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Tag: terrorism

September 11 2012

Every time I go through airport security, every time I hear about someone who appears middle eastern being persecuted, and every time people defend our actions in Iraq, I can’t help but think that the terrorists won. They made us fear an invisible enemy, made us afraid of our own people, and drove a wedge between all of us. That is what we should never forget.

May 28 2009

There has been a lot of “debate” over what to do with all of the human beings and monsters locked away in Guantanamo Bay. There are apparently only two sides to this discussion: free them all and send them letters of apology or kill them all and let God sort them out. I’m obviously oversimplifying things, but you wouldn’t know it if you watched the 24-hour news channels. Like so many public discussions, the truth is often obscured by the rhetoric.

Gitmo TortureFor every terror suspect we convict fairly, there are hundreds we detain unfairly. For every innocent person we keep incarcerated, we create dozens of potential enemies. And for every person (regardless of innocence or guilt) we treat unfairly or inhumanely, we create untold numbers of people who no longer see America as the shining beacon of freedom we so desperately claim to be. What other reasons do terrorists need to demonize us if we actively and regularly give them reasons? How can we dispute their claim that we are the Great Evil when our actions are so greatly evil?

Aside from keeping the worst of the worst locked safely away, the only thing that can change the anti-American sentiment that has been broiling over the past decade is a fresh and decent approach to our fellow citizens of the world. I do not include terrorists in this group, however. A terrorist loses their worldwide citizenship once they conspire to commit crimes against their fellow humans. But how, exactly, is that different than when we commit crimes against our fellow humans? An innocent person locked away in a dank cell is a crime of the highest order, and every person in the society that supports it shares the blame for it.

It used to be that the ends justified the means. Airplanes were used to murder 3,000 Americans? Let’s tighten airport security to the point where even children and the elderly are searched and detained. The Viet Cong are hiding among women and children in the jungle? Let’s firebomb the whole place to ensure we kill enough of the enemy. Japan attacks a military installation in the United States? Let’s put all people of Japanese descent into concentration camps. The South wants to secede from the union? Let’s go to war with them and kill hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans. The native Americans won’t move out of the land we want? Let’s force them off or just slaughter them outright.

Throughout American history, we have justified our atrocities in the name of our ideals. But even when those ideals are righteous, it does not change the fact that we have committed atrocities. Deep down, every intelligent or thoughtful person knows this. That’s why we justify executing individuals who have committed murder. We know that we are killing someone to make the point that killing is wrong. And while most of us recognize how glaringly hypocritical it is, as a nation we continue to do it anyway. If there were no hypocrisy to our actions, it would need no justification.

Which leads me to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Dick CheneyImmediately after President Obama’s speech that re-defined America’s stance on national security, not five minutes had passed before Cheney took his own stage in an attempt to give a rebuttal. His speech was a preemptive attack on his enemies, a tactic he is clearly comfortable with. In it’s own Karlrovian way, it displayed obvious hypocrisy wrapped in a package of carefully-worded propaganda. For example, after he mentioned 9/11 over a dozen times, he clearly stated that we should not focus on the past. Then he attempted to deflect criticism away from his administration and place the blame onto the current one, oblivious to the points Obama made just moments earlier about the numbers of political prisoners the Bush administration freed. He focused on inane and irrelevant details such as the term “abducted” and incorrectly characterized it as the Obama administration’s wording, all while using terms like “sadistic” to describe American interrogators who were acting under full authorization from the Bush administration. He continued to fuel the quasi-debate about how safe America would be if we allowed detainees to be held on American soil, completely ignoring the fact that we have held thousands of people in Federal maximum security prisons and no one has ever escaped from one. Perhaps worst of all, he took credit for the fact that we were not attacked while under his watch while failing to recognize that hundreds of attacks have occurred on American soldiers every year since we entered Iraq.

