Friday, May 7, 2010

So, Who's a Terrorist? What's a Terrorist?

The 12th century Minar-e-Jam in eastern Afghanistan, a standing reminder that this region was not always about gun-toting religious fanatics and opium dealers.

I've always said that the 19 guys armed with nothing but box-cutters who did September 11th succeeded where Hitler and Stalin failed. The hijackers sent the United States into a panicked tailspin from which it has yet to pull out. While police and military responses have been largely professional, the responses of popular opinion and political policy have been anything but. The military and police responses have been at their worst when driven by popular opinion and politics. I think it is notable that the most stubborn and sustained resistance to the Bush/Obama policies of arbitrary detention and torture of terror suspects comes from within the ranks of the military and intelligence services.

Now, in the wake of the (fortunately) incompetent attempt to bomb Times Square, there is a rash (in every sense of the word) of irresponsible political pronouncements and proposals. I can't decide whether the idea of arbitrarily revoking the citizenship of terror suspects, or resistance to the idea of banning the sale of weapons to terror suspects, is stupid or cynical or both. There is the usual demonizing of Islam and Muslims coming from some Christian pulpits. There is an acute spike in tensions between Muslim communities and their neighbors in New York (especially between Bengalis and Latinos in the Bronx).

In the midst of the hysteria and the cynicism, it's refreshing and instructive to hear someone who knows what they are talking about.

New York Times reporter David Rohde won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the wars in Afghanistan, and another for his coverage of the massacres of Bosnian Muslims. He spent 7 months as a prisoner of the Taliban in the frontier region of Pakistan. Here is his interview with Terry Gross yesterday.

Among the many points he makes about the Times Square bombing attempt, Islam, and terrorism in general are these:
--The overwhelming majority of terror victims are Muslims.
--As much as the Pakistani army is suspected of divided loyalties in the USA, over 2000 Pakistani soldiers have died fighting the Taliban and foreign terrorists in the Frontier Provinces; more than twice the number of US dead in Afghanistan. Rohde was rescued by Pakistani soldiers.
--Far from being popular, the Taliban fighters are hated and feared by the local tribal populations in these areas. While American drone strikes are deeply resented in most of Pakistan, they are popular among the tribal peoples in the very areas where the strikes are frequent. Taliban rule is total domination ruthlessly enforced with cruelty and violence. American and Pakistani forces have had their greatest successes exploiting the local resentment against the Taliban and their allies.
--Most of the recent terror strikes in Pakistan and against NATO forces in Afghanistan have originated out of North Waziristan which has become a kind of Taliban satrapy. Their hold on the tiny province is a consequence, not of military incompetence, but of regional politics. The India-Pakistan conflict plays a much larger role than most Americans realize.
--These tribal areas are the creation of bad colonial policies by the British in the 19th century, and perpetuated by the Pakistanis in the 20th century. They were dominated and exploited by the United States in the 1980s as a base from which to launch attacks on the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. The USA once cultivated the same Islamist fanatics it now fights in the region.
--The Taliban and their allies are highly motivated. They truly believe that they are carrying out God's will upon earth. They believe that they are engaged in an apocalyptic struggle against the forces of Satan, represented in their minds by the liberal and secularizing West. All the fighters have a profound sense that they are doing something momentous. They truly despise life in this world and focus exclusively upon the next life. When Rohde once exclaimed that he missed his family, his guard said to him that his relationship with God should matter more than his relationship to his family.
--There is a strange mix of technological sophistication and parochialism among the fighters. The same militants who make such skillful use of the Internet have very little knowledge of the world beyond their part of the Afghanistan/ Pakistan border. They asked Rohde if the Vietnamese were Muslim.
--Rohde points out that the accused Times Square bomber is talking to the police, and that he is probably not confessing. He's boasting.

Speaking of stupid and cynical, there's this political ad from Dan Fanelli, running for Congress in Florida:

How about this person. Does she look like a terrorist? Does she fit the profile?

This is Colleen Larose, aka "Jihad Jane" who really did work for Islamist terrorists.

And then there's this guy who really did fly a plane into an IRS building in Austin, killing a government employee.

Joe Stack looks more like Dan Fanelli than like any dark Mid-Eastern type. So explain to me how this guy who flew a plane into a government building is not a terrorist.

And then there's this bright white boy who carried out the biggest single act of mass murder in American history before September 11th. Does he look like a terrorist?

Tim McVeigh killed 168 people when he bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, including a daycare center full of small children.

So who's a terrorist? When's a terrorist not a terrorist?

Yes, there really are people out there trying to kill us. We're not going to stop them by acting like cowboys on crack who bomb first and ask questions later. We're only going to stop them by doing the very difficult and unglamorous work of finding out exactly who "they" are and where they come from, and why they are so determined to murder us. We can only stop them with the cooperation of others in the region and around the world. We must do the emotionally difficult and frequently frustrating work of cultivating friendships. It is so much less emotionally satisfying than dropping "daisy-cutter" bombs on people who are different from us, but it is much more necessary to keep us all safe. A world full of reliable friends is a much safer place for us than a sullen world under our domination.

Hat tip to Jon Stewart for the inspiration for the later part of this post.


He may not look Mid-Eastern, but Ted Kacynski does look like a terrorist...which of course he was.


Stacy Hackenberg said...

Thanks for the Fanelli ad. I had a shorter version on my site, but apparently it was pulled.

Islam,like Christianity, gets stereotyped by its louder and more extreme elements. Just like it's easy to believe that all Muslims are terrorists, it's easy to believe that all Christians are right-wing, homophobic, and Republican. Neither happens to be true, it's just that those elements get all the press.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

It's so shameful! and you are in such deep waters I might as well begin to despare :-(

Unknown said...

Terrorists come in every ethnic background and from even our own country.

Another one has to be the unabomber, Ted Kaczynski as well.

Counterlight said...

Unabomber Ted is definitely a terrorist.