Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blowing up the stereotype

[Note: Long post, but I had to write about this. Please find some time to read this.]

We [I] live in a world [country] where the terrorists have won. No, don't get me wrong here - no more explosions have taken place since the last time you read the news. But the terrorists' aim is not to kill people - that is merely the means to an end - which is to terrorize people. And if you need any proof of this current state, just look at the faces of the passengers on a jet when they see a brown man with a french beard boarding with a copy of No god but God in his hands.

Why am I ranting about something everyone already knows? because I recently read this TIME article about how the recent attempted bombings in Britain showed that the stereotypes about terrorists do not hold. Tbe following quotes give you an idea:

Much of the plot line was familiar: homemade bombs, near misses and violent extremists targeting civilians. But certain details didn't fit. Islamic terrorists had never before deployed car bombs in the U.K. What could it mean? "Baghdad comes to Britain," trumpeted the New York Daily News. "Make no mistake," intoned Lord John Stevens, the Prime Minister's new security adviser. "This weekend's bomb attacks signal a major escalation in the war being waged on us by Islamic militants." And was it just a coincidence that two of the three vehicles were Mercedes? "Typically [terrorists] use throwaway vehicles, not a luxury car like that," worried CNN anchor John Roberts. What about the fact that the suspects appear to be doctors from outside the U.K.? Those did not fit recent patterns either. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, "It is clear that we are dealing, in general terms, with people associated with al-Qaeda"--though his security chiefs conceded it was too soon to say for sure.

Trying to profile would-be terrorists based on metrics like education or income can be counterproductive. French authorities say they continually come across new radicals whose backgrounds give absolutely no reason to suspect an embrace of extremism. "In Montpellier, we arrested three university students who had formed a cell after self-radicalization from Web sources but who previously were in no way interested in religion at all," says an official with a French intelligence service. "This happens anywhere people are seduced by the radical discourse. We have to avoid falling back on stereotypes because they cause you to miss things."

Perhaps the best section of the article is the following [I love the castle moat analogy]:

The best way to protect civilians from terrorist attacks is to prevent them from being planned. One goal is not separate from the other. But governments still tend to focus much of their time and money on our last lines of defense--explosives sniffers at airports and haz-mat suits for firefighters. That's the equivalent of building a really deep castle moat and waiting for the invaders to arrive. "Unless you can arrest [terrorists] before they get to execution stage, your chances of averting bloodshed and death come down to luck," says a French former counterterrorism official.

Indeed, the way to fight terrorism is to prevent it, not to fight the symptoms.

Which brings me to my second obvious statement of the day - if you want to prevent terrorism, how about not being responsible for the destruction of someone's country? I was listening [on democracynow] to an army officer describe a typical raid in Iraq, and it was sad to listen to him talking about the situations where they would break open the door of a random man's house at 2am, pull him out of bed [nevermind the poor wife and kids] and question him about insurgents, when he might not even know anything about them.

From the trascript:
So you go there in the middle of the night, and you want to catch them -- you want to catch the Iraqis off guard. So you enter the house fast and furious. You kick down the door, and you run upstairs, and you get the man of the house and you get him out of bed, and his wife is laying next to him. It’s Baghdad, it’s July, it’s August. His wife sometimes may be exposed, because of her night garments in the middle of the night, which is humiliating for that woman and for that man and for that family. And you separate the man from his wife, and if he has children, you put his family in a room, and, you know, you put two soldiers on the door, outside the door, to make sure that his family stays in that room. And then you get -- we had interpreters, so we would take interpreters with us throughout the house. And we would have the man of the house, and we would interrogate him over and over again. “Who are the insurgents? Do you know who they are? Are you with them?” And, you know, basically we would tear his house apart. We would, you know, take his bed, turn that upside-down, dump his closets, his drawers, if he had them. I mean, just anything.

And I would say eight out of ten times we never really found any intelligence at all within these homes that would lead us to believe that these people were members of the insurgency. What they were was just Iraqis in their own communities. And we came in there, and we came in uninvited. And I believe -- and I don’t blame this on the US military at all. I don’t. I blame this on George Bush. But when you’re involved in a military operation like that, you enter these homes as if you’re going after the enemy, as if you’re going after bin Laden himself, when, for the most part, they're just families living in their homes, trying to get a night's rest before they get up and go to work in the morning, if there is work for them. And it’s just -- I believe that this created a lot of resentment among the Iraqi people, causing them to join a resistance movement against US and coalition forces in Iraq.

Or how about not leaving your helpers - people who became translators in Iraq to assist in their country being rebuilt - high and dry? This article talks about one woman's struggle to get an iraqi translator to the US, since his life is in danger there. The politicians from both sides of the fence are not helping.

My representative in the House, Maurice Hinchey, and his wonderful federal liaison, Lisa Newman, have been the only people in Washington who have stuck with us all the way through this process; my New York State senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, have not once even responded to my many e-mails, phone calls, and faxes. Nor did any of a half-dozen other Congress members, both Democrat and Republican, including the Indiana representative who had initially sponsored the so-called "Iraqi translator asylum bill."

Others working to resolve this humanitarian crisis also recognize the hidden-in-plain-sight government system designed to keep Iraqis out of the United States. It certainly makes sense that this administration would not want Iraqis here, telling their stories freely. But they are messing with people's lives, and causing the end to people's lives. How can they live with themselves?

All this makes me think - why don't I see more protests here against the war? Don't these conducts make more people hate the US? Why don't I hear student activists starting a petition to get that translator here to safety?

Or perhaps the people also are either non-informed, or jaded. Or perhaps, too terrorized to question their politicians? Whatever the reason might be, it surely is not helping IMHO.


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:47 AM

    1. Second instance of terrorists fitting an unlikely profile:

    (taken from a recent column by Praful Bidwai writing for the Khaleej Times)

    "A study of 172 Al-Qaeda operatives by forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman found that 90 per cent came from relatively stable, secure backgrounds; three-fourths from upper or middle-class families. Two-thirds were graduates.

    In Gujarat, it’s the well-off, well-dressed, cellphone-wielding fanatical Hindus who led the rampaging mobs (---talking about the carnage in that state on 27 Feb 2003)."

    2. Second instance of good-hearted American (soldier) helping his Iraqi translator arrive in the United States,

    Phelps did have to intervene when Kansas lawmakers refused Abdualla's application the first time. However, this story had a happy ending. Hope the same turns out for Andy.

    Yes, it is also a sad world we live in.