All of this got me thinking about why Cheney (who I do not believe cares about America as much as he would like us to think) is suddenly so vocal on this issue. He has been on a media blitz, employing his loyal servants, family members, and his own personal media outlet to repeat the same talking points as opposed to actual experts who understand the issue. Why, Dick? Well, his daughter accidentally let the truth slip: Cheney fears prosecution. And he should. One grand jury has already indicted him, and more people are calling for his indictment every day.

I am pleased with the new direction this nation appears to be heading concerning how we deal with terror suspects. If things go as planned, we will move these prisoners to our soil where they can be safely and legally monitored. President Obama’s speech in front of the Constitution was more of a poignant reminder of where we come from than an arrogant assumption about missions not-quite-accomplished. That speech is destined for the history books, but hopefully, it will be remembered as one of the great turning points in the American psyche. I hope it is the beginning of an era when we hold our leaders responsible for their actions, not excuse them because of their motives. Cheney is such a slippery weasel that I have no illusions about justice ever being served, but I would like to see us try at least. After all, when Bill Clinton shot someone in the face, it wasn’t with a shotgun, and we impeached him.

That is why I fully support the indictment and prosecution of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

July 11 2005

The recent terrorist attacks in London remind us that people are still willing to use the most extreme measures to make their voices heard. It seems now that more people condemn terrorism than ever before, and yet it continues even in one of the world’s safest nations. It is a difficult task to overcome terrorism, especially in suicide cases where a guilty person is rarely left alive to be held accountable. As a culture, we feel the need to prosecute the guilty, and there is a sense of ineptitude from not being able to hold terrorists accountable for their heinous crimes.

The reason I chose this particular topic was it can be (and likely is) being approached from a sociological perspective. For many people, the idea of killing dozens, hundreds, or thousands of innocent people is so out of their scope of experience that they simply cannot tackle the issue from an objective point of view. Sociology is one of the primary tools we will use to understand, and hopefully prevent, terrorism. Chapter one of our text briefly outlined the history of Sociology, and how it attempts to cure the diseases of society rather than treating to symptoms.

The particular social problem addressed here is the use of terrorism as well as the ever-present threat of terrorism. This phenomena is an attempt to create social disorganization in order to bring about change, but it does so in a way that creates more chaos than change. True, there have been times when change was necessary, but it does no good to have a merely destructive element existing in our world. Clearly, these acts of terror are motivated by a perceived injustice, created by an inequality that exists due to our increasingly globalized society. A follower of psychological reductionism might claim that these acts were simply committed by a few bad apples, but we should use (among other things) Sociology to understand why the apples went bad. What dysfunctions in our society could give birth to, foster, and unleash this highly-destructive mentality?

Terrorism is a way of bringing about social change, and it has proven to be successful for thousands of years. It is a useful method for whomever utilizes it. Generally we associate the use of it to the weak and the desperate, but we should not forget that it is also a powerful tool for those in control of a given society. The Nazi regime used terrorism to conquer other nations just as suicide bombers use it to instill fear in their enemies.

Unfortunately, terrorism often accomplishes its goals, and it is an uphill battle to fight it. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair said of the recent bombings, “It is by its savagery designed to cover all conventional politics in darkness, to overwhelm the dignity of democracy and proper process with the impact of bloodshed and of terror… So we offer today this contrast with the politics of terror (1).” In this particular quote he contrasts the destructive efforts of terrorism with the constructive efforts of the G8 summit.

Despite any success that terrorists tend to have, it is the terror itself that is the reason it must be addressed and eliminated. Buildings can be rebuilt, homes relocated, and people can even die. This is in no way meant as an insult to those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001, but only about 3,000 people died that day. It was a tragedy beyond anything most humans have ever witnessed, but when you consider that there are almost 270million Americans, we are no way in danger of being eliminated. But it is the psychological damage that hurt us more than anything, and that is the crux of terrorism. Most of the time it is the threat of terror, as opposed to actual acts of terror, that truly affects us. Fear is a powerful motivator, though not a necessarily admirable one. Clearly, many social problems will emerge in a society where fear is the primary motivator of the people.

