Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 7, 2016

One year since…

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 7, 2016
A boy walks past a snowman along a road covered with snow in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, January 7, 2015. REUTERS/Badra Mamet

REUTERS/Badra Mamet

On this day last January, the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo was attacked.  Eleven were killed.  There were other related deaths and injuries.

On this day last January, a car bomb in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, killed at least thirty-five.  More than 2700 Yemeni non-combatants have been killed since January.

On this day last January, one was killed and three were wounded by suspected gang violence in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (In Chicago four were murdered on January 6. Thirty-two residents of Chicago were murdered in January 2015. For the entire year Chicago reported at least 468 murders, the highest metro murder rate in the United States. The population of Chicago is about 2.8 million.)

On this day last January, the National Police of El Salvador reported that in the first six days of 2015 they had registered 90 homicides, On January 6 alone, 19 people were killed. At least 6,657 Salvadorans were violently killed in 2015.  The population of El Salvador is about 6.3 million.

On this day last January, a fierce winter storm swept Syria (above). For the first day in over three years no one was reported killed. During 2015 at least 21,000 non-combatants were killed in Syria.

–+–

I will be on leave from Homeland Security Watch.  When I may return is indefinite.  I have cued up several Friday Free Forums for continued contributions.  I leave you with an admonition from the Italian baroque painter Salvator Rosa, “Keep silent unless what you are going to say is better than silence.”  A particular challenge given the issues that confront us and the character of our times.

December 20, 2015

Saturday night in New Hampshire

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 20, 2015

The three candidates for the Democratic Party presidential nomination met in New Hampshire on Saturday night, four days after a Republican debate in Las Vegas.  Both sessions focused significant attention on terrorism.  The Democrats shared a stage at Saint Anselm College.  The Republicans met at the Venetian Hotel and Casino.  The content for the two events was as differentiated as the venues.

Here’s a transcript from Saturday night.  More later.

–+–

A few excerpts from St. Anselm (added to this post early on Monday morning, December 21):

The former Senator and Secretary of State said:

I have a plan that I’ve put forward to go after ISIS. Not to contain them, but to defeat them. And it has three parts. First, to go after them and deprive them of the territory they occupy now in both Syria and Iraq.

Secondly, to go after and dismantle their global network of terrorism. And thirdly, to do more to keep us safe. Under each of those three parts of my plan, I have very specific recommendations about what to do.

Obviously, in the first, we do have to have a — an American-led air campaign, we have to have Arab and Kurdish troops on the ground. Secondly, we’ve got to go after everything from North Africa to South Asia and beyond.

And then, most importantly, here at home, I think there are three things that we have to get right. We have to do the best possible job of sharing intelligence and information. That now includes the internet, because we have seen that ISIS is a very effective recruiter, propagandist and inciter and celebrator of violence.

That means we have to work more closely with our great tech companies. They can’t see the government as an adversary, we can’t see them as obstructionists. We’ve got to figure out how we can do more to understand who is saying what and what they’re planning.

And we must work more closely with Muslim-American communities. Just like Martin, I met with a group of Muslim-Americans this past week to hear from them about what they’re doing to try to stop radicalization. They will be our early warning signal. That’s why we need to work with them, not demonize them, as the Republicans have been doing…

You know, I was a senator from New York after 9/11, and we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to protect the city and the state from perhaps additional attacks. One of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this and I give him credit, was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, we’re in this together. You are not our adversary, you are our partner.

And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

The Senator from Vermont said:

Number one, our goal is to crush and destroy ISIS. What is the best way to do it? Well, I think there are some differences of opinion here, perhaps between the secretary and myself. I voted against the war in Iraq because I thought unilateral military action would not produce the results that were necessary and would lead to the kind of unraveling and instability that we saw in the Middle East.

I do not believe in unilateral American action. I believe in action in which we put together a strong coalition of forces, major powers and the Muslim nations. I think one of the heroes in a real quagmire out there, in a dangerous and difficult world, one of the heroes who we should recognize in the Middle East is King Abdullah II of Jordan. This small country has welcomed in many refugees.

And Abdullah said something recently, very important. He said, “Yes, international terrorism is by definition an international issue, but it is primarily an issue of the Muslim nations who are fighting for the soul of Islam. We the Muslims should lead the effort on the ground.” And I believe he is absolutely right.

The former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland said:

We have invested nowhere near what we should be investing in human intelligence on the ground. And what I’m talking about is not only the covert CIA intelligence, I’m also talking about diplomatic intelligence. I mean, we’ve seen time and time again, especially in this very troubled region of nation-state failures, and then we have no idea who the next generation of leaders are that are coming forward.

So what I would say is not only do we need to be thinking in military terms, but we do our military a disservice when we don’t greatly dial up the investment that we are making in diplomacy and human intelligence and when we fail to dial up properly, the role of sustainable development in all of this. As president, I would make the administrator of USAID an actual cabinet member. We have to act in a much more whole of government approach, as General Dempsey said.

And I do believe, and I would disagree somewhat with one of my colleagues, this is a genocidal threat. They have now created a safe haven in the vacuum that we allowed to be partly and because of our blunders, to be created to be created in the areas of Syria and Iraq. We cannot allow safe havens, and as a leader of moral nations around this Earth, we need to come up with new alliances and new ways to prepare for these new sorts of threats, because Martha, this will not be the last region where nation-states fail.

And you’ve seen a little bit of this emerging in the — in the African Union and the things that they have done to better stabilize Somalia. We need to pay attention here in Central America as well. So this is the new type of threats that we’re facing and we need to lead as a nation in confronting it and putting together new alliances and new coalitions.

Lot’s more in the transcript.  Substantive discussion and distinctions, mostly coherent consideration of real issues and a couple of worthwhile positions well-outside conventional wisdom.

December 18, 2015

Probability assessments

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2015

After Paris and before San Bernardino a Washington-Post ABC News poll found that 83 percent of registered voters perceive “a terrorist attack in the United States resulting in large casualties is likely in the near future.”

