Al-Qaeda regroups in Pakistan/Afghanistan…

The revelations Thursday about the British and Pakistani intel services having uncovered and “taken down” a plot to blow many western airliners up over the highseas came as Bill and I were flying to California. We heard nothing of the plot before boarding the small plane in Charlottesville. But when we boarded the big transcontinental flight from Dulles to LA, passengers coming into Dulles were already having to go through extensive security checks.
As someone who flies quite frequently and whose loved ones and friends also fly frequently, I am extremely happy that all necessary and sensible steps are taken to safeguard the security of the air travel system around the world. None of us has yet had the opportunity to examine in full the evidence the British and Pakistanis had against the alleged authors of those plots, but they sounded very, very scary.
It is notable that it was solid police work that succeeded in preventing those murderous acts from being committed.
What a contrast with the situations in Iraq and Lebanon, where the UK, US, their allies, and Israel have all tried to use massive military force against opponents while claiming that these opponents either were terrorists or gave support to terrorists… And far from bringing an end to violence and threats of violence, those military acts had these features:

    (1) They were themselves acts of massive, and wildly indiscriminate violence that murdered hundreds of civilians(in Lebanon) and many thousands (in Iraq),
    (2) They significantly distracted the attention and resources of decisionmakers away from pursuing the very necessary tasks of stabilizing post-Taliban Afghanistan and its quite unctrolled border area with Pakistan, and
    (3) They also sowed the seeds for radically increased anti-western hatred among the very community– the worldwide Muslim community– where, as western leaders must surely understand, an important battle of ideas against the proponents of Al-Qaeda violence must be fought and won.

The US, UK, their allies, and Israel have all seemed addicted to the use of militaristic violence. In the UK, there are also those who pursue the smarter path using solid police work to investigate reports of terrorist planning… But how much less inclination to join those plots would there have been if the Blair government had not also joined the US in its military adventure in Iraq, and had not supported the Israeli government in so many of its oppressive and violent acts in palestine and Lebanon– but if instead, he had coolly pursued a policy stressing nonviolent resolution of conflicts and human equality?
Well, recourse to military force to “solve” outstanding problems should surely have gotten a bad reputation by now, after all we have witnessed in Iraq and Lebanon. I believe it’s time to stress that point as hard and as fast as we can…
(I’ll be flying home on Sunday night. Let’s hope the air travel system stays safe.)

Grief in India, and a prayer

The travels continue. (Today I’m in The Hague; two days of some promising-looking interviews here; Sunday, I leave for Uganda….)
Anyway, I failed to write anything here about the horrendous civilian toll from the terror bombings in Mumbai, India. I see the casualty toll is now estimated to have risen above 200. So many grieiving, bereft, and shocked Indian families.
Today, I had this lovely gift in my in-box, which I happy to share with you. It’s from “S.A.Rehman, Peace Activist, Pakistan.”

    Dear brothers & sisters,
    We all need to pray for one another, and to love one another. We should always pray for the safety, peace, love and brotherhood for people all over the world. Too bad we can’t have an independence day for the entire world. A day of freedom from ignorance, hatred, war, illusions, power and control. A day where we can all love each other as human beings and toss away the
    weapons of war, and cast out our fears and hatreds from our hearts into the graves. We must mourn the graves of the innocents all over the world, and give the children of the world the hope of a peaceful, loving and beautiful world.
    A world full of love and without hatred or fear. A
    world where we can join hands together and accept one
    another, regardless of our skin color, ethnic
    divisions, religion or nationality. If we don’t unite
    as a human race, then we have condemned the future
    generation of children a dark and very grim future.
    Think of love, compassion and peace always…
    Merciful God, You made all of the people of the world
    in Your own image and placed before us the pathway of
    salvation through different Preachers who claimed to
    have been Your Saints and Prophets. But, the
    contradictions (made by us) in the interpretation of
    Your teachings have resulted in creating divisions,
    faith based hatreds and bloodshed in the world
    community. Millions of innocent men, women and
    children have so far been brutally killed by the
    militants of several religions who have been
    committing horrifying crimes against humanity and
    millions more would not be butchered by them in the
    future, if You guide and help us find ways to reunite
    look with compassion on the whole human family; take
    away the controversial teachings of arrogance,
    divisions and hatreds which have badly infected our
    hearts; break down the walls that separate us; reunite
    us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
    confusion to accomplish Your purposes on earth; that,
    in Your good time, all nations and races could jointly
    serve You in justice, peace and harmony. (Amen)

Thanks, friend.