The majority of governments, societies, and people share a normative consensus that, because of its destructive nature and its tendency to destabilize otherwise acceptable situations, terrorism is an unacceptable element of any society. The United States government, along with so many others, holds the belief that we do not negotiate with terrorists. On a micro-level, it would seem that some individuals might suffer from a lack of negotiation. But if we consider the effects of giving into these same terrorists, the macro-level effects could potentially be disastrous. It would give credence to the practice of forced negotiations and set a deadly precedent for future terrorists.

For the most part, humanity has adhered to this no-nonsense approach towards terrorism. We share a collective conscience that has decided to stand vigilant in the face of terrorism, even if some of us do not approve of the methods. Hopefully it is self-evident that terrorism can only disrupt our lives and destabilize social equilibrium. An editorial in a recent Japanese magazine declared that the terrorists in London had failed, that they “have not broken or even bent the will of Londoners or the convened Group of Eight leaders, who, in a sense, were the targets of these attacks (2).”

The current administration has, for better or worse, thrived off the threat of terrorism. The threat of terror or terror-like danger has given this administration enough justification to convince enough of the American public that two large-scale military operations (and possibly a third) were necessary. Though its methods are still up for debate, the Bush administration has been very consistent concerning its stance on terrorism, at least in its language. Speaking about the bombing in London while at the G8 summit, President Bush declared, “We will not yield to terrorists (3).” I would like to believe that we will forever embrace the idea that terrorism is detrimental to our world.

Terrorism has undoubtedly changed our lives a great deal in the past five years, probably more than most Americans could ever have imagined. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in the early 1940’s, it was considered more of an act of war than an act of terrorism. Nothing has compared to the events of September 11th, and since then we have had our civil liberties reduced drastically, our economy is at an all-time low, we have committed lives and resources to the largest war in decades, and those are just the most glaringly obvious. A structural functionalist might argue that people are dividing themselves politically simply because we cannot internalize a normative consensus.

However, there was an significant and positive change in many people after that day in 2001. With no imminent threat to blame for the attacks, it immediately became evident to people all over the world that this was an act of terrorism. It set the stage for a unique time in our modern history when our collective conscience began to address our Eurocentric view of the world. Many of us started applying the method of verstehen, though I am sure a vast majority did this unconsciously. We tried to understand why someone would hate us so much, and in doing so became amateur sociologist of the Max Weber school.

On this particular issue the media has been surprisingly balanced. As always, there is an editorial bias that fits each news organization’s agenda. Some have played upon the idea that more terror could strike at any moment, such as one titled: “UK Fears More Attacks (4).” Others emphasize London’s resolve in defiance of the attacks, as with the article titled “Police: Show London is unbeaten (5).” With the popular media, though, it is not a matter of what the society finds important as much as what will keep people tuned in, so this may never be a fair representation of media coverage.

I would hope it would be difficult to find individuals who do not find terrorism to be a major social problem. If terrorism is not significantly curbed or eliminated, societies may never be able to thrive the way they potentially could. Should terrorism ever become a standard practice by nations, we could quickly find ourselves in a second, more sinister dark age. We must eliminate it before it destroys us.

The only way terrorism can truly be eliminated is by enlightenment through education. Not just education for a select few, but for as many people as possible, especially those environments that seem to breed terrorists. Whether terrorism is explained in terms of structural determinism or as the fault of misguided individuals, we must attempt to reduce terrorism across the globe. Maybe then we can write about it as a barbaric aspect of our past.

List of Works Consulted:
1. Financial Times – www.ft.com
2. GlobalSecurity.org – www.globalsecurity.org
3. Japan Times – www.japantimes.co.jp
4. FOX News – www.foxnews.com
5. CNN – www.cnn.com

September 11 2003

When the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a farm in Pennsylvania were attacked, most Americans saw it as an attack on America itself. Sure, it all happened on American soil and killed many Americans, but the truth is that it wasn’t a direct attack on America alone. People tend to forget that the buildings destroyed in New York were part of the World Trade Center. Remember that when you’re waving your American flag in memory of September 11th, 235 of the people that died that day (excluding the terrorists) were from countries other than the US. Flag-waving is perfect fine and relatively harmless, but don’t fool yourself into believing that it makes you a good American. Remember, even terrorists know how to wave a flag.