In a more recent poll seventy-seven percent of Americans express significant skepticism that  it is possible to stop terrorist attacks carried out by individuals, so-called “lone wolfs” or those inspired but not directed by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and similar organizations.  There is much more confidence that larger-scale coordinated attacks can be preempted.  But even here a majority of poll respondents doubt all such attacks can be stopped.

The media reports on these polls (linked above) tend to perceive increasing anxiety or fear and focus on political consequences.

But the more recent poll, conducted between December 10 – 13, also asked the question, “How worried are you that you or someone in your family will become a victim of terrorism?” Despite (because of?) the proximity of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks the percentage responding as “not too worried” or “not worried at all” increased from 49 percent in a June poll to 57 percent last week.

These survey results seem coherent with my own perceptions:

Continued terrorist attacks on the United States are likely. Variations of the Boston bombings or San Bernardino shootings are most likely.  An urban swarm attack, ala Mumbai or Paris, will — almost certainly — eventually be carried out.

We should be proactive and smart in taking reasonable and effective steps to reduce these probabilities. In the homeland security domain this ranges from a strategy of social solidarity to well-targeted intelligence operations.  But at some time and place all of our best efforts will fail.

In any case, these terrorist operations are unlikely to directly threaten me or my family directly.  They do not — or at least, need not — present an existential threat to the nation.

Given the polls reported above, other recent polls, and my own conversations with a wide range of Americans, it would seem that more than sixty percent share very similar views.  It is, it seems to me, a very realistic perspective on probabilities.

It is remarkable that political leadership seems unwilling or unable to build-on the realism of a significant majority of the population. It is even worse when some putative leaders are focused on stoking an unachievable fantasy of complete security on the part of a fearful minority.

–+–

UPDATE:  On December 16 the Department of Homeland Security released a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, a new approach to providing public alert.  Rather than the old (bad) color codes, it attempts to provide some context.  The first alert opens with:

We are in a new phase in the global threat environment, which has implications on the homeland.  Particularly with the rise in use by terrorist groups of  the Internet to inspire and recruit, we are concerned about the “self-radicalized” actor(s) who could strike with little or no notice. Recent attacks and attempted attacks internationally and in the homeland warrant increased security, as well as increased public vigilance and awareness.

This is hardly new, but perhaps someone had been waiting for “official” notice.

 

December 17, 2015

Talking terrorism

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 17, 2015

vegas-debate

Tuesday evening in Las Vegas the Republican presidential candidates all had something to say about terrorism… and immigration, refugees, cyber-war and whether or not we are already engaged in World War III. The following focuses on what I heard regarding terrorism.

Senator Paul said, “If we truly are sincere about defeating terrorism, we need to quit arming the allies of ISIS. If we want to defeat terrorism, the boots on the ground — the boots on the ground need to be Arab boots on the ground.” He also said,”every terrorist attack we’ve had since 9/11 has been [the result of] legal immigration… I want more rules, more scrutiny, and to defend the country, you have to defend the border.”

Senator Cruz said, “If I am elected president, we will hunt down and kill the terrorists. We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will stop the terrorist attacks before they occur because we will not be prisoners to political correctness. Rather, we will speak the truth. Border security is national security and we will not be admitting jihadists as refugees. We will keep America safe.”

Mr. Bush said, “We need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate. That’s — that should be our objective. The refugee issue will be solved if we destroy ISIS there, which means we need to have a no-fly zone, safe zones there for refugees and to build a military force. We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military. We need to arm directly the Kurds. And all of that has to be done in concert with the Arab nations. And if we’re going to ban all Muslims, how are we going to get them to be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS?The Kurds are the greatest fighting force and our strongest allies. They’re Muslim.”

Governor Kasich said, “Then here at home, there are things called the Joint Terrorism Task Force, headed by the FBI, and made up of local law enforcement, including state police. They need the tools. And the tools involve encryption where we cannot hear what they’re even planning. And when we see red flags, a father, a mother, a neighbor who says we have got a problem here, then we have to give law enforcement the ability to listen so they can disrupt these terrorist attacks before they occur.” In regard to operations against ISIS, the Governor said, “This is not going to get done just by working with the Sunnis. And it is not going to get done if we just embed a few people. We have to go massively, like we did in the first Gulf War where we destroyed Saddam’s ability to take Kuwait. We need to have a coalition that will stand for nothing less than the total destruction of ISIS and we have to be the leader. We can’t wait for anybody else.”

Ms. Fiorina said, “Why did we miss the Tsarnaev brothers, why did we miss the San Bernardino couple? It wasn’t because we had stopped collected metadata it was because, I think, as someone who comes from the technology world, we were using the wrong algorithms.”

Senator Rubio said, “ISIS is a radical Sunni group. They cannot just be defeated through air strikes. Air strikes are a key component of defeating them, but they must be defeated on the ground by a ground force. And that ground force must be primarily made up of Sunni Arabs themselves, Sunni Arabs that reject them ideologically and confront them militarily. We will have to embed additional American special operators alongside them to help them with training, to help them conduct special missions, and to help improve the air strikes… And beyond that, I would say we must win the information war against ISIS. Every war we have ever been involved in has had a propaganda informational aspect to it. ISIS is winning the propaganda war. They are recruiting people, including Americans, to join them, with the promise that they are joining this great apocalyptic movement that is going to defeat the West. We have to show what life is really like in ISIS territory, and we have to show them why ISIS is not invincible, by going out and conducting these attacks and publicizing them to those who they recruit.”

Governor Christie said, “What we need to do… is restore those tools that have been taken away by the president and others, restore those tools to the NSA and to our entire surveillance and law enforcement community. We need a president who is going to understand what actionable intelligence looks like and act on it.” The Governor said or suggested much more, but mostly by criticizing what others have done or propose to do and promising he will be stronger.

Mr. Trump‘s comments were, at least to me, incoherent. Every quote I begin to cut and paste seems ridiculous.  I sort of know what he means, but only by finishing sentences for him.

Much more was said, the Washington Post provides an annotated transcript.