Terrorist incidents in Iraq

I mainly want to bookmark here, for future reference, the US government’s own count of the number of terrorist incidents in Iraq in calendar 2005, as released last week by the National Counter-Terrorism Center. Okay, I also want to comment on it.
The NCTC’s count is here, (PDF file– go to page 8.)
What we see counted there are 3,474 incidents of terrorism in Iraq in 2005, resulting in 20,711 “victims”, counting those killed, injured, or kidnapped as a result of the counted incidents.
I was trying to look at trend lines. If you go to this page on the NCTC’s Worldwide Incidents Tracking System, you’ll find it’s the first of 176 linked web-pages there that list and give some info about all the counted terrorism incidents in Iraq between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2005.
So the total for those two years was 4,413 incidents involving 30,643 victims.
So in 2004, there had been 939 incidents involving 9,932 victims.
So in 2005, the number of incidents increased by 270 percent over its counted 2004 rate, and the number of victims increased by 109 percent.

What a truly terrible record for the US occupation regime there, all round.
You have to know, too, that the counting system used was extremely partial, and doesn’t convey the total amount of “terror” inflicted on Iraqi civilians through politically motivated violence (which is what the NCTC purports to count). Crucially, it fails to count all incidents of violent actions that inflicted death and other harms on Iraqi civilians that were carried out by the US military and forces allied with it including the Iraqi “security” forces. If we add in those incidents, we can see that the total amount of terror inflicted on the Iraqi citizenry in 2004, 2005, and until today is almost unimaginably high.
Just think how terrifying everyone in Israel finds it if, say, three Israeli civilians are subjected to politically motivated violence. And multiply that by many thousands over the course of a year. (Guess what, Iraqi people are just as much human as Israeli people; and they have the same capacity for inter-human empathy, solidarity, and feelings of pain.)
And of course it is not just the counted individuals who are impacted when anti-civilian violence occurs. It is their families, those who love them, and everyone who lives in that same community.
… Sometimes, Bush administration officials and their apologists have argued, with quite unpardonable cynicism and disregard for human life, that “it is better to fight the terrorists ‘over there’ than ‘over here’.” I find this argument revolting, and racist (in the global definition of that term, not the skin color-related US definition of it.)
Indeed, the US occupation presence in Iraq has not only attracted and helped to motivate the actions of new generations of Sunni-extremist terrorists there; but it has also inflicted its own often wanton violence on the Iraqi citizenry, and has empowered and trained some of the Shiite-extremist and Kurdish militias that have inflicted even more violence on the Iraqi citizenry. Nearly all the manifestations of those forms of violence– including the US military’s violence– are “politically motivated”, in the sense that that they’re not motivated by, say, hopes of personal gain or outright thievery. (Though that happens too.)
Certainly, if Iraq is ever lucky enough to have something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, then acts of rights-abusing violence undertaken by the occupation regime and its allies would come under exactly the same public microscope as similar acts undertaken by anti-occupation forces.
Quite rightly so, from the human rights perspective.
… And meantime, the Taliban are steadily making a comeback in many parts of southern Afghanistan.
So what on earth kind of a “counter-terrorism” policy has the Bush administration been running?

