Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

TERRORISM 101

Everyone talks about stopping terrorism. But to do that, we must understand what terrorism is. That will help us make rational, as opposed to emotional, decisions about what might work and what won’t.

To begin, terrorism is not a lone wolf or a pair of gunmen with a grudge who shoot up a school or movie theater. That’s criminal insanity and subject to another discussion. Terrorism constitutes a tool—acts of violence or the threat of violence to further an ongoing political or religious cause. Today’s most aggressive and pervasive such cause is Islamism—the desire of some Muslims to impose their fundamentalist tenets on the Muslim world now and the rest of us later.

Islamists know that military conquest of the West isn’t possible. But for now at least they have no intention of conquering us. Instead, they utilize terrorism on a relatively small if murderous scale to sow fear. This they hope will produce enough turmoil to lead to civic unrest and induce Western governments’ withdrawal from engagement with the Muslim world. Weak Muslim nations then will be easy prey.

How do you defeat terrorism? Terrorism, I repeat, is a tool. Intelligence services and military forces can uncover terrorist plots and strike at perpetrators, planners, supporters and advocates. But terrorism cannot be eliminated without discrediting its underlying ideology.

Truth helps. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did the United States no favors by talking about a War on Terror for fear of offending Muslims. Mr. Obama finally used the word “Islamism” in his recent speech from the Oval Office. This was long overdue. Sadly, he often has failed to communicate with candor and anything approaching the passionate resolve Americans expect.

At the same time, many of the steps he has taken have been correct if limited. And Mr. Obama understands that Islamism will not be obliterated without the assistance of the Muslims it directly threatens. Yet obtaining that assistance won’t be easy. According to a July 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, “The Middle East is the sole region where anti-Americanism is both deep and widespread. Eighty-five percent of Egyptians and Jordanians and 73% of Turks voice a negative opinion of the United States. Only 10% of Egyptians, 12% of Jordanians and 19% of Turks have a favorable view.” Fortunately, the numbers are slightly more favorable than a year earlier.

Still, Donald Trump wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. Ted Cruz calls for carpet-bombing Raaka (Syria), ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, killing masses of civilians along with ISIS fighters and administrators. Both acts will alienate our own Muslim citizens and Muslims abroad who might work with us.

Statesmanship must play a major role in combating ISIS. It demands carefully chosen—but not misleading—language. This means not backing other Muslim nations into a corner while retaining our strong resolve. I recall a newspaper article from years ago. A teacher in a Chicago high school encountered two combative students. One had a gun. The teacher never threatened. Instead, he said, “Let me hold your gun.” The armed student—called out but not cornered—yielded the weapon.

I ask Republican candidates to think before they speak—a tall order. And I ask our government to acknowledge reality. Both rabblerousing and disingenuousness only make the problem worse.

The blog will take a break during the end of the year and resume on January 8. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and to all, best wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding New Year.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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SAN BERNARDINO

In a way, San Bernardino in Southern California’s Inland Empire has become America’s Paris and also its Jerusalem.

Why Paris? The City of Light symbolizes Western enlightenment and respect for human rights—values Islamists deplore. Why Jerusalem? The capital of Israel—even if the United States maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv—represents another symbol deplored by Islamists. It’s the power of Jews to direct their own future in the Middle East no longer subjugated, and periodically persecuted, under Muslim rule.

Why San Bernardino? While major cities across the nation guard against Islamist terrorism—New York and Boston have been there—“San Berdoo” in Southern California’s Inland Empire proved a target of opportunity. A Muslim couple—local residents—appear to have chosen to make a statement: No one is safe anywhere in America.

Much investigative work remains before conclusions can be drawn about whether the couple—he American-born, she Pakistani-born and raised in Saudi Arabia where they met—constituted a sleeper cell of ISIS or one of the Al Qaeda groups. But they seem to have become radicalized at some point, possibly years ago. And the military-style clothing, body armor, automatic weapons and remote-controlled bombs hint at long-term planning indicative of much more than a workplace confrontation.

Here, I want to go back to Israel, the Islamist mindset and Western perceptions. While Paris has been tense but thankfully quiet for the last few weeks, Jerusalem and all Israel continue to face what some term the “Knife Intifada.” Many dozens of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians—women as well as men—have attacked Jewish civilians, soldiers and police. Most have used knives. A few have used vehicles. Some attackers have killed Israelis. Many attackers have been killed as Israelis defended themselves.

The West was riveted by Paris. Now, the American media understandably devotes much time to San Bernardino. Yet while Frenchmen and Americans are up in arms, the story in Israel arouses little ire. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry appear to see these as “small” political attacks divorced from Islamism and anti-Semitism. Mr. Kerry initially suggested the “logic” of disillusioned Arabs in Israel and on the West Bank expressing frustration with the failure of talks to establish a Palestinian State.

When it comes to Israel, the media often skews the situation. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle’s World section headlined: “Israeli troops kill 2 Palestinians after stabbing attempts.” Imagine running the headline, “California police kill 2 Muslims after shots fired in government building.”

That said let’s not lust after simple solutions. Fighting a totalitarian pathology like Islamism—Muslim but not to be confused with Islam—represents a complex undertaking. We’ll likely see more U.S. military muscle in Syria and Iraq during 2016. That’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Regrettably, we’re also likely to see more anti-Muslim paranoia. That’s both wrong and foolish. As Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, a Navy reserve officer and teacher at the Naval War College wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, “If we don’t want to play into the hands of Islamic State propaganda that America is at war with Islam, we must stand up against Islamophobia.” As rhetoric heats up may cool heads prevail.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

EXODUS AND CHARLIE HEBDO

Recently, I saw a Hollywood guild screening of Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. Last Wednesday, two gunmen killed 12 people at the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo. (As I write, French security forces have just killed the terrorists.) The film and the murders tell overlapping yet different stories.