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio broadcaster, who CNN had asking questions initiated an exchange with Ben Carson regarding the role of healing violence. This is not the term used in Las Vegas by either man, but the work of surgeons, such as Dr. Carson, is sometimes described with this phrase. The pediatric neurosurgeon responded that in fighting terrorism he is prepared to practice extreme triage. Here’s one part of the exchange:

HEWITT: So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians? It’s like…

CARSON: You got it. You got it.

Dr. Carson and most of the other Republican candidates — many others as well — have situated the current terrorist threat as a particular thing in a particular place or places.  This diagnosis drives the treatment: complete eradication.

There is an abiding sense of terrorism as an external epidemic or an internal cancer — perhaps some weird hybrid of both — that will continue to threaten if it is not entirely exterminated.  Dr. Carson is not alone in deciding that the threat is self-evidently sufficient to justify the most heart-wrenching triage.

Is a chronic coronary condition the more accurate analogy? There is a significant weakness in our global circulatory system. Blockages tend to form, threatening various ruptures that could kill us. This sort of diagnosis would tend to drive wellness, reinforcing therapies, and less drastic surgical interventions. Triage is much less relevant to this diagnosis.

Earlier in the evening at the undercard debate Senator Graham said, “This is a religious war between radical Islam and the rest of the world. And there’s only one way you’re going to win this war. Help people in Islam who reject radical Islam to fight over there and destroy this ideology. Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do: Declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the streets, they just don’t believe in dancing. This is a coup for them.  And to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt: I am sorry. He does not represent us. If I am President, we will work together and with people of faith all over the world to destroy this radical ideology. Declaring war on the religion only helps ISIL.”

Senator Graham is still using the language of destruction. But what I hear him describing is much more a matter of building up the strength of a whole system, not just for some to survive but for everyone to thrive.

–+–

UPDATE:  Mid-day on Thursday the President visited the National Counterterrorism Center.  His remarks on the terrorist threat can be found here.

Even more issues

Filed under: Climate Change,Immigration,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 17, 2015

This has been an especially busy several days in homeland security.  The list of issues and events could be quite long.  The following strike me as requiring at least a reference here.

The decision to close the Los Angeles public schools after receiving an emailed terrorist threat was defended by the LA Times editorial board.  They wrote, “with the San Bernardino shootings still a vivid memory, and with a somewhat more detailed threat in hand, district officials believed they had little choice but to close the schools. Had anything happened to a student or teacher, the horror would have been unspeakable, a wound from which it would be hard to recover. It’s easy to understand why the district erred on the side of safety.”

New York received a very similar — even identical — threat but decided differently.

“We are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional,” the President told new citizens who had just participated in a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives.  Given increasing public anxieity regarding immigrants, it was a powerful, even poignant event.

Writing in Politico Michael Hirsh  argues that the recent terrorist attacks and even more recent climate deal in Paris reflect the darkest and the brightest aspects of life on our planet. He writes, “The question is whether the political leaders who signed what is being called “L’accord de Paris” were more effective in their efforts to preserve this civilization than the terrorists were in theirs to destroy it. Granted, the climate pact has plenty of holes—the biggest of which is that it is fairly nonbinding—but it still represents the strongest global consensus in two decades on climate change, bringing in nearly every nation on earth…”

December 8, 2015

Yale University active shooter preparedness video

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on December 8, 2015

From the Yale University emergency management website:

This is an emergency preparedness video. This video guides people through the actions they would need to take if confronted by an active shooter. This video depicts fictional events on the Yale campus. Some content may be disturbing. It is intended as a learning tool.

You can watch the 8+ minute video at this link: http://emergency.yale.edu/be-prepared/active-shooterweapon  (not yet available on youtube).

Other examples of the expanding run-fight-hide video literature can be found at these links:

December 7, 2015

A President — and Paine — challenges the People

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 7, 2015

Sunday night the President outlined his approach to defeating ISIL.  There was nothing new, he did not attempt to make it sound new.  Mr. Obama summarized, “The strategy that we are using now—airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country—that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.”

The President called for narrow reforms related to visa screening and purchase of high-powered assault weapons.  He can implement most of the visa reforms on his executive authority.  Disallowing those on terrorist watch lists from purchasing weapons would require Congressional action.  As the President has argued previously, he called again for Congressional action to update and re-authorize use of military force against a terrorist threat that has morphed. The absence of a new AUMF has important constitutional implications, but probably no near-term practical effect.

As the President challenged Congress to act in ways he cannot, Mr. Obama also challenged the American people. He said:

We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world?—?including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans—of every faith—to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes—and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.

My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity—that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional.

There are some — perhaps one-quarter of our nation — who are predisposed to be against anything President Obama supports.  They are so personally offended by this President that they tend to embrace everything that is his opposite.  I hope the President’s embrace of religious pluralism, human decency, and fundamental equality does not increase suspicion of these propositions.

I anticipate there will be more attacks — both self-generated and coordinated.  I have long been surprised there have not been more.  As previously outlined, I understand the threat to go well beyond ISIS.  Given the fundamental nature of the threat any seemingly expedient solution is unlikely to work and may make things worse.

We have seen worse, but this will be plenty bad, day after infamous day. As Thomas Paine wrote so long ago, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”  A few lines later in The Crisis, Paine writes:

Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered.

May our recent panic end. May our minds grow. May we assume a firmer habit than before.

December 5, 2015

Germany in the mix

Filed under: Radicalization,Refugee Crisis,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2015

According to Deutsche Welle:

Germany’s foreign intelligence agency BND has released a disparaging report on Saudi Arabia. Their assessment says the country is destabilizing the Middle East with proxy wars in Yemen and elsewhere in the region.

The BND document entitled “Saudi Arabia – Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation” singled out Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as trying to strengthen his place in the royal succession while putting Saudi Arabia’s relationship with erstwhile regional allies in jeopardy.

“The careful diplomatic stance of older members of the Saudi royal family has been replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention,” the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) said.

The spy agency accused bin Salman, second in line to the throne, and his father, King Salman, as trying to create an image of Saudi Arabia being the leader of the Arab world. The BND added that bin Salman’s quest to cement his place in the nation’s leadership could also irritate other members of the royal family.

