Sunday, December 6, 2015

Josh Marshall on Effective Counter-terrorism

Josh Marshall outlines the conundrum we face in attempting to prevent terrorist attacks on Talking Points Memo.

The kinds of surveillance and scrutiny which inevitably fall on suspect populations as part of a heightened counter-terrorism posture are exactly the kinds of strictures which over time are likely to create the kind of social isolation and alienation which seems, from the evidence we have from Europe, to create a breeding ground for radicalization. So getting the balance right is very difficult. And this is entirely apart from the very legitimate and pressing discussion about what policies are American values and our constitution will or should allow. Throw all of that out the window and you've still got a very complex balancing act on your hands.

Let's take the case of Western Europe. Over a couple decades and particularly since 9/11 we've had abundant evidence that Muslims in Europe, and particularly Muslims whose ancestry is in Muslim majority countries in the Middles East, North Africa and South Asia appear to be substantially more prone to radicalization and participation is mass casualty terror attacks than immigrants and descendants of immigrants from those countries now living in the United States. We have lots of evidence for this both in journalistic and academic studies. And we have lots of evidence in a volume of terrorist attacks...But I think it must play some role in the way Middle Eastern and North African immigrants in France for instance remain a people apart in a way that seems profoundly different from in the United States...Virtually everyone who has studied the matter concludes that it is this social isolation that is at the root of the greater propensity toward radicalization and willingness, albeit for a tiny subsection of the population, to commit acts of violence. of our key strategic defenses against the general conflagration of the Middle East and Muslim South Asia spilling over onto the mainland United States is and has been the relatively high level of integration of American Muslims. Talk to any counterterrorism expert in law enforcement, the US intelligence community or academics and they will tell you this is true. Not nutballs on Fox News or other more mainstream outlets - but people actually charged with keeping Americans safe. The best way to change that is to turn American Muslims into a suspect population, walled off from the mainstream of American life by fear, bigotry and even well-intentioned broad and aggressive surveillance.

I don't say this as just some big pluralism Kumbaya. This is a real threat. And the fact that we also have far-right, revanchist white extremists and overlapping anti-abortion extremists in the US doesn't make it less of a threat. I also want to be clear that I'm not brushing aside the constitutional strictures and American values of pluralism. My point is that even if we did do that, even if we collectively said, 'okay enough, it's too dangerous not to finally crack down' and do all the stuff the Islamophobes want we'd likely be sowing more trouble. We'd end up like France.

On all these fronts we face something like a Chinese finger puzzle: the things we do to arrest the problem draw us deeper into it, paradoxically deepen the threats facing us. The conundrum requires a mix of force and restraint, vigilance and pluralism. It is genuinely complicated and a balance our politics - any democratic society's politics - is challenged to summon.

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