Terrorism Fear?

In class today we discussed terrorism.  It was the usual fare — terrorism is a strategy, it can be very rational (if also unethical), effective, and even understandable.   It is usually a strategy of weaker non-state actors, and can include various forms ranging from IRA attacks after phoning in the location to use of a weapon of mass destruction.    We discussed Islamic terrorism, as well as libertarian extremist terrorism (Timothy McVeigh), and the potential for third world vs. first world economic terrorism.  And of course we examined the root causes of terrorism, counter-terrorist methods, and all the usual stuff.

What strikes me now in 2010 is the way in which terrorism as a fear has mostly disappeared.   A college freshman was only 9 years old when 9-11 took place, and even college juniors and seniors tend to emphasize how little they understood what was going on at the time.   However even in the general public the constant fears and rumors of possible strikes have given way to yawns.   Terrorism is no longer a top concern, and especially not an emotional topic like it once ways.  9-11 has gone from being a palpable national travesty to a day like Pearl Harbor Day — it was horrible, but it’s history.

On one level, this is good.  The paranoia and panic after 9-11 were clearly misplaced, and out of fear the country made numerous mistakes — started wars which did more harm than good (and from which we still are having trouble extricating ourselves), and embraced a hyper stimulus of an economy during a boom which caused an artificial bubble and helped precipitate a major economic crisis.   Looked at that way, the 9-11 terrorists succeeded in doing considerable harm — or at least in goading us to undertake actions which harmed ourselves.   Putting aside fear is a good thing.

Yet fear should be replaced by reasoned and realistic consideration; instead it’s been replaced by apathy.   Terrorism doesn’t matter any more because people don’t think about it.   If we woke up Friday morning and found out that New York had been hit by nuclear terrorism, the fear would return, and the same kinds of mistakes and emotional turmoil would emerge.   It’s not that we’ve conquered fear, only that it passed.   If you’re afraid of flying and you avoid air travel, you still fear flying.

It was eight years between the first attempt to take down the World Trade Center and the 9-11 attack which succeeded.   Since then nine years have passed.  Al qaeda still exists, and other networks certainly span the globe, hoping to figure out a way to outdo the spectacular attacks of 9-11.

And that’s what worries me.    I have no doubt that al qaeda wants to hit the US again.  But Bin Laden is no dummy; something minor like bombing a shopping mall or even shooting down a plane at take off would make the news, but pale in comparison to 9-11.   For al qaeda the next attack has to make 9-11 look like a warning shot.   It has to be deadlier and more spectacular than the downing of the Twin Towers and attack on the Pentagon.   That is how the mind of Bin Laden seems to operate.

In the news, stories abound about poor communication between government agencies and lack of preparation for the aftermath of an attack.   These stories have been consistent since 2002, only then people seemed to care.  Osama no longer has visible camps in Afghanistan, but in the Pashtun border lands of Pakistan the organization can still operate.

The one certain way to score a bigger hit than 9-11 would be with (a) weapon/s of mass destruction — a crude nuclear device, or some kind of chemical attack in a very public and important location (or a number of them at the same time).    And, because we’ve drafted away from thinking about these issues, perhaps war weary from Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re not psychologically prepared for another jolt.   It would stymie any effort at economic recovery and lead to calls for everything from another war (Tom Tancredo: “Nuke Mecca!”) to extreme isolationism.   I have no idea what would happen, but it could be a devastating blow for a country already weakened by economic crisis and prolonged wars.

  1. #1 by questionitallblog on October 13, 2010 - 20:01

    I just stumbled onto your blog as I was updating mine. Interesting post. I’m amazed, but shouldn’t be surprised, how “party line” the rhetoric being taught is. It’s all conveniently revisionist history. The main reason I feel that people are less in fear about terrorism is because they are waking to the fact that it is all manufactured. Just as Communism was the big fear factor to control Americans throughout the 50’s-80’s, a replacement was needed once Communist Russia imploded. How convenient that it’s now these nefarious Muslims that live in caves. Seriously?

    I would suggest you do further research into this area, but not in the mainstream. You will never get the real story from any college “approved” textbook or any professor who wishes to keep their job.

    I know, you don’t know me and I probably sound like some whack job, but it’s been a massive leap for me to shed my programming and preconceived notions of “America” to get to place where I truly understand how the real world operates. If you are so moved, please check out some of the articles posted on my blog or any of the associated links I’ve included within it.



  2. #2 by John H on October 14, 2010 - 14:32

    Nice work, genius. You know you’re writing to a professor, right?
    Personally, I’ll skip reading your blog, because I’m fresh out of tinfoil hats.

  3. #3 by questionitallblog on October 14, 2010 - 17:25

    Thanks, John! You’ve managed to somehow compare a “professor” to some sort of all-knowing deity. Laughable! Brown-nosing for that “A” you’ll never get?