As another reason for the shift in policy, the BND also cited a perceived change in the role of the United States as the guarantor of stability in the face of growing influence exerted by Iran.

Since King Salman’s succession to power in January 2015, there’s been a more forceful response to the regional standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia largely set in motion by Prince Mohammed. The BND said that this could mainly be observed in Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen as well as its increased support for Syrian rebels in a bid to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since the limited release of the report on Wednesday (I have not yet found an original), the German Foreign Ministry has repudiated the BND findings.

According to a separate DW story:

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday it was crucial that Berlin has a “coherent position” on the role of Saudi Arabia in the region.

The assessments by the BND that were published do not reflect this coherent position,” Seibert said. “Those who want progress on the pressing issues in the region, and there are many, need constructive relations with Saudi Arabia.”

Friday the German parliament approved the deployment of up to 1,200 soldiers against the Islamic State. The government mandate was endorsed by 445 parliamentarians, with 146 others voting against and seven abstaining.  This week the British House of Commons also endorsed military action against the Islamic State in Syria, the RAF launched its first attack hours later.

December 3, 2015

Je suis qui?

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 3, 2015

The deadly attack on the Colorado Springs clinic has prompted a wide-range of analysis.  Will the same range of opinion emerge from the San Bernardino bloodbath?

Writing in Slate, William Saletan notes, that Robert Lewis Dear is only the most recent of several male, white, Christian terrorists from North Carolina.  His argument is often ironic, but earnestly concludes:

This week’s carnage in Colorado brings the death toll from North Carolinian terrorists, including Eric Rudolph, to eight. That’s just one shy of the nine people murdered in Charleston. Throw in the work of a few lesser miscreants, and you’re looking at roughly 20 casualties inflicted by Carolina extremists. That doesn’t make the Christian states of North and South Carolina anywhere near as dangerous as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But it does make you wonder why, as we close our doors to refugees who have done us no harm, we pay so little attention to our enemies within.

David French writing in The National Review dismisses such comparisons, claiming it merely.

… tempt[s] Americans to take their eyes off the real threat to our security — a rapidly growing mass movement that is wholly and completely dedicated to violence. Our real worry shouldn’t be an alienated teenager with a Confederate flag or an angry hermit who hates the government. It should be the fully mobilized jihadist armies controlling nation-sized chunks of territory, the entire governments dedicated to the spread of jihad and seeking nuclear weapons, and their tens of millions of supporters and sympathizers.

Wednesday’s Washington Post featured an apparently uncoordinated presentation of alternative views by columnists Ruth Marcus and Kathleen Parker.

Marcus wrote, “…if initial reports of alleged gunman Robert Lewis Dear Jr.’s comments about “no more baby parts” prove true — and logic suggests that it was no mere coincidence the attack was at a Planned Parenthood clinic — Republican politicians who fueled the overwrought and unsupported controversy over selling baby parts bear some measure of responsibility.”

Parker, seemed to respond, but I perceive each were writing independently, ”

… as abhorrent as we find the shooter’s actions, we should tread carefully in assigning broader blame. One man may have heard fiery rhetoric and decided to kill people, but 320 million other Americans went about their day as usual. The rationale we seek for mass killings may ultimately be elusive because a variety of variables are usually in play. In time, perhaps the suspect will provide answers, which we can parse in search of helpful insights. So far, he’s been unhelpful. Saying “no more baby parts” may suggest a motive, but it is also nonsensical. There will be more baby parts as long as there are abortions. By his comment alone, one suspects that Dear is mentally incompetent, drunk, on drugs, off his meds or all of the above.

A provisional observation — perhaps a mere impression — entirely susceptible to empirical refutation: But in recently reading a bunch of analyses regarding Mr. Dear’s background, Dylan Roof (Charleston church shooter), Timothy McVeigh (Murrah Federal Building), James Holmes (Aurora movie theater), the Charlie Hebdo assailants and the perpetrators of the most recent Paris attacks… I seem to notice that whatever else the writer does, s/he makes a strong argument that the murderer/terrorist/some-other-designation is entirely unlike him or her.

I see the same pattern in the early profiles already emerging on Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik after the San Bernardino massacre.

It causes me to consider how our problem-diagnosis might be more productive if, instead, we started by asking, “How does this person remind me of myself?”

Je suis qui? Who am I?

November 24, 2015

Fear and loathing

Filed under: Radicalization,Refugee Crisis,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 24, 2015

Saturday the Washington Post reported, “Americans more fearful of a terrorist attack, poll finds”.  The article claimed that fear has “risen sharply” since the Paris attacks on November 13.

The actual survey question asked on November 19 was, “How likely do you think it is that in the near future there will be a terrorist attack in the United States causing a large number of lives to be lost?”  The identical question has been asked periodically since December, 2001. Last week eighty-one percent of respondents considered the prospect “very” or “somewhat” likely.  This is the second highest result since the question has been asked, surpassed only by the 85 percent net likelihood found after the July 2005 London bomb attacks.

The survey did not ask respondents anything about fear.

Last week I had three friends check in on canceling their holiday trips to New York.  I received one of their calls while walking across Times Square.  A related email arrived while I was getting off the subway at Herald Square.  That morning many newscasts were leading with the ISIS video-threat against New York.

Clearly my friends were apprehensive.  I don’t perceive they were afraid.  Rather, each of them was probably contacting me precisely to strengthen their predisposition to persist with their plans.  My work has very little to do with counter-terrorism, but one of my friends wrote, “You make me feel safer, because I know you know more than most…”

My responses were variations on the theme: risk is persistent, death is inevitable, New York is a very big place, I’m having a great time.  This does not assert any special knowledge.

The Old English word (fær) from which fear is derived means “sudden attack” or “ambush”.  If I had been at or near the Bataclan I would have been fearful.  I am not confident I have the courage or grace to perceive the profound love reported, even there, by one of those trapped in harms way (thank you Vicki).

