What Constitutes Terrorism? – Links, Notes, Bookmarks & Briefs For December 5, 2015
An open thread and (almost) daily notes to myself; feel free to eavesdrop, join in or drop a relevant link in the comments. Updated several times throughout the day.
Or, more specifically, who is a terrorist these days?
That’s a question lots of people are asking, particularly in the US where reactions to all-too-common mass shootings elicit a different response depending, it appears, on little else than the shade of the alleged shooter’s skin or their religious faith.
If the shooter is a Muslim, more often than not the act is considered, or at least investigated or characterized as a terrorist attack. If the perpetrator is a white Christian male on the other hand, he’s “troubled” or a lone wolf”. His religion –even if his act is like that of Robert Dear, the man who opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic last week and who held the right wing extremist “Army of God” group in high regard– isn’t brought into the picture.
Those are over-simplifications, I admit. And I also confess that I don’t have the answer, but can’t help but be bothered by the double standards. So is Juan Cole. In “Roof, Dear and Tashfeen Malik: ‘Self-Radicalized,’ ‘Terrorism,’ ‘Lone Wolf’ and Double Standards” he considers some of the differences in how Dylan Roof, who shot killed nine at a church in Charleston in June, Planned Parenthood shooter Dear, and Tashfeen Malik, one of the two San Bernardino shooters, are treated by politicians and law enforcement:
Malik, Roof and Dear became radicals through their own reading and research rather than from having obvious organizational links. All three seem to be, in the official parlance, “lone wolves” who “self-radicalized.”
One part of terrorism is apparently conceived of in official US discourse on these things as organizational. It is early days in the investigation of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, but while Malik may have made a hasty Facebook declaration of loyalty to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during her horrid shooting spree, so far it does not appear that there was any element of command and control in either the case of Roof or of Malik/Farook.
Does it matter what the target is? Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma City to target the Federal government, given his white supremacist ideology. Dear targeted Planned Parenthood in an obvious attempt to change public policy. Since Malik and her husband just shot up a meal for employees at a center for taking care of challenged folks, rather than choosing some more significant target with actual political implications. Can their action be seen at the moment as primarily as terroristic? Back in the 1990s the phrase “going postal” emerged from a rash of incidents of workplace rage and violence (there were 20 instances such violence between 1986 and 1997, in which employees shoot down more than 40 individuals. They look much more like they went postal than that they were trying to bring down the Federal government.
Does organization matter? In counter-terrorism, you always seek to disrupt the enemy’s command and control abilities. The San Bernardino killers, as things now stand, did not partake of any formal structune within Daesh that day. Nor does Roof appear to have a strong organizational context in, e.g., the Ku Klux Klan such that anyone gave him an order to kill African-Americans in their church. Dear was also a loner.
In fact, a major US newspaper called Dear a “gentle loner.” Hmmm.
In the early nineteen-eighties, Louis Beam was an active but frustrated leader of the radical American right-wing fringe. He had previously been arrested in Houston, in connection with the bombing of a liberal Pacifica radio station and the machine-gunning of a Communist Party office. (The charges were dropped.) By 1983, Beam had concluded that hierarchical far-right groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, were doomed to be marginalized or shut down by criminal and civil litigation, and he proposed a different strategy: in an essay called “Leaderless Resistance,” he advocated a turn toward “very small or even one man cells of resistance.” He borrowed the idea from Colonel Ulius Louis Amoss, a U.S. intelligence officer who suggested, in the early sixties, that C.I.A.-backed operations in Europe would be less prone to disruption if they were structured as small or individual units, called “phantom cells.” Beam popularized the concept through his writings in the eighties and nineties, and “leaderless resistance” was embraced by a vast range of movements, including animal-liberation activists, tax protesters, radical Islamists, and anti-abortion extremists.
In the period since Islamic State militants attacked Paris, on November 13th, Republican Presidential candidates have raced to declare that America must defend itself, above all, from foreign terrorists. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, called for “surveillance of certain mosques.” Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, said, “There is no greater risk to our security than radical Islamic terrorists.”
Law-enforcement statistics, and practitioners, tell a different story. In the years since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has suffered sixty-five assaults associated with right-wing ideologies—“sovereign citizens,” white supremacists, and anti-abortion extremists—and twenty-four by Muslim extremists, according to an analysis based on data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, at the University of Maryland.* You might think that this underrepresents the risk of a spectacular, high-casualty attack, but, as my colleague John Cassidy has written, the security officials who protect the public against both domestic and foreign terrorists say the domestic risk is greater. The terrorism experts Charles Kurzman, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and David Schanzer, of Duke, surveyed nearly four hundred state and local police agencies, and found that the “main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists but from right-wing extremists.”
In any case, for the time being if you want to be considered a terrorist, having non-white/Caucasian features still helps.
– President for Life? It Will Be Possible in Ecuador in 2021 – Vice. Ecuadorian lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that ends presidential term limits. Current president Rafael Correa will be forced to sit out the 2017 election but will be allowed to run again indefinitely from 2021.
The summer school provides a unique opportunity for human rights professionals to build on their experience and to develop their skills to successfully bring cases to the regional human rights systems and the UN treaty bodies, and to use those cases to achieve practical change. The curriculum will combine presentations, case studies, exercises, and discussion groups with preparatory work and further reading to ensure full maximum benefit for those attending the course. Participants will be invited to provide information on cases they are working on and those concrete examples will help shape discussion. Info and application.
And for the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 701st (!!) straight, was snapped in Bogota, Colombia on 17 June 2015. Also fitting for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, Theme, “Eye Spy”.