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Manchester and the Lies We Tell Ourselves About Terrorism
Again we see a horrific act of Islamic terrorism, this time at a music concert in Manchester, England. And again, the media tells us and to a large degree, we tell ourselves the same lies to avoid facing the truth about what we face.
1. The ideology isn’t responsible.
Inevitably we are told that the person who did this is insane and that it has nothing to do with religion or ideology. This is true to some degree since anyone who would blow themselves up in a crowd of innocent people is by any reasonable measure insane. There are, however, lots of insane, evil, violent and sociopathic people in the world. Most of them, however, do not blow themselves up in crowded concert halls. Ideology is what makes ordinary murderers and criminals into monsters. Lenin was a third-rate intellectual, Hitler a failed artist and crank war veteran, Stalin a common street thug and so forth. Ideology is what gives insane or evil people a rationalization and reason to become mass murdering monsters. So, no the ideology is responsible. Had it not been for radical Islam, the Manchester bomber would have been just another maladjusted and perhaps violent person. He likely wouldn’t have lived a good life and would have done harm, but he wouldn’t have done this.
2. Terrorism is not a threat to our way of life if we just ignore it.
One of the dumbest lies we tell ourselves after a terrorist attack is “what are your chances?” Well, your chances are pretty small. But to think that makes terrorism just something we can live with and the solution to it to “keep calm and carry on” is to both misunderstand human nature and the purpose of terrorism. Yes, your chances of dying in a terrorist attack if you live in the UK are vanishingly small. They do however increase if you are doing the wrong thing or in the wrong place. If you happened to be in Manchester last weekend, your chances were greater. If you happened to be in Manchester attending an Ariana Grande concert, your chances were pretty good. By targeting certain activities and things, terrorists create the incentive for people to stop doing those things. No one wants to risk their lives to attend a concert. So blow up a few concerts and people suddenly decide to avoid them. And after you have enforced your will on the public with one behavior, you move onto another like a snake constricting on its prey.
You can see this already. Twenty years ago, no one would have thought anything of drawing a picture of Muhammad. Today, no newspaper in America would print such a picture. In France, Judaism in many places is no longer practiced in public but is restricted to enclosed and armed compounds. Amsterdam is decidedly less gay and decadent than it was even five years ago. In America, no comedy show dare satirize Muslims or the Islamic religion. You can pretend that is because of political correctness but the political correctness is the result of fear. No comedian or sarcastic atheist wants to risk death for their act. But hey what are the odds it will happen to you?
3. Law enforcement can deal with Islamic terrorism.
Law enforcement is based on two principles that make it totally ineffective in responding to Islamic terrorism. First, law enforcement is reactive. Law enforcement doesn’t arrest people for crimes they might commit. It arrests people after they commit a crime or engage in an attempt or take concrete steps in a conspiracy. Second, law enforcement, since it can’t generally act to prevent a crime, depends upon being able to deter crime to be effective. Law enforcement rarely if ever stops a determined criminal from committing a crime. But that is a limited problem because its actions deter people from becoming criminals in the first place.
The assumptions that underlie any just law enforcement system, make a law enforcement approach to Islamic terrorism nothing more than showing up to count and clean up the bodies after the attack. We can tolerate law enforcement’s inability to stop a determined criminal because the stakes of ordinary crime are generally small. Even the worst mass murdering criminal will kill a handful of people. A single terrorist attack, however, can kill dozens or even hundreds or thousands. So the cost of not acting is much larger. More importantly, since Islamic terrorists want to die in the attack, there is no way to deter them. So law enforcement can’t prevent terrorism because its greatest weapon to prevent crime, deterrence, is ineffective.
Time and again Islamic terrorists are known to police and do everything but announce on Facebook and Twitter their intention to become terrorists. The public then understandably blames the attack on law enforcement because it failed to do anything. This, however, is not fair to law enforcement and fails to recognize the fundamental limitations of law enforcement described above. Law enforcement can’t do anything until the person actually does something and by then it’s usually too late to prevent the crime. Unless they get lucky and catch the person in that little window of time between when they take concrete steps to engage in an attack and when they attack occurs, law enforcement is powerless. There are hundreds of people running around America and the UK saying and doing the same things the Manchester bomber said. And only some of them will ever act on it. Short of rounding them all up, something law enforcement is not allowed to do, there is no way for law enforcement to stop them.
4. An armed populace will stop this.
An armed populace is a good thing for a lot of reasons. Stopping terrorism sadly is not one of them. Yes, an armed civilian can stop the occasional madman shooting people and turn a mass shooting into a single one. But armed civilians are not going to stop a dump truck running down a crowded sidewalk or stop someone from blowing themselves up.