    My comments were intended for the author of the article – period! Keep drinking the kool-aid and go back to sleep!

  4. #4 by Scott Erb on October 14, 2010 - 18:33

    Well, John’s a professor too — though I think what I take exception to is the idea that as tenured professor I’d be risking my job if I say what I believe. In general I’m glad there are people out there exploring alternate theories (or conspiracy theories), but I don’t think the government is competent enough to pull something like that off. Also with things like the economy or al qaeda there is a lot of evidence available.

  5. #5 by questionitallblog on October 14, 2010 - 19:58

    Thanks for your response, Scott. I’m going to assume, based on your comments, that your belief system follows some form of the mainstream, so there’s probably no risk of losing your job. Time and time again, I get the tired, actually lazy, response that the government is just too incompetent to do any sort of “evil”. As part of the programming, they want you to believe that very thing.

    I would guess you’re familiar with Edward Bernays, the father of propaganda. His quote, I feel, sums up the state of America: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

    Please enlighten me with the evidence you refer to regarding al qaeda, for example. I’m also curious as to whether you just give lip service to the alternative media, or are actually open to letting it in?

  6. #6 by classicliberal2 on October 14, 2010 - 21:56

    Conspiracist rubbish becomes popular for a number of reasons, but the two principal ones are that it gives a short, simple solution to what are, in reality, remarkably complex situations, and it imposes a comforting order on a world that, in reality, doesn’t have any. Even when that “order” is something really awful, people find it comforting that it exists. Humans have a very deep-seated need for this. It’s why we have everything from religion to the “9/11 Truther” movement.

    A lot of conspiracism begins with a strong grain of truth. It is, for example, a fact that the War On Terrorism [tm] was minted as an ideology to act as a means of getting certain things done that couldn’t be done in its absence. It was used as a means of establishing and maintaining VERY backwards, reactionary policies, while repressing the more enlightened elements that will, of course, dissent from this. A “9/11 Truther” sees–or, at least, senses–this, but rather than following the thread to where it really leads, he becomes lost in irrational speculation, and decides that, since the War On Terrorism [tm] was such a useful weapon for the far right, the whole thing must have been engineered by them, and suddenly you have the insistence that Bush and his thugs were behind the terrorist attacks, and actually dynamited the World Trade Center.

    Similarly, elements of the current very, very bad recession–the Great Recession?–are being prolonged by elements of, shall we say broadly, Big Money. While the public is suffering, U.S. non-financial corporations are, at present, sitting on nearly $2 trillion in cash, refusing to hire or use that money in any constructive way. The financial sector is sitting on an even bigger fortune. This leads to speculation that, for example, this is happening because those with all the money and power are angling for a change in government in November. This isn’t unwarranted speculation–the oil suppliers, which are heavily invested in the Republican party, have done this very thing for years, and are doing it this year. The conspiracist absorbs these facts, but doesn’t really try to understand what’s actually going on, choosing, instead, to imagine backroom plots, rather than spontaneous action driven by mutual greed, and some take it even further by writing off the entire recession as some sort of manufactured thing (because it’s allowing the Big Money villains to get their way).

    I’ve always thought of conspiracism as rather unfortunate. It utterly wastes energy that could otherwise be constructively used. There’s enough real evil out there that needs fighting, and every warm body helps.

  7. #7 by John H on October 15, 2010 - 04:28

    questionitallblog, I wasn’t comparing a professor to anything; I was simply pointing out that you didn’t bother to read the “about” section of this blog to learn that you were insulting the author right out of the gate. At any rate, although Scott may not “know it all,” he’s smart enough to handle himself.

    It seems pretty clear that you aren’t familiar with how college education works. One of the perks of tenure is that professors CAN generally say what they want. Thus the constant refrain from the right about liberal professors ruining our youth. And even as an adjunct professor, I am free to choose my textbooks. For that matter, I’m free to stay away from textbooks if I so desire.

    classicliberal2, I wasn’t sure which way you were headed, but I’m glad I stayed with it. I like where you ended up 🙂

  8. #8 by renaissanceguy on October 15, 2010 - 15:38

    I do not appreciate how you linked Timothy McVeigh with libertarianism. He was not a member of any libertarian organization, unless you count the Republican Party of New York or the National Rifle Organization as libertarian organizations. I suppose you could say that some of his ideas were libertarian, but libertarians are categorically opposed (with no excuses or back-pedalling) to using violence in the way that McVeigh did. I don’t think you can call him libertarian in the same way that you can call radical Islamic terrorists Muslim, since the latter are literally, officially Muslims and have the support of recognized Muslim clerics.