But fear is not an accurate description for what I currently feel or what prompted my friends to contact me.  Fear may be what Mr. Trump is trying to sell.  But it is not, necessarily, what the survey respondents were channeling.  Perception of an increased likelihood of terrorist attacks may not translate directly into increased fear of the same.

Yet… I have difficulty explaining inflexible and craven notions regarding “outsiders” unless many are afraid or feel themselves on the sharpest edge of fear and are desperately trying to avoid falling further into what they see as a imminent maelstrom.

How do we constructively deal with such wide-spread anxiety?

It is difficult to think aloud about these issues.  Objective analysis helps, but in another way misses the point entirely.  This is mostly about subjective projection.

A few lines cherry-picked from Auden’s long poem The Age of Anxiety:

All war’s woes I can well imagine.
Gun-barrels glint, gathered in ambush
Mayhem among mountains…
Ruins by roads, irrational in woods,
Insensitive upon snow-bound plains,
Or littered lifeless along low coasts…

Numbers and nightmares have news value.

A crime has occurred, accusing all.

The world needs a wash and a week’s rest.

Better this than barbarian misrule.
History tells more often than not
Of wickedness with will, wisdom but
An interjection without a verb,
And the godless growing like green cedars
On righteous ruins…

But the new barbarian is no uncouth
Desert-dweller; he does not emerge
From fir forests; factories bred him;
Corporate companies, college towns
Mothered his mind, and many journals
Backed his beliefs. He was born here. The
Bravura of revolvers in vogue now
And the cult of death are quite at home
Inside the City…

Do we learn from the past? The police,
The dress-designers, etc.,
Who manage the mirrors, say–No.
A hundred centuries hence
The gross and aggressive will still
Be putting their trust in patron
Saint or a family fortress,
The seedy be taking the same
Old treatments for tedium vitae,
Religion, Politics, Love…

Both professor and prophet depress,
For vision and longer view
Agree in predicting a day
Of convulsion and vast evil,
When the Cold Societies clash
Or the mosses are set in motion
To overrun the earth,
And the great brain which began
With lucid dialectics
Ends in a horrid madness…

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

Auden wrote this between July, 1944 and November, 1946.  I have lived my entire life in the shadow he so powerfully projects.  There is also evidence of such dread being fully confirmed: Between April and November 1944 585,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz.  On August 6, 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima incinerating at least 100,000.  Listing one dreadful example for each year since would not be difficult. Choosing only one would be the challenge.

Yet this is not the whole story.  Auschwitz was liberated, Japanese and Americans reconciled, in the last seventy years many ancient sources of oppression have withered. In the midst of these dreadful years, have you loved someone? Known the love of another? Experienced joy?

Reality taken as whole helps.  Reality is both brutal and beautiful (and more).  It is important not to deny its multiplicity.

Yesterday, Monday, the Washington Post had another story: Voters’ fear of terrorism changes the campaign.  This time individuals are quoted expressing specific fears.  In these explanations I hear something other than visceral reaction.  I hear self-interested choices.

November 20, 2015

Clinton at CFR

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,Radicalization,Refugee Crisis,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 20, 2015

Yesterday Hillary Clinton gave a speech and answered questions at the Council on Foreign Relations.  A transcript and video is available at the CFR website.

Here’s how she set up her remarks:

ISIS is demonstrating new ambition, reach, and capabilities. We have to break the group’s momentum, and then its back. Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS but to defeat and destroy ISIS.

But we have learned that we can score victories over terrorist leaders and networks only to face metastasizing threats down the road. So we also have to play and win the long game. We should pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, one that embeds our mission against ISIS within a broader struggle against radical jihadism that is bigger than any one group, whether it’s al-Qaida or ISIS or some other network.

An immediate war against an urgent enemy and a generational struggle against an ideology with deep roots will not be easily torn out. It will require sustained commitment in every pillar of American power. This is a worldwide fight, and America must lead it.

Our strategy should have three main elements: one, defeat ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; two, disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilities the flow of fighters, financing arms, and propaganda around the world; three, harden our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.

Mrs. Clinton proceeds with detailed, balanced, and well-argued analysis and recommendations.  Even one well-known conservative commented, “Candidate Clinton laid out a supple and sophisticated approach.”  It is worth reading — or at least listening — carefully.

While she did not give major attention to the issue of the US receiving Syrian refugees, given the political climate the presidential candidate’s comments could even be characterized as courageous. Below is part of what she said:

Since Paris, no homeland security challenge is being more hotly debated than how to handle Syrian refugees seeking safety in the United States. Our highest priority, of course, must always be protecting the American people. So, yes, we do need to be vigilant in screening and vetting any refugees from Syria, guided by the best judgment of our security professionals in close coordination with our allies and partners. And Congress needs to make sure the necessary resources are provided for comprehensive background checks, drawing on the best intelligence we can get. And we should be taking a close look at the safeguards and the visa programs as well.

But we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations. Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee—that is just not who we are. We are better than that. And remember, many of these refugees are fleeing the same terrorists who threaten us. It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes, and then also prevent them from ever finding new ones. We should be doing more to ease this humanitarian crisis, not less. We should lead the international community in organizing a donor conference and supporting countries like Jordan, who are sheltering the majority of refugees fleeing Syria.

And we can get this right. America’s open, free, tolerant society is described by some as a vulnerability in the struggle against terrorism, but I actually believe it’s one of our strengths. It reduces the appeal of radicalism and enhances the richness and resilience of our communities.

–+–

A personal addendum: I have always wondered — worried, really — what I might have done (or perhaps not done) if I had been in Germany when the Nazis began their fear campaign against the Jews (and others), or if I could have encouraged the United States to accept more European refugees in the late 1930s, or if I had been in California when Americans placed fellow citizens of Japanese descent in our own concentration camps.  Right and wrong is so much easier retrospectively.

The House of Representatives has already voted to reject the victims of tyranny, hatred and war.  This is not surprising.  It reflects popular fear and the House was designed to mirror such sentiment.  We are certainly no better than our grandparents. I hope the Senate will act with wider and wiser consideration. But it will, apparently, be a close vote.  Courage and conscience are not major voting blocks.