Even an armed population runs into the same problem law enforcement runs into; the ineffectiveness of deterrence against Islamic terrorists. The point of being armed is to not to have to use the weapon. I don’t carry a gun into a rough neighborhood hoping to get into a gun fight. I carry one hoping the threat of using it keeps me from having to get into any fight at all. The gun is effective because it deters people from attacking me. Islamic terrorists, however, want to die and can’t be deterred. Moreover, the terrorist’s action will always beat my reaction. So unless I just shoot everyone I think might be a terrorist out of an abundance of caution, the chances are the terrorist determined to murder me will do so before I ever have a chance to defend myself.
5. Terrorism has nothing to do with ordinary Muslims.
This is one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves. Most Muslims are not terrorists, which is true, so the fact that some of them are has nothing to do with the ones who are not. The problem with this logic is that it ignores reality. Some number of Muslims in any nation will radicalize and become terrorists. It is impossible to tell which ones will do so but it is inevitable some will. So the more Muslims you have in your country, the more problems you will have with terrorism. Slovakia and Poland have very few Muslims and no Islamic terrorism. France, Sweden, Germany, and the UK all have significant Muslim populations and terrorism. With Muslims come terrorism. That doesn’t mean every Muslim is a terrorist or supports terrorism. But some do and there is no way to determine which will and which won’t. There is no magic “vetting” process that tells you which person will live a peaceful and productive life and which will become a terrorist. Indeed, many terrorists have been educated and came from good families. The leader of the 911 plot was an engineer. The terrorist in San Bernardino had a good job with the County.
6. We can fight terrorism and still stay true to our values.
Of all the lies we tell ourselves, this is the worst one. The people who tell it live in this fantasy world where good always triumphs if it just stays true to its values. Sadly, the real world isn’t like that. In the real world evil, by virtue of it being evil, isn’t defeated by playing by the rules. Playing by the rules and living by your values makes you a martyr. So your choices are, become a martyr to your values, bow to evil’s demands, or do whatever is necessary to win and ask God for forgiveness later.
History teaches us this lesson over and over again. Was it consistent with American values to carpet bomb Germany killing over a million civilians? Was it consistent with our values fire bomb Japan killing millions and drop two atomic bombs vaporizing two cities and leaving the survivors with generational effects of radiation? I don’t think so. If you went back to 1935 and told Americans that in ten years they will have bombed half the world, killed millions of civilians, men women and children and unleashed a new super weapon that threatens man’s very existence, they would have thought you mad. America would never do such things. Of course, it did do those things and more, because the evil it was fighting gave it no other choice. The same people who look back on World War II as some idealized “good war” think that we can now turn around and defeat an enemy willing to blow themselves up among a group of teenage girls by turning the lights off at the Eiffel Tower and making sure every Islamic terrorist gets his full day in court.
We have somehow convinced ourselves that we can survive in this world without getting our hands dirty. That we will never be required to resort to extreme measures to ensure our survival. This is most certainly a lie and really the worst lie we tell ourselves.
The choices we face
The choices Europe faces today are stark. They can either engage in acts of collective punishment, up to and including mass deportations and strict controls on the nature of Islam that is allowed to be practiced or they can face a dark future of terrorism and the slow erosion of their way of life. There are no easy solutions or solutions that don’t involve ugly actions and consequences.
America does not yet face these choices. Our Muslim population is too small and our country and population too large to force us to make the kinds of choices the nations of Europe are being forced to make. If, however, we continue to allow mass immigration and allow the America Muslim population to reach a critical mass, we will face the same choices Europe is facing now. That is not something people want to hear. It is much easier to tell ourselves lies about how we can keep calm and carry on and it will all go away if we just are understanding enough. Sadly, the longer we cling to these illusions the worse our choices will be when reality finally forces us to give up these illusions.Published in General
The best essay I have ever read on this subject. Kudos.
There’s no solution that won’t involve dirty hands, none at all.
If we’re talking about American citizens who are accused of terrorism, what remedy do you suggest?
The remedy is you make espousing radical Islam a crime in itself and anyone who does so is punished the same whether or not they have acted on it. That is, of course, a very radical measure. And not something I hope we ever have to resort to. But let the terrorism problem get bad enough, we will have no other choice. And that is my point; we don’t want to have to make those choices and that is why we don’t want our Muslim population to get any larger as unfair as that is to the vast majority of Muslims who do not support terrorism.
A couple of stipulations before I get to my actual comment:
With that out of the way…
It’s impossible to get the risk down to zero, but I sincerely doubt it’s “impossible” to get it close to it. There are some nations likely worth avoiding (or, at least, requiring stricter vetting standards than usual) and I’d probably avoid families with underage sons, who seem particularly prone to being radicalized.