    The root cause of terrorism is probably not what you and the class actually discussed. The root cause is that certain people get evil notions in their mind that they are justified in killing innocent people and terrorizing a nation or other group. I expect you talked about oppression and poverty and imperialism.

    May I remind you that most Americans were above the age of 9 when the WTC and the Pentagon were attacked. They clearly remember and are far from apathetic, as the opposition to the Muslim community center in Manhattan shows.

    Nobody felt or experienced paranoia on 9/11. It’s not paranoia if it really happened. As I’ve said before, you sound like those people in a suspense movie who tell the main character that he is just imagining that somebody is out to get hiim, until they find him nearly dead from stab wounds.

    Paranoia would be if people went around saying that Muslims were out to get us, even though no terrorist attacks were perpetrated by Muslims.

    I will agree that panic is not helpful. I will also agree that, as a country, we made mistakes in the wake of the attacks.

  9. #9 by Mike Lovell on October 15, 2010 - 15:51

    Classic Liberal…Long time since I’ve seen you here. I find it oddly gratifying and simultaneously disappointing that I can’t argue a losing battle with you here today! where’ve you been hiding at for so long?

    Scott- Is it just me, or did the first commenter steal your Rush records and play them backwards looking for a repeating message to instill here?

  10. #10 by Scott Erb on October 15, 2010 - 16:13

    RG – McVeigh is to libertarianism what Bin Laden is to Islam. You’ve seen how I defend mainstream Islam from being tainted by the fact extremists abuse the religion. I’ll do the same in defending mainstream libertarians from those like McVeigh who abuse the ideals.

    The roots of terrorism are discussed in detail in Paul Pillar’s book “Terrorism and US Foreign Policy,” and is a staple in studies of terrorism. A few leaders may get evil ideas, but to get adherents and support they prey on conditions of poverty, hopelessness and lack of purpose. That’s why some Islamic extremist groups set up schools to indoctrinate the young.

  11. #11 by renaissanceguy on October 15, 2010 - 16:18

    Scott, are you suggesting that Osama bin Laden is not really a Muslim? I think that would come as a huge shock to Bin Laden himself and to his followers. McVeigh, on the other hand, would probably not have cared at all if libertarians denounced him and asserted that he was no libertarian. I’m not aware that he described himself that way.

    I get your point about the leaders of radical Islam preying on and indoctrinating the youth. I still believe that those youth have a mind of their own, especially when they grow up.

  12. #12 by classicliberal2 on October 15, 2010 - 16:49

    “classicliberal2, I wasn’t sure which way you were headed, but I’m glad I stayed with it. I like where you ended up”

    Ha! I expanded it into an even longer tirade just now:

  13. #13 by classicliberal2 on October 15, 2010 - 17:06

    “Scott, are you suggesting that Osama bin Laden is not really a Muslim? I think that would come as a huge shock to Bin Laden himself and to his followers.”

    No, the point is that his Muslim-ness has nothing to do with why he’s a bad person (he’s bad because he’s a terrorist). I think that point is VERY debatable–I don’t have any use for religion at all, and think it’s FAR too often used by creatures like bin Laden to get people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily even contemplate–but the numbers really aren’t; there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and only a microscopic fraction of them (maybe a few thousand, at most) are terrorists. “Islam” isn’t “our enemy” (except to the extent that all religion is, which isn’t what the anti-Islam crazies mean when ranting against Muslims).

    I’ve been around, Mike–I’ve just been dealing with some female troubles that have kept me from writing a lot. Hopefully, that’s behind me, though. If you wish to lose an argument with me, we can pick some other subject. 😀

  14. #14 by renaissanceguy on October 15, 2010 - 17:12

    Classical Liberal, I get what you are saying about Bin Laden. However, in Scott’s analogy that was not what was going on.

    He wrote that McVeigh is to libertarianism what Bin Laden is to Islam. Since McVeigh was not a libertarian, Scott must mean that Bin Laden is not a Muslim.

  15. #15 by Scott Erb on October 15, 2010 - 17:32

    McVeigh is as much a libertarian as Bin Laden was a Muslim. He wanted a minimalist government more in line with what the founders envisioned and strict adherence to the Constitution. His ideology was that of libertarianism in a radical form. If you feel that’s unfair, that’s the same feeling Muslims have when they get associated with the extremists who pervert their religion.

  16. #16 by Scott Erb on October 15, 2010 - 18:31

    McVeigh voted for the Libertarian candidate in 1996 (absentee ballot as he was in prison). A group called “the World Libertarian Order” published a short list of political statements from McVeigh. The anti-government types that he hung around with considered themselves libertarian. Now, I don’t know why RG would claim he’s not really a libertarian. He considered himself at war with what he considered a tyrannical government that undermined US liberty and American values. He choose a government building as his target, and hoped like minded folk would see that the huge government “beast” could be overthrown and rise up to join the attack. Yes, that is a perversion of the kind of thought most libertarians have, but there are extremists for just about every thing, and that’s why it’s important not to use extremists to attack a whole ideology or religion (ideology is really a kind of secular religion).