In regard to receiving refugees, fear and concern ought not be dismissed.  But these are not our only or best options. American neglect and rejection of victims did not help avoid World War II and may have even encouraged those intent on the massacre of innocents.  The victimization of our own citizens was simply unnecessary and profoundly wrong.  In the current context, much of the ISIS strategy depends on the US and rest of the West rejecting the refugees and intimidating our Muslim citizens.

A world in which the stranger, widow and orphan are rejected is a place where none of us are safe.

November 19, 2015

Naming the enemy

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 19, 2015

Karen Armstrong and others have argued that great religions and ethical systems — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, classical Greek philosophy and more — arose in the Axial Age as universalist efforts to contain increasingly deadly tribal conflict. The goal was to extend common values across tribal boundaries. Christianity, Islam, and others have emerged from similar need.

The Westphalian Consensus might be summarized as European elites deciding their wars of religion — outbreaks of tribalism within a universalist construct — were entirely too costly.  An increasingly fractured universal claim was succeeded by cults of dynastic and/or national sovereignty. Confessional diversity and various tribal identities would be tolerated if subordinated to the State. While never entirely successful, the risks seemed manageable until 1914-1945, when the mitigation process dramatically failed.

Emerging from this failure, two large post-Westphalian States competed to offer alternate visions of universalist ascendance: capitalism or communism.  (Each offer complicated — occasionally enhanced — by tribal particularities of the USA and USSR.)

Since the end of the Cold War, various kinds of capitalism — rarely pure, sometimes state-sponsored, usually mixed — have made their bid for universal influence. It is typically a creed of consumption, near-term gratification, supply chain efficiency, creative destruction, constant change, the next new thing. Many have benefited.  Millions have been pulled out of poverty.  But costs, both direct and indirect, are steep and are accumulating.

I am a Capitalist and an alleged Christian. I am an active citizen of a post-Westphalian nation-state that has proudly (at times earnestly) aspired to be post-tribal. Universalism is my cultural and personal comparative advantage.  But from time to time, even I feel the litany and logic of universalism to be manipulative, inhumane, and vulgar. Others, for whom tribe is source of identity and sustenance, — and those with no meaningful identity — often find my universalist values unnatural and frightening.

Some have credibly demonstrated our species emerged no less than 60,000 years ago and can be traced even further back.  For at least two-thousand generations tribe has been hearth, health, and all that is holy; universalism a very recent, comparatively abstract addition. Tribal relationships continue to enrich. A drought of tribal connections and continuity leaves many thirsty.

ISIS, al-Qaeda and similar movements — Islamic and not — attempt to fuse the promise of tribal roots and universal relationship. Despite the stonings, beheadings, bombings and mayhem their ultimate goal is said to be comprehensive peace and fraternity, within reassuring boundaries of their own tribal traditions.

Rather than atomistic consumers competing for the greatest new thing, they promise a global community of loving faithful no longer tempted by Satanic notions of self-indulgent, ephemeral, and empty consumption. With the wholeness of creation re-formed, peace will characterize the inner and outer lives of all, they promise.

In the specific case of ISIS, members of the cult are self-persuaded that Jews and Christians — and hypocritically modern Muslims — destroy and defile traditional truths and obscure the path of Ultimate Reality with gross materialism and a pernicious tolerance of evil.  To overcome this challenge ISIS has been explicit regarding a strategy to unify Muslims by causing the West to exclude and abuse them.  The Paris attack was designed specifically to prompt such responses.  The National Front and others — including governors of several of these United States — are ready to oblige.

ISIS has also communicated it desires to battle the Crusader nations, especially the United States, France, and Britain, in Northern Syria specifically at Dabiq.  Many in the ISIS leadership understand that this military encounter will initially bring it considerable success, followed by enormous losses, but in any case will inaugurate the end-days, the second-coming of Jesus, and divinity’s direct rule.  Once again several, including Senators Sanders, Graham and Cruz and President Hollande, seem ready to make a date for Dabiq.

ISIS, like al-Qaeda before it, is expert in manipulating tribal tendencies to its particular notion of strategic advantage.

The attacks in Paris were horrific. As we have seen in Mumbai and now again, a small team very modestly organized can do terrible harm. I expect we will see similar attacks in other cities: Rome, Istanbul, and London are at the top of my list.  ISIS has apparently called out Washington DC and New York as targets.

These sort of attacks do not reflect an existential threat to a great nation. But it is very difficult to imagine any government so disciplined and stoical as to make this argument.  A more robust military response, one way or another, eventually will come.

Despite the Dabiq prophecy, I expect a coalition of regional and Western forces will “destroy” the current Raqqa regime.  Given their threats, demonstrated capability, and bloody ambition this probably will now happen sooner than later. Given what we have heard from inside the self-styled Caliphate, maybe this time victorious troops will actually be greeted as liberators. (Probably not.)

But what then?

We can transfer, try to proactively avoid, and reduce the risk posed by ISIS.  But we live in an era when, I suggest, the risk itself will persist. The underlying threat will not be destroyed. Whether the West and/or modern Muslims wage war or peace, the perceived divide is too great to be reconciled any time soon. Given global proximity, even intimacy, the conflict will continue and probably escalate… regardless of what we do or don’t.

The risk cannot be destroyed and must be ruefully accepted because ISIS is merely the most recent reflection of a 2500 year plus contention between forces of tribalism and universalism.  Across all these centuries and most of our cultures there has been a recurring effort to contain the deadly pride of tribe versus tribe.  In many times and places universalism has claimed the cultural high ground.  But tribal insurgencies have always retained the emotional commitment of many.

Tuesday I complained that our current threat had been reduced to an indefinite plural pronoun.  I have heard many insist that we must be explicit regarding the proper noun.  But most of the names offered have been those of a weaker progeny of a primordial power that the best men and women of our species — some would claim an authority even greater than this — have failed to destroy and seldom enough contained.

What then, shall we do?