Also, we’ve brought a lot of Iraqi and Afghani interpreters here, many of whom risked their lives for our soldiers and marines. I think we can be as confident as we can about anything that these folks are not going to be terrorists.
Okay, we’re not disagreeing that much there.
Two things. First, even if you are correct about the immigrant, that says nothing about their children. Many terrorists are second and third generation immigrants. Second, yes, the more you vet the better your chances, but it will never be zero. It is a linear relationship. So saying “just be more careful” is just another way of saying “don’t let as many in”. And that is my point. The more you let in, the greater risk of terrorism.
A lot of common sense here, much of which is missing from our political debate and policy. World leaders face the challenge of moving from debate over civil and free speech rights to actual implementation of these policies. Not an easy task. Excellent essay.
7. And Dear Leader spoke from on high: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”
But Timothy McVeigh!
Don’t more Europeans die in auto accidents every year than in terrorist attacks? If you ask me they should focus on fixing that problem before worrying about some jayvee team in Laker’s uniforms.
You are correct, in my opinion, that this cannot be dealt with neatly. This is going to get ugly, one way or another. Really ugly.
Slavery to statistics is my one, great, unyielding pet peeve. To calculate chance or averages you have to always keep in mind that for someone the chance of that bad thing happening was 100%. Those children in Manchester are not .003% dead.
Don’t treat cold-blooded murder as the equivalent to an accident.
Based on my experience, I’d say this got really ugly a long time ago.
Absolutely. We’ve more then doubled the risk since 9/11 with the number of Muslims we’ve admitted since that event.
Rule #1 : Stop the bleeding.
Excellent post, John. I’m working on a post that will complement it. Where I disagree with you is that I do believe we need to face our choices now. Otherwise, caught up in our day-to-day ordinary lives, it will be too late. The choices may be difficult to identify (although they are starting to emerge), but we need to work harder at clarifying the plans we need to make.
I think we need to face some of these choices now. Certainly, we need to face up to the reality that there is no way to “vet” Muslim immigrants and continued Muslim immigration ends with us being Europe. That alone is a conversation our media and political class are unwilling to have.
I hear you. But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. At some point, we will be forced to respond forcefully. There are, what, a billion Muslims on the planet? If only 1% believe in Jihad (…and that’s probably very low…), that’s essentially a war against ten million people scattered all over the globe living normal lives. We’ll sweep up a lot of innocents going after them, and people will understandably get pissed. Then we escalate or forfeit. Either option leads to more conflict and bloodshed. And on and on. Fighting all over the world, including in our own neighborhoods.
I think this will get really ugly at some point.
As I often say, I hope I’m wrong…
What amazes me is how people who claim to care so much about the average Muslim then turn around and enable and excuse them for not rooting out the radicals from their midst. If European Liberals had a plan to goad the native population to such a degree that they would end up committing genocide against Muslims, it wouldn’t look much different from how they are actually behaving. If Muslims do not change their ways, we will end up with a war of civilizations and that won’t end well for anyone but will end tragically for them. Yet, Western Elites do everything they can to encourage Muslims to engage in behaviors that will result in such a war.
Agree. And I’d add another bullet point to the OP. It’s this:
Things got really ugly a long time ago in the UK because of two originally parallel circumstances that, at some point, violated the rules of parallelism, and ran into each other (meaning, I guess, that they weren’t parallel after all). IMHO.
One circumstance was the mass immigration into Great Britain, starting in the late 50’s and early 60’s, of folks from formerly Commonwealth countries.
Two of them lived next door to my Granny and Grandpa, in Handsworth Wood, Birmingham. A Pakistani couple, who integrated delightfully into the community, had several children, and, aside from the occasionally enticing, exotic, and succulent culinary scents wafting across the fence (as we were about to enjoy “braised scrag end of mutton” and “cabbage boiled within an inch of its life” for the upmpteenth time), might as well have been British from birth.
Alas, Handsworth Wood these days is quite near ground zero for UK terrorism, and I wonder sometimes what their grandchildren are up to.
Because the other (parallel) circumstance is that which George Orwell referred to as the “peculiar masochism of the English Left,” and it’s seen in the self-loathing that permeates any discussion of Englishness, Colonialism, nationalism, or the virtues of the British Way of Life, and which has done so for over half-a-century, to the point that few Brits would quibble with Gandhi’s supposedly dismissive quip, when asked what he thought of Western Civilization, which is that he thought “it would be a good idea.”
There has been a comment or two in this thread about the fact that it’s the second, or third generation that you have to watch out for.