  17. #17 by questionitallblog on October 15, 2010 - 22:13

    I find it quite entertaining, but ultimately sad, to sit back and watch your micro-focusing on the actors in these plays, rather than the authors. The programming is so entrenched you can’t possibly see the trance you are under.The fact that you can’t, or more likely are unwilling to see that the Bin Laden’s and McVeigh’s are CIA created patsies for a larger agenda, is beyond me. What happened to critical thinking? Come on now, surely they still teach it, or has it gone by the wayside?

    I expected a whole lot more from “educators”. In your path to turn out more “useful idiots” do you always dismiss any and all dissenting or alternative viewpoints? I really thought you’d be open to an intelligent discussion, but I can see you’ve written off the possibility of even looking at the alternative information. You not only do your students a disservice, but you also do yourself a disservice by continually regurgitating the “party line” message.

  18. #18 by questionitallblog on October 15, 2010 - 22:14

    @Mike You’re a funny guy! Rush? Surely you can do better!

  19. #19 by Scott Erb on October 15, 2010 - 22:23

    It’s hard to do better than Rush.

    Assertion, bravado and name calling is not critical thinking. Critical thinking requires at first an admission that you might be wrong. It requires consideration of evidence, different ways of interpreting or analyzing evidence, and reflection.

  20. #20 by questionitallblog on October 15, 2010 - 22:46

    Limbaugh? 😉 Rush is ok musically, but lyrically?

    Amazing that you read all that into my post! Sounds like projection to me? This notion of “being wrong” goes both ways. You refuse to even engage in any open dialog on any of the points. There is an abundance of documented evidence. Where would you like to start?

  21. #21 by Scott Erb on October 15, 2010 - 23:27

    You haven’t made any points, you’ve just given unsubstantiated assertions, mixed with insults. It’s easy not to take people like you seriously, you’re all bravado but no substance. Your blog is also vapid. Your post on the economy has some bits that everyone knows is true — abuse of derivatives trade and the like, and you pretend it means something more, but never are quite clear on why and how. I’ve given it a critical read and it does not stand the test of a strong argument. I’ve not responded until now because I’ve run across “true believers” of various conspiracy theories, and I know the game. A mix of insults, innuendo, claims of superiority (and how everyone else is blind), lots of assertions, but the evidence is meager or non-existent. Your blog might be useful to de-construct to help students see how people play that game, but it lacks substance. Now, unless you can post something with clear direct evidence in a concise argument, which is worthy of response, I’ll just let you have the last word if you wish.

  22. #22 by renaissanceguy on October 16, 2010 - 02:51

    Scott, okay. I accept that McVeigh had some connection to libertarianism. However, no true, mainstream libertarian would condone the violent act that he perpetrated. It goes against the fundamental principle of non-aggression that real libertarians adhere to.

    I also understand your point that mainstream Muslims view Osama Bin Laden the same way. However, I do not see that as clearly as you do. I see that modernized, semi-secularized and secularized Muslims (primarily those living in the West) denounce terrorism (to varying degrees), but in the Muslim areas of the world I just don’t see that happening on a wide scale. I don’t see anyone issuing denunciations or fatwas against Bin Laden or Al Qaida. I don’t see Muslim regimes closing down the terrorist-sympathizing madrasas or hunting down terrorists. Occasionally you hear of such things, but they appear to be simply ways to appease the United States.

    In addition, you have one pseudo-libertarian terrorist act (the Oklahoma City bombing) versus dozens of terrorist attacks by radical Muslims every year. The scale almost makes the first case irrelevant in a discussion of who are the dangerous people in the world today. (I’m not saying that Muslims as a whole are, but it is politically correct claptrap to imply that no Muslims are.)

  23. #23 by Scott Erb on October 16, 2010 - 03:06

    There are about 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. If there are “dozens” of extremist terrorist attacks, then that’s still a very low percentage. It seems to me that Muslims world wide have denounced and reject Bin Laden’s ideas, certainly Muslim clerics and scholars do. They also criticize the US, but they have a right to both denounce terrorism but also recognize how US policy inspires extremists. Saddam certainly went after Islamic extremists, Pakistan has tried to, Osama has the Saudi royal Family has his enemy, Egypt constantly fights Islamic extremists, Turkey does the same…I really think you’re vastly over-estimating Muslim world tolerance of these groups.

    If the US were as politically unstable as much of the Mideast, the McVeigh types would be engaging in a lot more violence. But the bottom line is still this: dozens of attacks by extremists in a religion with 1.5 billion people works out to an insignificant, miniscule percentage.

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