Posts about Terrorism

A media attack

The attack on the Boston Marathon was designed to maximize media coverage: a popular event with cameras everywhere and a narrative that will be sure to follow about innocent enjoyment henceforth ruined by danger.

For years, we’ve been told to fear this: an attack on a football game or at Disneyland or in a mall, someplace without fear before. Instead, it happened at the marathon. No matter who committed this crime, a precedent is now set for those that unfortunately will follow. Now every time there is a popular event with many cameras that is open — not easily contained like a stadium — we will be taught to worry.

A few weeks ago in New Delhi, I stayed in a hotel that happened to be owned by the same company that suffered the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Every car coming in was searched; every guest went through a metal detector; every guest’s bag went through an X-ray. We’re accustomed to such circumstantial security in America: If a shoe is used to make a bomb, all shoes are dangerous. In India, hotels are dangerous. In America, not just office buildings and airports but now public events are threatened.

But the new factor this time — versus 9/11 or London’s bombings or Mumbai’s attacks or even the Atlanta Olympics’ — is the assured presence of media cameras at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. This was the media-centered attack.

But here’s a touch of irony: On prime-time TV, the three major networks didn’t alter their programming to continue covering this event.* That tells us that terrorism is worth wall-to-wall coverage somewhere between two and 3,000 deaths. Boston, apparently, wasn’t big enough.

But at least on cable news, there is plenty of video of the blast and its immediate aftermath to loop over and over and over again.

* Correction: I should have complained that the broadcast networks did not preempt primetime. When I wrote this, I turned to all three networks and each had entertainment programming. As fans of an NBC show pointed out to me, their show was indeed preempted later in the night.

Bringing a friend to terror

I haven’t written anything about the Mumbai terror because I didn’t know what I had to add and I couldn’t grasp the 60 hours of horror there. I did write about Twitter and witnesses taking over news and — though I wish we wouldn’t make 9/11 the touchstone for all terrorist crimes henceforcth — I could not help recalling my 9/11:

Ever since I survived the 9/11 attacks, and later saw the coverage the world saw – smoke spied from rooftops miles away – I have made sure to always have a camera with me, as the view of the story from the ground was so different from that seen on TV. Now I carry a mobile phone that can capture and broadcast text, photos and video immediately. If I’d had that then, the image I would have shared would have been the image I most remember – not of smoke and helicopters, but instead of black tear-tracks on the face of an African-American woman covered in the grey dust of destruction. Such will be our new view of news: urgent, live, direct, emotional, personal.

And then I read this column in the Times of India and realized that I had perpetuated the same mistake: I was seeing Mumbai’s tragedy from many miles away, rooftop and satellite high. Bachi Karkaria writes about the tragedy from eye level and it is all too personal: the story of a wedding party brought to an end by phone calls with news of the tragedy as one guest decided to go back to her hotel — to the Taj.

“I hadn’t known till then that she was in the heritage suite which we had seen aflame all day,” the columnist wrote. “We pleaded for a miracle, for hope had turned out to be a perfidious ally…. I had brought Sabina to this situation, and I alone was responsible.”

That is how terror is suffered, a tragedy at a time.

DLD08: Terrorism & environment

After the last session on the problems facing the economy and world, a few of us were stunned that terrorism did not even come up. The talk was about markets.

Now Hamid Karzai reminds us of this forgotten priority. He calls it the war on terrorism. “The terrorism we are fighting is an existential force,” he says. “It has nothing to do with religion because if it had anything to do with religion it would not go to kill people in a mosque.” He urges us to eliminate all sanctuaries for terrorism. “The law can only be won if local populations are empowered to confront it.”

Now Rajendra Pachauri, head of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reminds the group at this official opening ceremony about his issue. It is a stultifying laundry list of their standard talking points. Oh, for some PowerPoint.

No more angry young men

Following up on the post below about the well-educated, well-to-do albeit, thank goodness, incompetent murderous doctor-terrorists in the UK, Gallup sends me a 2006 Gallup World Poll article for Foreign Policy that throws Friedman’s theories on their head. From a poll of 9,000 people in Muslim nations, Gallup found that Muslim radicals are no more religious than moderates. Radicals earn more money and stay in school longer. Radicals are not hopeless but in fact “more radicals expressed satisfaction with their financial situation and quality of life than their moderate counterparts, and a majority of them expected to be better off in the years to come.” Do they hate us? And if so why? They don’t. “Both moderates and radicals in the Muslim world admire the West, in particular its technology, democratic system, and freedom of speech.”

So what do we do? How do we win the war on terrorism? Says Gallup:

Although almost all Muslims believe the West should show more respect for Islam, radicals are more likely to feel that the West threatens and attempts to control their way of life. Moderates, on the other hand, are more eager to build ties with the West through economic development. This divergence of responses offers policymakers a key opportunity to develop strategies to prevent the moderate mainstream from sliding away, and to check the persuasive power of those who would do us harm.

Friedman, wrong again

Well, so much for Tom Friedman’s oft-stated theory that Muslim terrorism springs from fetid wells of angry, poor young men. The latest attacks in London and Scotland came from damned doctors. They’re not poor. I don’t give a damn if they’re angry. They’re just insane and dangerous.

