I have not seen the video.
Not saying I won’t, but for now, I’ve chosen not to. To rush online and seek out cellphone footage of two fanatics with machetes who butchered a British soldier in London on Wednesday, to watch them standing there, hands painted red with his blood, speaking for the cameras, would feel like an act of complicity, like giving them what they want, like being a puppet yanked by its strings.
Sometimes, especially in the heat of visceral revulsion, we forget an essential truth about terrorism. Namely, that the people who do these things are the opposite of powerful. Non-state sponsored terror is a tactic chosen almost exclusively by the impotent.
These people have no inherent power. They command no armies, they boss no economies, their collective arsenals are puny by nation-state standards. No, what they have is a willingness to be random, ruthless and indiscriminate in their killing.
But they represent no existential danger. The United States once tore itself in half and survived the wound. Could it really be destroyed by men using airliners as guided missiles? Britain was once bombed senseless for eight months straight and lived to tell the tale. Could it really be broken by two maniacs with machetes?
Of course not.
No, terrorism’s threat lies not in its power, but in its effect, its ability to make us appalled, frightened, irrational, and, most of all, convinced that we are next, and nowhere is safe. Here, I’m thinking of the lady who told me, after 9/11, that she would never enter a skyscraper again. As if, because of this atrocity, every tall building in America — and how many thousands of those do we have? — was suddenly suspect. And I’m thinking of my late Aunt Ruth who, at the height of the anthrax scare, required my uncle to open the mail on the front lawn after which, she received it wearing latex gloves.
I am also thinking of the country itself, which, in response to the 9/11 attacks, launched two wars — one more than necessary — at a ruinous cost in lives, treasure and credibility that will haunt us for years.
Have you ever seen a martial artist leverage a bigger opponent’s size against him, make him hurt himself without ever throwing a punch? That’s the moral of 9/11. The last 12 years have shown us how easily we ourselves can become the weapon terrorists use against us. This is especially true when video footage exists (How many times have you seen the Twin Towers destroyed?). After all, getting the word out, spreading fear like a contagion, is the whole point of the exercise.
That could not have been plainer Wednesday. Having reportedly run the soldier, Lee Rigby, down with a car, having hacked him to pieces with machetes, these men did not blow themselves up and they did not run. No, they spoke their manifestos, their claims of Muslim grievance, into the cellphone cameras of passers-by.
Almost instantly, this was all over television and the Internet. Almost instantly the voices of impotent men were magnified to a global roar. Almost instantly, we all stood witness.
Terrorism uses its minimal power to achieve maximum effect and this is easier than ever on a planet that is now electronically networked and technologically webbed. Our connectivity is an exploitable vulnerability.
But in the end, no, these people cannot destroy us. Can they grieve us? Certainly. But they cannot destroy us unless we help them do it.
Their most lasting violence is not physical, but psychological — the imposition of fear, the loss of security. We cannot control what such people do. But we can control our reaction thereto. So let it be finally understood: From time to time, we will face the desperate evil of impotent men. But the only power they have is the power we give them.
I propose we give them none.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, May 27, 2013
Back in 2004, in a video addressed to the American people, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden described his “bleed until bankruptcy” strategy. “All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies,” bin Laden taunted. “So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”
The twin goals of this strategy were to drain the U.S. of resources by baiting it into expensive, open-ended military interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the resulting anger over those interventions causing more people to join Al Qaeda’s cause.
I was reminded of that by these specific remarks from President Obama’s speech on counterterrorism yesterday:
The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.
There was a lot to chew on in the president’s speech, and obviously we’ll have to wait and see how much weight the president actually puts behind some of the reforms he suggested, but I think this core passage represents another important shift away from the rhetorical construct of a “Global War on Terror.”
Meanwhile, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, four of the Senate’s leading hawks — Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), Saxby Chambliss (GA) and Kelly Ayotte (NH) — responded as you might expect to the prospect of the loss of that rhetorical construct, which has proven extremely politically beneficial to hawks over the last decade.
“I believe we are still in a long, drawn-out conflict with Al Qaeda. To somehow argue that Al Qaeda is ‘on the run’ comes from a degree of unreality that, to me, is really incredible,” said McCain, adding: “Al Qaeda’s ‘on the run’ is expanding all over the Middle East from Mali to Yemen and all places in between and to somehow think that we can bring the authorization of the use of military force to a complete closure contradicts the reality of the facts on the ground. Al Qaeda will be with us for a long time.”
“The President’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” Chambliss declared.
Graham took the chance to ding the president on Iraq: “Iraq is a country that went through hell, was inside the 10-yard line, the surge did work and it’s falling apart because the president chose not to leave any American soldiers behind when 10,000 or 12,000 would have made a difference.”
Leaving aside why Graham thinks 10,000 or 12,000 U.S. troops would have made a difference in Iraq when over 100,000 couldn’t stop it from descending into civil war in 2006 (not to mention the tension between claiming to support democracy in Iraq while bashing the president for not working harder to circumvent democracy in Iraq in order to keep U.S. troops there), it’s remarkable that these Congressional leaders essentially want America to keep playing into Al Qaeda’s “bleed until bankruptcy” strategy.
