How People Become Terrorists

Yesterday I attended a fascinating lecture by Marc Sageman on his latest book: Misunderstanding Terrorism. You can watch it here: How-people-become-terrorists

Though greatly oversimplified, the essence of his findings, which included direct interviews of over 30 captured terrorists, is that members attracted to a close net group with a shared concern and thus shared identity and common cause can for various reasons rise to terrorism when they think their issue is not receiving a fair hearing. He does not consider the ultra conservative interpretation of Islam espoused by ISIS to be a very important factor in attracting its “soldiers.” Perhaps this is why National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster urged Trump not to use the label “radical Islamic terrorism” in his speech to congress saying that it was not helpful. McMaster-trump-terrorism-speech

America’s best defense against ISIS and other terrorist producing groups is to adhere to the values that have made American so respected and admired around the world. These include the evenhanded application of the rule of law.

While listening to Dr. Sageman’s presentation I was reminded of the University of California’s handling of the Free Speech Movement in 1964-5. The FSM was formed in the fall of 1964 after the University banned the traditional sidewalk tables on the edge of the Berkeley campus from which student organizations recruited members and/or passed out their literature. I was a member of the FSM council, as were the presidents of virtually all recognized campus organizations, in my capacity as President of the University Conservatives. The council’s purpose was to get the Berkeley administration to lift its ban and restore free speech on campus (a different time indeed).

As the daily meetings of the FSM council droned on, the group began to informally split between those pushing for more and more forceful demonstrations (which led eventually to the student take over and sit in of Sproul Hall, the administration building) and those of us favoring discussions with the Administration. As the FSM council became increasingly more radical, more moderate groups began to drop out and five of us (the Presidents of Young Republics, Young Democrats, University Conservatives, Young Peoples Socialist League, and Democratic Socialists) began meeting separately in the middle of the night to agree on a strategy for approaching the Administration. We met in the office of Professor Seymour Martin Lipset because the YPSL President was his research assistant and had the key. In this we succeeded but not until Bettina Aptheker and the Marxist group led students into Sproul Hall where they “sat in” for the next few days until they were carted off by the police. Sadly, Joan Baez, who had performed on the steps of Sproul Hall (from which Mario Savio and I and others addressed the daily crowds) every Friday, and whose music I love, led the students into the building singing “We shall overcome” (though she stopped outside the door herself). It was an unforgettable experience with protest movements and crowd dynamics.

President Trump has taken the opposite approach to our terrorist threat. Rather than honestly debating whether Muslims or any other identifiable group are unfairly treated in America (of course some are occasionally, but not as the result of an official discriminatory policy), and/or our purpose and conduct in occupying Iraq, Trump has pretended that the threat comes from abroad and has tried to make it even harder for foreigners to visit. In the process he has given an ugly tone to our discussions of real issues and concerns. Trumps-foreign-policy-and-Mexico

Trump’s poorly conceived, poorly drafted, and poorly executed Executive Order temporarily banning entry of people from seven Muslim majority countries fits Dr. Sageman’s description of how to promote terrorism. Tears-and-detention-for-us-visitors-as-trump-travel-ban-hits. In the past few weeks, our charming and welcoming airport immigration officials have detained some unusual travelers.

American born citizen Sidd Bikkannavar, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab with Global Entry, was detained in Houston on his return from Chile and pressured to give over the pin access number to his phone, which had been issued by his employer and contained sensitive material. Indian-origin-nasa-scientist-detained-at-us-border-phone-confiscated

French historian Henry Rousso, a pre-eminent scholar on the Holocaust, was also held at the Houston airport. “When the immigration officer discovered he would be receiving a fee for his keynote address at Texas A&M University, he ordered him to be deported, claiming he should have a working visa rather than a tourist visa.” French-historian-Henry-Rousso-detained 10-hours.

The celebrated Australian children’s writer, Mem Fox, was detained at LAX and wrote that “In that moment I loathed America.” In-that-moment-I-loathed-America-I-loathed-the-entire-country.

The detention for several hours of Mohammad Ali’s son on his way home from a speech in Jamaica because he is a Muslim is one of the more outrageous examples of what is happening. Muhammad-Ali-son-detained-Fort-Lauderdale-airport

These short sighted and ugly measures are not making us safer, quite the opposite:

Former-CIA-chief-says trumps-travel-ban-hurts-American security

In response to stricter requirements for European travel to the U.S., the European Commission is considering whether to suspend visa free travel to Europe for Americans. Did we really think we could do it to them without them wanting to do it to us? Where are the adults?

What is wrong with PC?

Almost five years ago I wrote about political correctness (PC, politeness and caondor): https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/pc-politeness-and-candor/. In short, I said that what would normally be considered “good manners,” — values and behavior of free individuals– was becoming a stifling imposition of expected behavior by various authorities, another manifestation of the nanny state. Given our laudable propensity to generally rebalance excesses in one direction or another, I assumed that PC would be fading by now.

In 1964 at the University of California at Berkeley, I participated with other students from the far left to the right (University Conservatives and Young Republicans– we didn’t have far right students at Berkeley) in demonstrations AGAINST the University administration’s efforts to limit our freedom of speech. This was the famous Free Speech Movement. Thus I am shocked to read that today’s students are demanding restrictions on speech by the authorities. What is going on here?

On November 9 the WSJ reported that: “On Oct. 28 Yale Dean Burgwell Howard and Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee blasted out an email advising students against ‘culturally unaware’ Halloween costumes, with self-help questions such as: ‘If this costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural inaccuracies?’ Watch out for insensitivity toward ‘religious beliefs, Native American/Indigenous people, Socio-economic strata, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims, etc.’ In short, everyone.

“Who knew Yale still employed anyone willing to doubt the costume wardens? But in response to the dean’s email, lecturer in early childhood education Erika Christakis mused to the student residential community she oversees with her husband, Nicholas, a Yale sociologist and physician: ‘I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns,’ but she wondered if colleges had morphed into ‘places of censure and prohibition.’

“And: Nicholas says, ‘if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.’

“Some 750 Yale students, faculty, alumni and others signed a letter saying Ms. Christakis’s ‘jarring’ email served to ‘further degrade marginalized people,’ as though someone with a Yale degree could be marginalized in America” Read the whole sickening story: http://www.wsj.com/articles/yales-little-robespierres-1447115476

It is hard for me to grasp that some Universities now carve out limited spaces within which students may freely express their opinions on controversial issues. Charles Murray’s reaction resonates with me: “Safe space. That’s the POINT of a university. To be a safe space for intellectual freedom in a world largely hostile to that concept.” FACEBOOK, Nov 10, 2015.

It is a good thing that today’s students are more sensitive to bad behavior among their peers and hopefully better behaved themselves. However, the swing from students demonstrating to defend free speech to students demonstrating to restrict it represents, in my view (as correctly noted by the brave Mr. Christakis in the above article) a swing from each or our personal responsibilities to exhibit, defend and promote good manners to a wide ranging state—big brother—to oversee and enforce all that in its wisdom we should believe and do. We will be a weaker and more subservient country as a result.