News now

Four men — including a former member of the Guyanese parliament who is an imam — have just been charged with plotting to blow up Kennedy Airport in New York. The bottom of this New York Times story says an FBI press conference is scheduled for 1pm. Now if news worked the way it should — and soon will — I’d be able to watch that press conference via a reporter’s camera and modem on that same page. Soon

Davos07: Terrorism

At a session on terrorism at Davos. Liveblogging a few notes….

Shaukat Aziz, prime minister of Pakistan, issues all the usual cant on terrorism: not died to a religion… no borders… root causes…. all that. He complains about profiling and says it “adds to heartburn.”

Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security in the U.S., tries to put a yardstick up to terrorism response, saying that rational people would agree to actions to stop a nuclear bomb that they would not agree to to stop one person from being shot. He focuses on what he calls “high-consequence events.” Stopping these requires inconvenience, some economic impact, and “some adjustment in even how we conceive of some of our liberties — but the key is not to go overboard.” What is high-consequence? what is overboard?

David Cameron, Conservative leader in the U.K., tries a similar act of measurement. “We’ve got to get right the hard-nosed defense of liberty rather than ineffective authoritarianism.” He says that there is a “quantum difference” in terrorism, worse than the days of the IRA and Baader-Meinhof. As a result, he says, “there are some big changes we have to make. It is vital that we get the balance right.”

Carefully countering Aziz on root causes, Cameron says that there is not “a list of demand that will stop Osama bin Laden from doing what he is going to do.” As a result, he says, the first reaction to terrorism must be security. Then one can “drain the swamp” that creates it. He also says that there is an “ideological cause” in the root of terrorism: “a perversion of Islam.” Aziz is shaking his head.

Cameron also says that he is against creating a separate ministry for counter-terrorism but instead wants two ministers in the Home Office, one devoted to police activities and the other devoted to counter-terrorism. Criticizing Blair, he says that “there has been too much focus on law and not enough focus on good administration.”

A Harvard professor asks Cameron whether he agrees with the UK Foreign Office’s advise that government officials should not use the term “war on terrorism” as it “plays into the narrative” of the terrorists and turns them into “martyrs in a holy war.” Cameron says he agrees. Chertoff says he wants to work with moderate members of the Islamic community to understand how they want to describe what is happening. Gijs M. de Vries of the EU attacks the phrase “Islamic terrorism” and says “there is no such thing…. Whether we call this a war or not, let us fight this fight within the bounds of human rights.” Aziz says the average terrorist is sitting in some remote location getting brainwashed and is not reading Foreign Office papers. He emphasizes the rhetoric of recruitment: deprivation, rights, and so on: “Let’s get reality.”

If rhetoric could kill…

Chertoff is asked by an Islamic organization official in the audience whether things are better five years on in the war/struggle/fight on terror and whether the day will come when we will sit down with a terrorist group, as the UK did with the IRA. Chertoff says let’s “get reality,” like Aziz, and recognize that bin Laden’s demand is for us to go back to the 12th century and there is no discussion with that. Cameron says “that is the big difference between the IRA and al Qaeda…. I’m not in any way belitting the IRA and what it did…. But to get this debate right we have to recognize the difference between IRA terrorism and suicide bombing… That is a different sort of terrorism and we would be betraying our populations if we did not recognize that and act on it. ”

The head of Amnesty International now also wants to look at reality and says that the U.S., U.K., and Pakistan have eroded human rights with torture and more. She asks to what extent undermining human rights “feeds the flames of terrorism.” Chertoff says he agrees we should not sacrifice human rights but also not treat every departure from normal process as a catastrophic betrayal of what we believe in. Aziz talks about the checks of having a free press and independent judiciary. Cameron says that of course we must defend freedom but also says that “in order to defeat terrorism, we have to maintain a balance,” citing, for example, how long the government may keep a suspect in jail when “you are trying to break up a complicated plot.”

Tunnel terror

I don’t have nightmares about 9/11. But I do have an ongoing fear that occurs to me occasionally on my daily rides on the PATH train that took me to the World Trade Center that day: I worry about an attack that would flood the tunnels. On a very long list of bad ways to die, that is a leader. Not to come off as too neurotic, but I don’t like heights and thus bridges and I’m not a great swimmer and so though I don’t fear water I know that being plunked into the middle of a river via boat or bridge would not have a happy ending. So getting to work on an island everyday becomes problematic.

Especially today, as The Times reveals a report that says the PATH tunnel system is particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack and flooding.

My first reaction is: Oh, thank you, Times, for revealing our soft underwater belly to the terrorists. My next reaction is: They say the report was — pardon me — leaked because the Port Authority isn’t doing enough to safeguard the tunnels.

The Times says it is withholding details about how attacks could flood the tunnels but then goes right ahead and gives the terrorists the punchline, the worst-case analysis, which is the one they really want: “. . . a bomb that could be easily carried aboard a train could punch a 50-square-foot hole in one side of a tube, possibly breaching both sides of the tunnel. Under that situation, 1.2 million gallons of water a minute could pour into the tunnel, flooding parts of the system in a matter of hours.”

Now I can think about that everytime I ride to work (and I’m damned glad I’m working at home today). As a correspondent and fellow PATH commuter said in email last night: “Jesus Christ. I don’t think the Times means to sound alarmist, but as someone who rides in Hudson River tunnels 2x a day, it’s pretty scary. On the other hand, it’s nothing I don’t already think about twice daily anyway….