The problem, as I see it, is over-nationalism. If you believe our country is great, I would have to agree that you’re quite right. However, do not let your alacrity for patriotism keep you from looking at the big picture. The reality is that we are a great nation, but we’re still full of and governed by human beings. Though we may hold certain people to a higher standard than the other, remember that they are as prone to making mistakes as you and I. Just because a person of authority claims something, do not assume that it is 100% correct.

I will not go off on our president, but the fact is he led us into war under false pretenses using our humanity against us. He knew that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator, yet he did nothing about it until two years into his presidency. At what point did Hussein become such a threat to this country? The answer is: when the Bush administration decided he was. This illustrates that even good and well-meaning people can be led astray.

The reality is that Hussein shouldn’t have been in power. But, who are we to decide such a thing? Certainly he was not the biggest threat at the time. And, more importantly, what cost are we willing to pay? I sincerely hope that it isn’t as president Bush has said, that “we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary.” This implies a whole spectrum of easily-abused measures, including unjust and immoral wars. If we are to become the world’s terrorist police, let us not fall into the terrorism business. Let us not forget that while we are undoubtedly the most powerful nation in the world, we would be better suited to be the most compassionate.

September 11 2001

About an hour ago Kari woke me up talking about planes and hijacking or something. She was so serious that I hopped immediately out of bed and we flipped on the television. Slowly it occurred to me how serious this really was.

I saw the tower of the World Trade Center smoking like an oil torch, and as I sat there in disbelief they show an airplane slam into the other building. A terrible fireball poured out of the opposite side of the tower. Massive debris rained down on the streets of New York. I couldn’t believe it.

Then slowly-but-suddenly the walls began to transform into a cloud of dust and debris. The goddamn tower was collapsing! It seemed to take more than a minute for the tower to fall to the ground. A few moments later the top section of the remaining tower, which had been burning since I sat down to watch, suddenly began falling. As it fell, it took the rest of the building with it.

Unfuckingbelievable.

It was like something out of the movie “Armageddon.” I have been awake for an hour and this incident is only four or five hours old, so I’m sure there’s more to come. How many cameras were running when that plane hit New York City? I’ve always wanted to go to New York. Not that it was to be the reason I would’ve gone, but I always wanted to visit the World Trade Center. That is now impossible.

Since it is, after all, still a school day, Kari and I left for our one class for the day. I’m sitting in her class right now because my class (marching band) has been cancelled “in light of the awful national tragedy.” As we walk to the music building we saw that the women’s dorm next to the music building was evacuated. It occurred to me that I should’ve brought my camera. Girls and a couple of police congregated on the other side of the street from the dorm. Could the terrorists want to destroy an obscure dormitory in West Texas? I don’t think so. It was just the first sign of what (I think) is to come.

We walked through the music building that is connected to the University Center. Since the largest class on campus (band) has been cancelled (along with many others) the hallways were packed with people. Everyone was standing around with more or less the same stunned and confused looks on their faces.

Occasionally you would see someone crying, but most people appeared emotionally unaffected. It was clearly the topic of 90% of all conversations throughout the building (and probably the nation).

We walked through the UC itself and I was reminded again that I should’ve brought my camera. People were sitting all around the indoor courtyard and two televisions were set up and tuned to CNN. In a room with more than a hundred people in it (or more) it was decidedly quiet.

We made it through the UC and walked across the campus to Kari’s class. The sound of sirens confirmed to me that something (even if it really was nothing) was going on at that dorm. The three giant flags in Memorial Circle were at half-staff. I wonder if they were at full staff this morning. Did they have to be lowered at one point this morning? We moved through the Mass Communications building heading for Kari’s class and every room had a TV on. I wonder how many classes today will have the attack as the topic of discussion. Maybe it should be.