I have just exceeded my thousand word limit, so I will conclude with three questions that may be worth regularly asking:

  • Does my (our, this nation’s, this culture’s) action inflame or contain tribe-vs-tribe tendencies?
  • Is my action coherent with some version of the other-as-self ethic of reciprocity?
  • Will my action increase or decrease the likelihood of future pain and suffering, for me and for most others as well?

November 18, 2015

Protection and Recovery

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 18, 2015

November 17, 2015

Terrorism and the global war against indefinite pronouns

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 17, 2015

HLSWATCH_DES MOINES DEBATE

The word-cloud was generated from a transcript of Saturday’s debate in Des Moines.

The “debate” was originally intended to focus on the economy. Given Friday night’s attack in Paris, the first twenty-five minutes were focused on the implications of that attack. The word-cloud pulled only from this initial portion. I also excised participant names and prepositions to highlight substance.

A contemporary political debate is not a graduate seminar.  It is not even a blog that can, if it decides, allow a couple of days for review, reflection, and revision.

But given the importance of this issue, with barely 24 hours elapsed between attacking and talking, the experience and aspirations of the three candidates, and the chance for an authentic exchange of views among them, Saturday night may be the best we get to assess how a large slice of the American political class frames the challenge.

What issue?  What challenge?  This remains unclear.

ISIS (not ISIL, btw) was the specific concern on Saturday.  Secretary Clinton said, “we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network.” Senator Sanders said, “Together, leading the world this country will rid our planet of… ISIS.”

Governor O’Malley did not disagree and emphasized, “ISIS, make no mistake about it, is an evil in this world.”   Mrs. Clinton was a bit more programmatic in her characterization, referring to “radical jihadist ideology.” Mr. Sanders offered, “I agree with much of what the secretary and the governor have said.”  He added (and then Mr. O’Malley piled on) that ISIS is the bastard child of the US invasion of Iraq.  Well, actually he said, “I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now.”

I’m not sure that Mrs. Clinton disagrees, but she was keen to point to other contributing factors: “The Shia– Sunni split, the dictatorships that have suppressed people’s aspirations, the increasing globalization without any real safety valve for people to have a better life. We saw that in Egypt. We saw a dictator overthrown, we saw Muslim Brotherhood president installed and then we saw him ousted and the army back. So I think we’ve got to understand the complexity of the world that we are facing and no places more so than in the Middle East.”  There was even a point where the former Secretary of State may have been about to diagnose the origins of “jihadi extreme terrorism”, but I perceive she thought better of it and rather awkwardly turned another way.

This admittedly apophatic analysis is reinforced by a question the moderator, John Dickerson, posed to Mrs. Clinton a few minutes later: “You gave a speech at Georgetown University in which you said that it was important to show– quote– respect even for one’s enemy. Trying to understand and in so far as psychologically possible empathize with their perspective and point of view. Can you explain what that means in the context of this kind of barbarism?”

Given the context, I do not blame the candidate for choosing to emphasize, “… it’s very difficult when you deal with– ISIS and organizations like that whose–whose behavior is so barbaric and so vicious–that it doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than lust for killing and power.”  Indeed, given the context, I have some reluctant respect for her use of lawyerly qualifiers.

–+–

I could continue.  Linguistic analysis is a weird personal pleasure.  But if you did not inherit the gene, I recognize it soon becomes tedious. So some resulting judgments:

  • My initial impression of the Saturday performance was deep disappointment, almost disgust.
  • But careful sifting and reading exposed more coherence than a first hearing found.
  • In reading what was said it is possible to conceive — though seldom to confirm — presuppositions and predispositions that enlarge what was said.   In these between-the-line harmonies I encountered something much more complicated than the bombastic melody.
  • Nonetheless it remains a war march.  Whether the United States is leading or supporting and how differs with the specific composer.  But — as we see in the word-cloud — the consistent theme is: The World is at War with ISIS.
  • Moreover, this is — it seems to me — a rather old-fashioned composition:  Good versus Evil, us versus them, unconditional surrender, total victory, the score reaching a satisfying C major climax.  As Senator Sanders said, “they are a danger to modern society. And that this world with American leadership can and must come together to destroy them.”

I perceive this statement — which many other candidates Republican and Democrat echo — demonstrates a dangerous lack of understanding regarding the plural pronoun; something I have found treacherous in every language I have ever attempted. On Thursday I will try to make better sense of this indefinite.

–+–

On Monday at Versailles President Hollande sang a song very similar to Senator Sanders’.  After which the French Parliamentarians also sang. A less than stirring chorus, to my ear.

November 14, 2015

Immigrant Terror Threats: Imported Time Bombs in an Age of Poses

Filed under: Immigration,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Nick Catrantzos on November 14, 2015

Certain vulnerabilities are emerging in the wake of the attacks on Paris.

1. IMMEDIATE: Inability to vet hence screen assassins mixed among incoming refugees. A universal precept in safeguarding the people and assets of any organization is to begin by denying access to known or likely enemies. Thus the bank shies away from hiring convicted embezzlers, the liquor store from alcoholics, and the daycare center from child molesters. Before an organization can vet such people to make some intelligent decision about who gets in, it must begin with the most rudimentary of first steps: establish the person’s identity. This, sadly, is not possible when incoming droves hail from war-torn, hostile countries that are not about to do anything but impede attempts to trace a given individual’s pedigree and criminal record. Thus we have no way of vetting people like this, and our adversaries know it. The temptation to infiltrate adversaries agents into such migrant waves must be irresistible. It is such a windfall for those who would destroy us, that to not exploit such an opportunity would be jihadi malpractice.