By: Matt Duss, Think Progress, May 24, 2013
“The Diction Debates”: To Cynical Republicans, “An Act Of Terror Is Different Than A Terrorist Attack”
Marc Ambinder explained this morning that Benghazi is “a debate about post-tragedy diction.” That’s certainly bolstered by recent Republican arguments, nearly all of which have to do with the timing of various choices of words.
If you’re thinking that genuine political controversies are supposed to deal with more meaningful issues than diction, you and I are on the same page, though congressional Republicans and much of the political world are on a very different page.
Take Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example. On Sept. 12, 2012, President Obama described the Benghazi attack as an act of terror. McCain yesterday insisted that those comments don’t count: “The president didn’t call it an ‘act of terror.’ … He condemned ‘acts of terrorism.’”
“The president sent a letter to the president of Libya were he didn’t call it a terrorist attack even when in real time the president of Libya was calling this a pre-planned Sept. 11 terrorist attack,” Issa said. He added, “An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.”
This is amusing, in a pathetic sort of way, and not just because of Issa’s rhetorical framework. It’s also striking because it’s shining a light on what Republicans consider truly important about this story: which officials used the words Republicans like and when.
Ambinder added, “The Diction Debates aren’t real because the opponent insists he/she knows about the motivation for using/ not using certain key words.” That’s also true — McCain, Issa and others are quite animated over which official used the word “terror” on which day.
But all of this serves to remind us that the political world has defined “scandal” down to a meaningless level. Watergate dealt with crimes committed by a president. Iran-Contra dealt with a White House that sold arms to a sworn enemy to finance an illegal war. The Plame Affair, the U.S. Attorney purge, and illegal warrantless wiretaps dealt with systemic wrongdoing at the highest levels.
In 2013, though, we’re apparently stuck with, “An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2013
Authorities say that the two brothers who allegedly bombed the Boston Marathon were probably “self-radicalized.”
The media have embraced this catchy term, partly because of the assurance it seems to offer: Don’t worry, folks — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev weren’t recruited and deployed by al Qaeda or any other terrorist group; they hatched their own plot with no tactical help from abroad.
That might well be true, but little comfort can be taken from it.
Some of the most notorious acts of political violence in our history were carried out by pissed-off loners or impromptu zealots who belonged to no organized cabal.
By modern definition, Lee Harvey Oswald was self-radicalized. So was Sirhan Sirhan. Ditto for hermit Ted Kaczyinski, the Unabomber.
And who was more self-radicalized than Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the creeps who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995?
Everyone who sets out to create blood-soaked headlines finds a way to rationalize it. Murder in the name of God, Allah or patriotism is the oldest excuse in the book.
Once caught, the killers seldom admit they did it just for a sick thrill. OK, I’m a loser and my life is crap, so I decided to do something really outrageous.
Self-radicalized terrorists can be scarier than organized cells, because the cells are easier to track and their agendas are less opaque. They wave their hatred like a flag.
In Boston, the older Tsarnaev brother and apparent mastermind of the bombings was loving life until three years ago. According to interviews with friends and family, Tamerlan’s dream had been to become a professional boxer and earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
He wore flamboyant white fur and snakeskins, and trash-talked his opponents in the ring. He was a good fighter, too, twice the Golden Gloves champ of New England.
Then the rules changed. Tamerlan wasn’t allowed to box in the Tournament of Champions because of his immigration status — he was a legal permanent resident, not a full U.S. citizen.
Disappointed, he quit boxing. He didn’t work a regular job. His wife, a healthcare aide, paid the family’s rent. The Tsarnaevs also received food stamps and welfare payments.
Tamerlan tried community college but soon dropped out. He grew a beard and became increasingly interested in Islam, the religion of his Chechen and Dagestani heritage.
Last year he went back to Dagestan for six months without his wife and daughter, a trip being scrutinized by the FBI and Russian authorities. So far, though, Tamerlan hasn’t been connected to any terror group that has targeted America.
His path to Boylston Street, as presented in law enforcement’s scenario, is at once amateurish and harrowing: Older brother returns to the States and enlists his impressionable younger brother, a pot-smoking college student with good grades, plenty of friends and no known hostility against this country.
Together, the two of them assemble bombs from an Internet recipe using kitchen pressure cookers, fireworks, nails, ball bearings and remote control mechanisms from toy racecars. Then they go to the marathon, place the devices in the crowd and stupidly hang around to watch the detonations.
A professional operation it was not. The brothers had no idea there were video cameras all over the place. No disguises, no getaway plan, no fake passports, no money, no plane tickets, no car (Dzhokhar’s was in a repair shop).
This, we are told, is the new face of terror. Spontaneous and rudimentary.
A disgruntled young athlete, his career stymied, violently attacks the country that he’d once hoped to represent in the Olympics. Maybe Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been “self-radicalized” into an Islamic fanatic.
Or maybe he was just furious because a lack of U.S. citizenship papers had kept him out of the biggest boxing match of his life. Maybe it was that simple.
Tamerlan is dead, and Dzhokhar might or might not reveal the motive for the bombing. Clearly, though, it wasn’t the act of two crazy persons.
Cold and twisted? Obviously. But not crazy.
Even more sobering is the ease with which the brothers put their plan in motion. These days, anybody with a laptop and a grudge can arrange a massacre on a shoestring budget.
You don’t need fake IDs. You don’t need special training. You don’t even need to be very smart.
All you need is the one dark impulse.
By: Carl Hiaasen, The National Memo. May 7, 2013