If you’re thinking, “Wait. I’ve got to go to see Exodus: Gods and Kings,” save your money. What makes this movie silly isn’t its use of imagination. Vast gaps exist in the biblical narrative. Jewish Midrash has sought to fill them for 2,000 years. The movie, however, changed the biblical narrative itself. Also upsetting to some, the film portrays a human image of God—a young boy. This goes against both Jewish and Muslim tradition, the latter formulated almost two millennia after Sinai and the commandment against graven images.

Should we threaten those involved with Exodus: Gods and Kings? Pass restrictive laws? Shut theaters? Not at all. First, Hollywood is Hollywood. Truth and reality play second fiddle to storyline. Second, we revere free speech. By “we,” I refer to America and the West. Hollywood can make silly movies. Moviegoers can adore or trash them. We permit the tension produced by the foolish or even tasteless. In general, the Muslim world does not.

Morocco and Egypt banned the movie. The United Arab Emirates is thinking about it. Syria? Iraq? Afghanistan? Pakistan? In many areas of those and other Muslim nations, you’d be lucky to find a theater showing anything produced in the West. Or even to find a theater. Governments replacing discussion and argument with bans create a restrictive worldview that imperils freedom and ultimately life itself. The murders in Paris represent one example.

This wasn’t Charlie Hebdo’s first encounter with violence. In 2011, the magazine was firebombed after running a spoof issue “guest edited” by Muhammad. Tasteless? Offensive? Maybe. That’s the nature of satire, and satire is a key element of free speech, pricking the pomposity of the powerful and power-hungry. This time, the magazine suffered a catastrophe undertaken by Islamists seeking vengeance in the name of God.

Does God need human protection? Since Muslims revere Moses, I wonder if the killers were familiar with the Book of Exodus, which the Jewish Torah cycle has just begun. They might not like the outcome of the Exodus story: the Israelites march off towards the Promised Land. But Moses and Aaron don’t defend God. God defends the Israelites. The Ten Plagues testify to the biblical God of history Who has all the muscle He needs.

The West is going through a difficult time. European rightwing, anti-Muslim movements are mushrooming. Callers to American talk-radio shows are foaming at the mouth. Few can provide a rational response, particularly when confronted by the fact that a Muslim policeman was one of those killed in the Paris massacre. He was there to defend Charlie Hebdo. To defend us all.

What to do? Maintain security for one thing. We’ll probably be contending with Islamism for a long time. Maintain good will towards Muslims of good will for another. And continue to support free speech.

In memory of those killed at Charlie Hebdo, I’m attaching a short story (PDF) I recently wrote—satire, naturally—“The Laughing Room.” The Laughing Room-Perlstein Give it a read. And pass it on. Let’s add to the growing chorus of, “Je suis Charlie.”

I’ll take a break next week and post again on January 23.

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“TOY STORY REDUX” — A PREVENTABLE FABLE

Less than twenty-four hours after coordinated attacks left more than 750 Holiday shoppers dead and twice as many wounded, the White House conceded the likelihood of a terrorist operation.

President Obama also urged shopping malls throughout the nation to reopen tomorrow. “We can not, indeed we must not, allow terrorists to derail our Holiday shopping and thus set back our fragile economy.”

The President and top security officials conducted a videoconference with the mayors and chiefs of police of the cities in which the shootings occurred: Orlando, Memphis, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Tucson. The governors of Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona attended.

A White House spokesman acknowledged that the attacks could not have been foreseen despite extensive security procedures. “Naturally, no one suspected anything was amiss. The shooter teams in each city made themselves practically invisible by walking into malls carrying AK-47 assault rifles with orange tips on their barrels.”

Federal law requires orange tips on the barrels of replica weapons to identify them as non-lethal collectors’ items.

Eyewitnesses in Dallas said that a young girl called out, “Mommy, those men have guns. I’m scared.” Her father then scolded her: “See those orange tips? Those nice men just want to have fun. Don’t you go trying to spoil someone’s Christmas.”

Members of Congress demanded that the F.B.I. bring the perpetrators to justice. They cited video cameras in all of the malls as playing a major role in the investigation. They acknowledged, however, that the shooters wore masks portraying Santa’s reindeer and elves when entering the malls.

The National Rifle Association challenged protests by groups supporting tougher gun laws. An NRA spokesman stated that sufficient federal laws already exist, and that the Second Amendment protects Americans’ rights to have toys and take them anywhere. “Let’s remember that Americans love guns. Who wouldn’t want a replica of an AK-47, not to mention the real thing?”

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Dem.-Cal.) hinted that Mrs. Pelosi might consider initiating legislation banning replicas if she can find adequate support among fellow Democrats. “Of course, serious discussions won’t be conducted until Congress comes back from its Holiday vacation. The Minority Leader also understands that this is a hot-button political issue that could endanger Democratic seats in the House.”

A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (Rep.-Ohio) dismissed as “anti-American” the possibility of a vote banning replicas coming to the House floor.

In a related matter, investigations continue into the October 22 police shooting that killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, California. The boy carried an AK-47 replica known as an airsoft gun, which uses compressed air to propel plastic pellets. California law requires an orange tip on the barrel of replicas but not on airsoft guns.

Manufacturers of airsoft and related paintball guns declined comment on the Holiday shootings. They cited respect for the dead and wounded.

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Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com.