[ed: This is a guest post from Josh Turiel because your regular Clam editors are just too exhausted and drunk to post another goddamn diatribe on our outrageous gun problem. Also, if you’re unfamiliar, “Daesh” is the word we now use to describe ISIS. According to a Globe editorial, “Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from “to trample down and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” And basically, ISIS hates it so let’s do it from here on out. USA! USA!]
So the San Bernardino shooters were a couple, apparently led by the woman, who were inspired by ideology to commit terrorism. Which means that OMG Daesh is here.
Except they aren’t here. What we have is a dangerous hybrid of terror wannabes who aren’t part of any organized effort. Some have been overseas and exposed to the extremism virus over there. Some have been following it here and been inspired by Facebook, news coverage, Twitter, and bajillions of things you’ve never heard of. Maybe there’s one nutty charismatic Iman at a local mosque who inspired someone.
In a lot of ways, that’s more scary than if Daesh were actually here in this country setting up operations, but it’s less dangerous overall. America is a pretty free nation, despite what nutters on both sides may think, and there’s always going to be that risk that a couple of people will be inspired by whatever ideology and do something horrible. We’ve been dealing with domestic terrorism for a lot longer than most of you think.
Remember Timothy McVeigh and his partner Terry Nichols? Yep. Domestic terrorists inspired by radical ideology to commit the Oklahoma City bombing. But it was Christian ideology, developed right here at home. The Atlanta Olympic bombing along with several others? Eric Rudolph, a member of the Army of God. Christian. The Sikh Temple shooting? Wade Page, a white supremacist. This past June, Dylann Roof killed nine people at a Methodist church in Charleston, South Carolina. Remember the guy in Colorado just a week ago?
There’s plenty more.
I’m not saying that Muslims are blameless, either. We remember the Tsarnevs pretty well in these parts. Nidal Hassan killed 13 people on the Army base where he worked (he was a US Army Major) at Fort Hood, Texas. Also that year, Abdul Muhammad killed one man and wounded another in a drive-by shooting in Little Rock, Arkansas. There are plenty of instances that a simple Google search can find of arrests and interrupted plots.
The reason that most of these would be terrorists are caught and arrested before they can try to do harm is simple. They organize. They set up groups and networks. A group of people acting suspiciously sets off alarms in law enforcement. They aren’t so good at keeping secrets. They’re noticed, and ultimately arrested. Our FBI isn’t perfect, but they’re pretty damned good – and working with local and state law enforcement they usually stop these plots before they go anywhere.
Note that in the above paragraph I did NOT say “Islamic terrorists”. Law enforcement is good at catching terrorist plots regardless of religious or ideological motivation.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the problem for us (and this is inherent to any society that’s even slightly free) is the lone actor. The married couple. The one angry person and his or her close friend. The brothers. They form a self-contained unit, rarely set off warning signs, and aren’t usually interested in surviving their acts so much as they are sending a message.
The scary thing about it is the simple truth that WE CAN’T STOP THEM ALL. Every city has some potential people that could fit. Every backwoods could have a rusty old trailer with a McVeigh living there. Every neighborhood can have Tsarnev brothers. We never know for sure.
Should that make this country into something else that’s meaner, more suspicious, and more xenophobic than it’s been for generations? I hope not. I don’t blame all my Christian friends for Eric Rudolph. I don’t blame my Muslim friends for the Tsarnevs. I also understand the actual nuance between Daesh as a fighting force in Iraq and Syria, and Daesh as an ideology that has inspired a new wave of nuts in Europe, Asia, and America. We can pretty easily defeat the military Daesh. But it doesn’t stop the people here that are motivated by them. This is the problem we face as a nation and as a people.
That said, if you think that this sort of existential threat is best suited to Facebook memes about Obama being weak because he understands the difference, too? Well, you’re a fool – and you’re probably not reading this article, either. You don’t get nuance. OK, it takes all sorts.
Basically, to sum this up, we have two real military foes right now. Both are extreme fundamentalist Islamic-inspired groups – the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Daesh in Iraq/Syria. We also have a global problem with terrorism committed mainly by individuals and small teams that are inspired by these groups, and by other extreme religious groups around the world. Religious-inspired violence and terror has been a problem for societies since before the modern era. It remains one today. Here in the United States, the Islamic threat of the last twenty years or so is added to the Christian and racially-inspired terror we’ve dealt with since before the Civil War. We need to fight this as a nation without letting the fight destroy us as a nation.
And based on the rhetoric I see all the time, even from serious candidates for this nation’s highest office, we’re not doing so good at that. We’re better than this, people.