No wonder, when they are raised in a country that hates itself, hates its history, hates its achievements, its culture, its religion and its people. Why on earth would the children, and the grandchildren, of my grandparents’ neighbors, who are probably proud of their Pakistani heritage–we can call it barbaric and medieval if we want, but perhaps they are proud of it–why would they want to assimilate into a society that’s told them ever since they were born, that it’s hateful, harmful, bigoted, and wrong?
The special genius of the United States is that it’s been able to assimilate its immigrants. Because being “American” has been seen as being somehow better than what, or where, you came from. (This is not to say that immigrants have lost pride in their origins. That’s not the case at all. At least, not around here). But being “American” has, in general, superseded what came before.
That’s less true now, than ever before.
And, again, IMHO, that’s a dangerous thing.
Because we can build as many walls as we want and throw out, or keep out, as many people as we want. But, in the end, if we don’t believe in ourselves, and in what we have, and why it is special, what on earth is the point?
At some point, doesn’t Western Civilization have to look in the mirror?
People are forever talking about the need and the nobility of dying for one’s country. But no one ever seems to talk about the need to kill for one’s country. It is not good enough to have a civilization worth dying for. You have to have a civilization that the people in it feel is worth killing for. That sounds harsh but it is true. Understand, that if you are not willing to kill for your way of life and your civilization, someone who is willing to kill for theirs, will come along and take it from you. That is how the world works. And we have an entire elite class that lives in this fantasy land where that is not true and where your civilization will magically survive if its people are just self-loathing enough.
This could be its own post. I am shocked to realize how many quaint European towns are now radicalized. Had no idea.
Not sure if you’re arguing with me or agreeing with me. I have no illusions that my civilization will magically survive if my people are self-loathing enough. That is, I think, exactly the opposite of my point.
My dad, and many over a certain age who remembered doing so, often talked about the need to kill for their country. And even though my Dad was, in his way, extraordinarily eloquent, I yield (as would he ) to George Patton on this subject:
Do we understand each other?
I don’t know why you think I was arguing with you. I was agreeing with you. That seemed obvious to me.
Good. Thanks for the clarification. It wasn’t obvious to me.
So the hypothetical is an American citizen Jihadi who commits murder in a terrorist attack.
If he is a “lone wolf,” not affiliated with a foreign Jihadi group with which we are at war, then this should be handled as a law enforcement matter. He should be tried in the regular criminal justice system, and punished if convicted (preferably with death).
If he is a member of a foreign Jihadi group with which we are at war, then he should be treated as an unlawful enemy combatant. Unlimited detention without trial, trial by military tribunal, execution if convicted, with the possibility of using lower standards of proof and without all of the procedural safeguards of the regular criminal justice system.
The law of the jungle expands to the stars and forever shall it be with man.
” “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”
George S. Patton.
Citizens, (and , unfortunately, non-citizens who have cozened their way into US jurisdiction) are entitled to due process of law. The fundamentals of that are : notice, and opportunity to be heard.
So Appointna special tribunal to hear cases where we suspect a citizen is about to go jihadi. Set up a prompt hearing, pursuant to notice.
If experience is any guide, the suspect will spend his or her day in court yelling Allahu Akbar and Death to America!
No further testimony? Hearing concluded. THEN deport ’em. For life.
It is a crime to advocate the overthrow of the US govt by force or violence.
Admittsly, we’ve been tolerant of that because of the LEFTY riots since the election. But now, time to invoke wartime powers.
Or, we just wait till we see Las Vegas in flames. Yeah. That’s right! They’ve TOLD us they’re gonna strike there next!
I’m not sure we can’t remains true to our values. Our values include self defense, counter espionage, and the rule of law. There must have been as many FBI agents inside communist organization in the US as there were communists. It was against the law to plot to overthrow the government and it is against the law to plot terrorism. Freedom of speech and opinion i.e. marxism was also protected just like freedom of religion. We must be careful what we put into law however, because progressives will use it against Christians and Jews when they are back in power. They are already setting the stage to declare Christian beliefs hate speech and the label terrorist is close behind. The first thing we need to do however is extreme vetting, so extreme Islamic immigration shrinks to a trickle of people who will work with us. This makes the job easier here, and gets their attention abroad. Abroad we’ve been doing things as part of self defense, the war on drugs, during the cold war that were way out front of good guys don’t play dirty. It’s that we used to be able to keep secrets and our instruments were small enough we could know what we were doing. The same dysfunction, careerism and bloated over funded lack of focus we see in domestic programs run by the federal government are even worse abroad where there are fewer lights shined on us. This political correctness infects the bureaucracy and saps its strength and focus and overstaffing and lack of focus are self reinforcing and can be corrected only with a chain saw and an axe, not a scalpel.