Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’


Terrorism and 9/11: America on the Defensive

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Philosophy, Politics

As the weekend of September 11 draws to a close, it wraps up a week of news coverage reminding us of where we stand as a nation with respect to the enemy that made itself impossible to miss nine years ago.  The results, it seems, have not been pretty.  Aside from the fact that America is still a defender of Israel and the fact that we still exist at all — though, not to worry, the President is working on solving both of those problems as we speak — the terrorists seem to have done pretty well for themselves.  Americans today have fewer liberties than ever, with freedoms taken from us by conservatives and liberals alike, all in the name of national defense.  Our troops are embroiled in a war in Afghanistan, the terrorists’ home turf, under the guidance of a Commander in Chief that says quite strongly by his actions that their fight is little to him but a political distraction.  But the two biggest stories this week tell a story of American weakness and fear which should be music to the ears of the Radical Islamists who seek to do us harm.

The stories of the week about the Muslim world have undoubtedly been the Florida preacher who was for Koran burning before he was against it, and the ongoing saga of the Ground Zero Mosque.  Right from the start, the preacher was attacked by the operatives of the media with story after maligning story about how he shouldn’t be doing what he wanted to do.  A common refrain started by the media was that the act of burning a Koran would be inflammatory to Muslims, and play into the hands of the radicals that seek to do America harm.  This sentiment was picked up by General Petraeus, warning that it might intensify the danger to our troops overseas, which was all that it took to bring the conservative media on-board with the message.  And then, today, I see that the imam who wants to build the Ground Zero Mosque has added not upsetting terrorists to the list of reasons why he can’t possibly build on another location.  If the General says that moving the mosque will hurt our troops, will that make the conservatives upset by the planned location sit down?

At bottom, we know that the imam is only using that excuse because he knows that it works.  Both at home and abroad, Americans are portrayed as being deathly afraid of upsetting anyone in the Muslim world.  We’re warned repeatedly by the President and others that being anything less than respectful Muslims endangers everyone.  After all, we all know that when terrorists get mad, they shoot people, stab people, blow up civilians, or fly planes into buildings; nevermind that they’d be doing those things anyway.  Be afraid, is the message.  Be afraid to fly on airplanes; be afraid that someone might have a bomb in their shoe, be so afraid that we submit ourselves to high tech full body scans just to go from point A to point B.  Be afraid of showing your outrage against the outrageous; don’t call out Islamic haters for being hateful, don’t burn their Koran even as they burn your flag and Bible, don’t question that mosque being built on Ground Zero.  If you do, then they are going to come after you, and your family, and your neighbors, and the country, and the troops, and so on until someone meaningful enough to you turns up, that you’ll be told terrorists will kill, to make you stop doing whatever it is that you wanted to do.

Terrorists fight by instilling fear.  Their goal is to make their enemies so afraid of the consequences of stepping out of line that they will do whatever the terrorists want.

Radical Islam need not conquer us from without; they win when Americans become too afraid to live free.  This week brought us proof that such fear is palpable and strong enough to have a real effect on our behavior.  We are, increasingly, a people at war with ourselves, with our morality, and with our sense of right and wrong.  We’ve allowed ourselves to give up some freedoms, and find ourselves now being asked to surrender even more, all in the hope that the terrorists might calm down.  But they won’t calm down.  Why would they?  They’re winning.

And scoring their biggest victories without even firing a shot.



Terrorist Venue Shopping

   Posted by: Robert    in Law, Philosophy

Pretty much ever since the Christmas Eve bombing attempt, the news and blogosphere has been filled with commentary regarding the proper venue for trying individuals like the Christmas Bomber.  With President Obama having decided that the Christmas Bomber is to be tried in civilian court, the conservative press has been filled with objections very reminiscent of those used in connection with Obama’s deeply confused policy of how to deal with the prisoners at Guantanamo.  Although I instinctively agree that the Christmas Bomber belongs in military court, I have a hard time identifying any useful principle which differentiates him from other domestic terrorists like the Oklahoma City bomber, who certainly do belong in civilian court.

People like the Christmas Bomber sit at an interesting mid point between domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and radical Islamic terrorists like those detained at Guantanamo Bay.  There is little doubt that the Christmas Bomber is, himself, a radical Islamic terrorist.  However, despite his allegiance, the details of his attack more closely mirror the events of Guantanamo Bay than they do the events on the foreign battlefield where the Guantanamo detainees were captured — the Christmas Bomber was legally traveling to America and he was arrested on American soil.

All of the arguments holding that the Christmas Bomber should be tried by the military flow, ultimately, from his association with al Qaeda.  This begs the question of whether a person’s trial rights depend in some fundamental way on the groups with which they associate.  There is a good deal of logic to answering that question affirmatively.  After all, al Qaeda is a known terrorist organization which has accomplished multiple attacks against the United States both at home and overseas, and which is willing to say that they are at war with us, even if we are unwilling to return the courtesy.  On the other hand, the very fact that we are unwilling to say that we are at war with al Qaeda (or to do so only haphazardly) is symptomatic with a major problem with predicating rights on associations.

The trouble with linking rights to associations is the arbitrary nature of how associations might be viewed.  The merits of a particular group are decided by the government; al Qaeda may look and act like a terrorist organization, but the United States only recognizes them as such because of decisions made by the folks in Washington DC.  But aside from the sheer irrationality of the conclusion, what prevents those same politicians from declaring another group — say, America’s veterans — to be terrorists undeserving of rights?

In the absence of a deep principle separating terrorist organizations from politically disfavored groups or McVeigh-style domestic terrorists, I find it troubling that so many conservatives are so eager to put the Christmas Bomber into military detention, even though I agree that it is where he belongs.  Even more troubling, though, is the fact that even though I agree he belongs in the military system, I can think of no great principle separating him from McVeigh.

In the absence of such a principle, I find myself in reluctant disagreement with the prevailing wisdom of my fellow conservatives.  The power to commit a person, captured on American soil, to military rather than civilian detention is too great a power to leave in the hands of government discretion.  The potential for abuse as a means to silence political rather than national enemies is too great to be left available to this or any future President.

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