meantime, while the lone wolf makes his (and yes, they are mostly men) appearance in our American world of national security fear and hysteria, there have been no serious attempts to put the exceedingly modest dangers involved in perspective. So TomDispatch is proud to have what may be the first such article of our moment. Tom Engelhardt
The lone-wolf terror trap
Why the cure will be worse than the disease
By Matthew Harwood
The shadow of a new threat seems to be darkening the national security landscape: the lone-wolf terrorist.
“The lone wolf is the new nightmare,” wrote Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer recently, and the conservative pundit wasn’t alone in thinking so. “I really see [lone wolves] as being a bigger threat than al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State, or the al-Qaeda franchises,” Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at the global intelligence and advisory firm Stratfor, told VICE News. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, appearing on “Meet the Press,” Attorney General Eric Holder said, “The thing that I think keeps me up most at night [is] this concern about the lone wolf who goes undetected.”
You could multiply such statements many times over. There’s only one problem with the rising crescendo of alarm about lone wolves: most of it simply isn’t true. There’s nothing new about the “threat” and the concept is notoriously unreliable, as well as selectively used. (These days, “lone wolf” has largely become a stand-in for “Islamic terrorist,” though the category itself is not bound to any specific ideological type.) Worst of all, its recent highlighting paves the way for the heightening of abusive and counterproductive police and national security practices, including the infiltration of minority and activist communities and elaborate sting operations that ensnare the vulnerable. In addition, the categorization of such solitary individuals as terrorists supposedly driven by ideology — left or right, secular or religious — often obscures multiple other factors that may actually cause them to engage in violence.
M. Steven Fish points out that “people in Christian countries make up one-third of the world’s population, while holding two-thirds of its wealth and nine-tenths of its military might.”
He goes on to engage in “some extravagant futuristic thinking,” imagining that “over the next several decades, Christendom declines. Imperial overstretch cripples the United States, while Western Europe’s gradual decline continues. Lower hydrocarbons prices and rulers’ boundless greed leave Russia in a position of fading sway as well.”
Given this scenario, he writes:
In order to participate successfully in the global economy as well as scholarly discourse and cultural production, Americans, Frenchmen, Brazilians and Russians now must master Mandarin and Modern Standard Arabic — with Turkish and Indonesian strongly recommended. Arab countries easily dismantle the state of Israel. The occasional invasion and occupation of parts of Russia, Southeastern Europe and the Philippines at moments when China or the Muslim countries believe they detect a security threat from those Christian lands becomes part of the rhythm of global politics. Such actions spark outrage in Christendom. But they do not prompt concerted, effective counteractions, since Christian countries no longer have the ability or will to resist.
In fact, many leaders in Europe and the Americas cannot resist financial enticements offered by China and the Muslim states, which help fund electoral campaigns and personal consumption. The lucre cools Western leaders’ passions for resisting what at any rate seem like inexorable trends in world politics.
Would everyone in Christendom accept these developments calmly? Some might not. Disregard for their cultures, languages, forms of government, products, services and security concerns may even ignite a widespread, slow-burning rage. The suspicion that even some of their own leaders were complicit in their countries’ degradation might be the final straw.
The final straw, that is, that broke a healthy human abhorrence of deadly violence against innocents and a normal human capacity for distinguishing between innocents and oppressors. Under such conditions, is it difficult to imagine that some self-proclaimed soldiers of Christianity would lash out by committing terrorist acts?
Yuval Noah Harari writes: As the literal meaning of the word indicates, terror is a military strategy that hopes to change the political situation by spreading fear rather than by causing material damage. This strategy is almost always adopted by very weak parties, who are unable to inflict much material damage on their enemies. Of course, every military action spreads fear. But in conventional warfare, fear is a byproduct of material losses, and is usually proportional to the force inflicting the losses. In terrorism, fear is the whole story, and there is an astounding disproportion between the actual strength of the terrorists and the fear they manage to inspire.
It is not easy to change the political situation through violence. On the first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, 19,000 members of the British army were killed and another 40,000 wounded. By the time the battle ended in November, both sides together had suffered more than a million casualties, which included 300,000 dead. Yet this unimaginable carnage hardly changed the political balance of power in Europe. It took another two years and millions of additional casualties for something finally to snap.
Compared to the Somme offensive, terrorism is a puny matter. Most terrorist attacks kill only a handful of people. In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel, when buses and restaurants were hit every few days, the yearly toll reached 451 dead Israelis. In the same year, 542 Israelis were killed in car accidents. A few terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, kill hundreds. The 9/11 attacks set a new record, killing nearly 3,000 people. Yet even this is dwarfed by conventional warfare: if you add all the people killed and wounded in Europe by terrorist attacks since 1945 – including victims of nationalist, religious, leftist and rightist groups – it will still represent many fewer casualties than in any number of obscure first world war battles, such as the third battle of the Aisne (250,000 casualties) or the 10th battle of the Isonzo (225,000 casualties). [Continue reading…]
Lyric R Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe write: People think that catching terrorists is just a matter of finding them – but, just as often, terrorists are created by the people doing the chase.
While making our film (T)ERROR, which tracks a single counter-terrorism sting operation over seven months, we realized that most people have serious misconceptions about FBI counter-terrorism efforts. They assume that informants infiltrate terrorist networks and then provide the FBI with information about those networks in order to stop terrorist plots from being carried out. That’s not true in the vast majority of domestic terrorism cases.
Since 9/11, as Human Rights Watch and others have documented, the FBI has routinely used paid informants not to capture existing terrorists, but to cultivate them. Through elaborate sting operations, informants are directed to spend months – sometimes years – building relationships with targets, stoking their anger and offering ideas and incentives that encourage them to engage in terrorist activity. And the moment a target takes a decisive step forward, crossing the line from aspirational to operational, the FBI swoops in to arrest him. [Continue reading…]