Saturday, June 18, 2016

Six questions we should ask after Orlando

1) Are there more home-grown terrorists than we realize? The short answer is probably yes. While the United States has fewer Muslim ghettos than the UK or France, the growing emphasis on what makes us different rather than what makes us the same almost dictates there will be more young Muslims drawn to the extremist ISIS message. Similarly, Saudi and other money has poured into mosques and Islamic schools advancing a more extremist message.

2) Are lone wolves avoidable? My instinct is largely yes. But that will require more attention to centers of extremism, including foreign funded schools and mosques; more attention to those who seem inclined to extremism; more of the intrusive government that liberals and conservatives together loathe; more scrutiny of those who will end up being entirely innocent. Worth it? You tell me.

3) Why guns? There’s a tendency to attribute more planning and strategic thinking to terrorists, who often rely on luck to inflict their damage. But guns have a special political part in American life. There’s the constitutional right to bear arms, and the fierce devotion of many Americans to that right. And there is the passionate opposition of many — the President of the United States included — to the sale and ownership of those guns. And here we are, talking about guns. Talking about a terrorist attack in the context of other mass shootings as if they were the same. Was that on purpose? Utilitarian? Can guns do more damage than the preferred tool of terrorists, the explosive device? Are they easier to find? Or is this a more sophisticated effort to divide the public?

4) Who can buy a gun? Apparently, terrorists. Former residents on terrorism watch lists. Former known associates of actual terrorists. We all know why: Stove piping. The FBI, local law enforcement, intelligence and the myriad other enforcement agencies all keep their lists separate. This is why the Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of 9/11 — to stop this sort of stove piping and ensure that information is shared. Guess what? It still isn’t. And more government bureaucracy hasn’t fixed it.

5) Why a gay nightclub? Was it just opportunism? Hatred? Another strategic effort to direct and divide conversation? Hard to know. But remember, the narrative for Islamists is that they are hitting at the “corrupt heart” of America. A Turkish Islamist paper headlined the event thus: “50 perverts killed in bar”. In addition to women, Jews, Christians and other Muslims, gays have become a favored target for Islamists. What is US policy doing about that? Not much. And contrary to the favored trope — we win by living our lives — the short answer is that we’re not winning. Their virus is spreading from Syria to Turkey to Afghanistan and beyond.

6) Should we bar all Muslims? Omar Mateen was born in the United States. Major Nidal Hasan was in the US Army. But there’s a more important issue here. What does the United States stand for? As vile as it is, a terrorist attack against a gay club in Florida doesn’t alter the American way of life. But beginning to segregate the country, immigration policy and attitudes based on religion will change us. What makes America great is the hope it holds for the world, the example it shows. Barack Obama may not like to admit it, but America is the greatest nation because of our values, because of our openness, because of our conviction that what it takes to be an American is a commitment to this country, not a creed or a race or a sex. Are those days of greatness behind us?

My comment. 

Having listened to and read a lot of news and commentary on the terrorist attack in Orlando, this above essay comes closest to summing up my feeling.

Item #6 is something that I have been conflicted over.  It would be tempting to say we should ban all Muslims immigration to America, but I agree with the author.  We cannot withdraw from the world and pull up the drawbridge.  Many of the worlds Muslim refugees are the one who have fled ISIS areas and had their life put in danger.  They are our allies in the fight against radical Islam, they are not our enemy.  We must be mindful that there could be enemy infiltrators among them and we should try to properly vet them, but we cannot not turn our back on those who are the primary victims of radical Islam. Also, if we had never gone to war in Iraq, perhaps ISIS would have never developed.  To a certain degree, we have an obligation to deal with the mess beyond a mere humanitarian obligation. Also, as the author says, "What makes America great is the hope it holds for the world, the example it shows."  We should not abandon our values in tough times.

On item #3, I agree with the writer.  The mainstream media and the Obama administration has tried to turn this tragedy into a focus on guns instead of terrorism. On item #4, I think the author raises a good point in critiquing the failure of the various government agencies to share information and improve intelligence. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon, however, and say that if one's name is on "no-fly" list, they should not be allowed to purchase a weapon.  The "no-fly" list is compiled in secret without due process.  Given the recent history of the IRS in targeting critics of the administration, I do not trust an administration, any administration, to draw up a secret list of people for whom it is permissible to take away their constitutional rights.  Maybe a waiting period for those on the list could be imposed, and a purchase of a weapon by someone whose name is on the list should alert authorities,  but we should not deny constitutional rights based on a secret list. Again, we should not abandon our values in tough times.

On item #2, I do think we should be doing more to know what goes on in the American Muslim community.  When the FBI brought down the Klu Klux Klan, it seems that in any gathering of three Klansmen, one of them was an FBI informant.  I would hope we have Muslim informants in every mosque in America and every Muslim student group.   I don't know the extent of our intelligence gathering, but I have the impression that political correctness and reluctance to "profile" keeps us from gathering the intelligence we need to be gathering. It is not a violation of constitutional rights to infiltrate and attend meetings.  We should be mindful of the constitutional right of American citizens but we should not shy away from delving deep into the American Muslim community to determine what is taking place.

On item #1, I think the writer is right when she says, "the growing emphasis on what makes us different rather than what makes us the same almost dictates there will be more young Muslims drawn to the extremist ISIS message."  That is not to say that I am naive and think that putting a "Coexist" bumper sticker on your car and constantly proclaiming "Islam is a religion of peace" will produce fewer Jihadist, but I do think that we should work to integrate Muslims into American society rather than isolate them. Hateful comments and jokes insulting to Muslims and discrimination against Muslims probably does fertilize the seeds of radical Islam.

In addition to the above, I think the U. S. should join the debate within the Muslim community in the rest of the world.  Just as Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe provided the truth to those behind the iron curtain and kept hope alive during the dark days of the cold war, we perhaps should launch a campaign to influence the dialogue in Islamic nations and give a voice to those who oppose the insanity of radical Islam. We should give a platform to  moderate Muslims clerics to counter those funded by Saudi Arabia.  We should fund moderate non-governmental organizations and publications.  We should provide news and entertainment and commentary by those speaking in a sane voice in the voice of the local people.   Muslims are now 23% of the worlds population and gaining. We must engage to make the world safe. We can't retreat to fortress American and draw up the drawbridge and we must remain true to our values.

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