2. EVENTUAL: The tendency of a succeeding generation to succumb to radicalization. A Western country can do everything right in extending humanitarian relief across its borders to welcome oppressed refugees, supplying them opportunities and civil liberties never before available, only to find the gratitude of the first wave of immigrant families turn into a tsunami of resentment for succeeding generations. Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon better portrayed than in The Islamist, Ed Husain’s 2009 story of how he grew up in a diaspora community in Britain only to be radicalized in a process that began with a longing for a mother country he first saw through the rosy, airbrushed accounts of disgruntled relatives other than his parents. His parents, after all, having emigrated to find a better life, wanted to assimilate, to regard themselves British citizens. But as a youngster, Husain felt estranged, neither fish nor fowl, as he didn’t look or feel British on the one hand and didn’t have a strong Muslim identity on the other. Into this vacuum came recruiters capitalizing on alienation and holding out the allure of a welcoming cultural identity, a sense of purpose, a call to battle for a radical vision of an imagined greatness ideally experienced in snapshots and trickle charges of brief visits to an exotic mother land and to secret meetings of radicals at home. The pattern is revealing: it isn’t the first or true refugees who turn on their host; they are grateful. It’s the succeeding generations, the ones born in relative safety and comfort, the ones who have the luxury of growing up resentful, wanting more and, hence, malleable in the hands of radicals who dangle before them dreams of greatness attained via the express route of jihad rather than the long road of hard work and gradual ascendancy.

3. SYSTEMIC: The unchecked erosion of cohesive elements of the host society under the banner of tolerance to the point of enabling the rise of saboteurs from within. This phenomenon stands out with the demonization of the melting pot. There was a time, remembered more vividly perhaps by first generation children of immigrants whose parents fled countries in tatters in the wake of occupation and civil war, when assimilation wasn’t a dirty word. It was an objective to be pursued with pride and a sense of achievement. The émigrés landing successfully in the New World had to earn their keep and were only too happy to do so. They learned the language and conformed to the laws and customs of the new land providing them opportunities denied them back home. Only now, they were in a new and better home, and they knew it. Thus they thought themselves Americans or Canadians, and they insisted that their children take on the traditions and culture of their new home, sometimes even if this meant diluting the ties to the Old World. When law or custom of the new country conflicted with those of the old country, then the default choice was to go with the new land. After all, this was the source of opportunity, the current home, the place which gave the immigrants the chance they most desired and thus, by extension, the place that deserved their allegiance in return. Sure, it was fine to respect old ways, language, and tradition, but the old folks weren’t kidding themselves. “I enjoy the music and the food and the occasional festivals,” my mother’s kid brother once told me, “but I see myself as an American more than a Greek. This is my country and I put it first.” This was from a man who, like my parents, was in Greece during the Second World War, when the population starved in record numbers as the Nazis and their Italian allies plundered it. Uncle John didn’t remember that part; he was in a Nazi concentration camp at the time, having been rounded up as a low-level courier while a kid working for the Resistance.

Today, the melting pot of yesteryear is regarded an insult, an offense to sustaining cultural identity. Instead, to the extent any kind of nod to assimilation is even considered, the preferred metaphor is the salad bowl. This allows theoretical mixing without loss of identity. Instead of blending in a melting pot, people are supposed to remain distinct “chunks” that tumble in the bowl, coated by some light but not too sticky vinaigrette, such as the shared watching of situation comedies and reality TV shows, instead of shared traditions or, heaven forbid, open profession of allegiance to country or national traditions. Mix together minimally but remain distinct. That’s the mantra. It preserves whatever one wants held inviolate in one’s particular “chunk.” And this distinctness also proves handy in clutching resentments.

We make it worse. By bending over backwards today to open borders unconditionally to people without demanding of them both assimilation and self sufficiency, we load a pistol of cultural castration, cock it, aim it at our own national body parts, and then, perhaps, in a fleeting moment of hesitant misgiving cry out, “Don’t move!”

No Easy Answers

Diagnosing a malady does not necessarily mean offering a cure in the same breath. Doesn’t proper diagnosis at least uncover enough about root causes to suggest that there are things the patient should stop doing in order to prevent the situation from getting worse? If so, then some remedies based on the foregoing analysis would begin with a tenet traceable to both the Hippocratic Oath and emergency management circles: Don’t make it worse.

Places to Start

To counter the immediate problem of vetting incoming hordes, prudence would suggest taking a more cautious view to opening floodgates to people whose only qualification is a hard luck story. People value what they earn, and this applies to immigrants as much as to students or workers of any kind. If citizenship and its rights are to be valued, the country conferring them must treat them as valuable, not as candy to be tossed to win smiles and demonstrate humanitarian impulses in front of cameras. It would make sense to demand of immigrants that they meet some conditions as a ticket for admission. These include fluency in a national language, conversance with the laws and history of their new home country, and a pledge to both abide by the host country’s laws and traditions even when those are in conflict with those of the emigre’s country of origin. Otherwise, why import any avowed malcontent?

To counter the eventual and systemic problems, there needs to be serious recalibrating of institutions to promote and transmit some unifying vision of what it means to be a good citizen without demonizing patriotism. It is fine to maintain a fondness for and recognition of ancestral traditions and culture, but if one is leaving a place for greener pastures, there must be a recognition that the laws of the host country take precedence and deserve respect. For Muslims, this means no, you can’t run your community by Sharia law in defiance of the laws of the land. For others, you can’t insist on having government forms in your native language or fly any flag other than that of your host. Nor can you have your own schools or distinct enclaves designed to self-segregate. If you want to be here, blend. If you don’t, then rethink coming over in the first place.

Too often an otherwise advanced society, losing sight of its cohesive elements, can embark on self-defeating measures, such as a misguided, unchecked immigration policy under the banner of humanitarian relief. It takes level thinking and a weighing of consequences to realize that a nation’s first duty is to protect its citizens and that impetuous opening of floodgates to near term or nascent saboteurs is no way to perform this duty.

November 13, 2015

Open Thread on the Paris Terrorist Attacks

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on November 13, 2015

Obviously, the facts regarding the multi-site attacks tonight in Paris tonight are fluid and it will take days to definitively understand and describe what has occurred.

I am not going to make an effort to replicate news outlets efforts at updating information.  Instead, I thought it might be useful to open a thread on this attack, specifically, or this type of threat, in general, to allow any interested parties to share their expertise, opinions, or general thoughts.

Update: For those looking for information online, the New York Times is providing free digital access to all of their coverage online.

Update 2: For news closer to the source see France 24, an English language French TV station. You can watch their live feed here: http://www.france24.com/

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