Police work making a difference in London

Back last Sunday, I wrote that the best response to terrorism is based primarily on solid, international investigative and police work, not on militarism. The British government has been showing us all how to do this (despite the terrible over-reaction of the shooting death of Jean Charles de Menezes, for which Tony Blair was very fast to apologize.)
Today, the British and Italian police arrested three of the men accused of involvement in the abortive mass bombing attacks on July 21, meaning that now all four of the prime suspects from that day have now been arrested.
The success of this arrest operation– and the intel bonanza that will quite likely flow from the police having taken all four of these men alive– is great news for the British people and for opponents of terrorism everywhere. It also underlines the importance of something I have argued ever since 9/11/2001: namely the importance of focusing, in both the police and the political responses to acts of terrorism, on those who might have reason to condone those acts, as much as on the shadowy (but necessarily small) terror networks themselves.
In the current case, vital clues regarding the whereabouts of the first of the suspects arrested were reportedly supplied by the man’s own father. And I have no doubt that in the other cases, too, vital clues that helped locate those suspects were provided by people who knew them fairly well, even if not they weren’t blood kin.
Think about it. If you were a Somali immigrant to Britain, or indeed any kind of a British citizen, would you turn your son in to the authorities if he were accused of involvement in something like the July 7 bombings?
It’s a tough question. I’m thinking about my own kids. If any of them was accused of involvement with a heinous crime, in the States or in Britain, would I turn them in to the authorities? (This is not a purely hypothetical question. Remember that in the US, the police only ever got their hands on the Unabomber back in 1996 because his own brother turned him in.)
As a parent, I think I’d say that if there was a strong chance a child of mine would be tortured or otherwise badly abused after being arrested, I would probably be very reluctant indeed to turn her or him in. (Ted Kaczynski’s brother reportedly only turned him in after receiving assurances from the police that he would not be given the death penalty.)
So that’s a first point. If you want to get family or close friends of suspects to cooperate with the police– and very often, they would be people with some of the best clues as to how and where to find him– then they have to have some assurance that their cooperation will not lead to their relative or friend being abused. There has, therefore, to be a basic degree of trust in the fairness of the justice system to which this person is being given up.
At a broader political level, too, though, the judgments being made about the general fairness and political legitimacy of the political system by people in the suspect’s broader community are equally important.
This is where we come to the issue of the importance of focusing on the community of potential condoners of the terrorist network. Not the (presumably smaller) community of people who actual logistic, ideological, or financial supporters of the terrorist network… But the broader ethnic or religious circles in which people might know something about what the terrorist networks are planning– in more or less specific terms– and they are in a position to choose whether to share such information as they have with the police authorities, or not…
In Britain, it seems that the events of July 7 shocked many people in the Muslim communities there who might previously, for a number of different reasons, been prepared to condone or turn a blind eye to the activities of Islamic-extremist organizers. But after July 7, I’m sure that a large proportion of previous condoners of the militant networks suddenly thought, “Oh my gosh, this business is extremely dangerous to many, many things I hold dear… What can I do to help the police to root this violence out of here?”
Note that since July 7, the British leadership has been very calm, resolute, and systematic in its pursuit of the police investigations. Tony Blair did not immediately “declare war”, or take extravagant actions to put the country on a war footing. The British police did not launch any campaigns of mass arrests of Muslims. Blair’s public stance was notably not anti-Muslim.
(Actually, in some regards, Bush’s reactions immediately after 9/11 were similarly wise and measured… With these two huge exceptions: After 9/11 some 700 suspects, mainly Muslims, were hauled off the streets of various US cities and put into fairly abusive and lengthy detention situations of very dubious legality; and then, within just a couple of weeks of 9/11, Bush started to get into the rhetoric– and associated militaristic actions– of the Global “War” on Terrorism.)
So anyway, this evening I want to say hats off to the British and their focus on massive and (with that one notable mistake) successful police work. And hats off to their ability to build new relations of apparently greater trust and mutual respect with people who formerly– and for various reasons, not all of them crazy– might have turned the condoner’s blind eye to the activities of the men of violence in their midst.
Calm, de-escalation, building relationships, and sticking to decent values of respect for everyone’s human rights… That, it seems to me, is the best way to contain and then end the scourge of terrorism. Globally, as well as within nations.
And no, it needn’t take decades to do this. Not if we start out, from the get-go, with a solid, values-based approach.

Terrorism, and responses to it

So much killing, so much hatred… The BBC is reporting that at least 88 people were killed in the multiple bombings in Sharm al-Shaikh, Egypt, yesterday, and at least 22 have been killed today by a truck bomb in the east-Baghdad district of Mashtal (which means a nursery for young plants, or saplings).
This after the well-known series of other large-scale killings of civilians we’ve witnessed in recent weeks, in Iraq and London.
Each one of those lives snuffed out is equally precious… We should remember, too, that the “point” of terrorists who kills civilians is not just to carry on killing until everyone is dead, though sometimes it does almost feel that way. Their “point” is to leave everyone else so terrified that they accede to the demands of the terrorists. And along they way, they often hope to provoke an over-reaction from the targeted society. Llike, for example, the serious mistake the British police made when they shot to kill a fleeing “suspect” who turned out to be a Brazilian unconnected with the Qaeda-style terrorists the police were seeking.
That kind of an over-reaction helps to polarize important portions of society against the police, and thus poses a huge obstacle to the kind of very thorough and principled police work that– in Britain as internationally– remains the best answer for how to incapacitate the Qaeda-style terrorists.
Already, several prominent British Muslims have said that if the British police have a “shoot to kill” policy, that will make it much harder for the police to win cooperation in the Muslim communities.
… Well, if we think that the British police shooting to kill one fleeing individual was a dangerous and potentially self-defeating form of over-reaction, then what do we think about the Bush administration– “in response to” the threat from an Afghanistan/Pakistan-based Al-Qaeda– launching a war to invade and control a whole different country, Iraq?
In Britain, I hope and expect that the Rules of Engagement that last friday apparently allowed a small London police squad to shoot to kill a fleeing suspect have since been changed. And also, hopefully, that the whole incident will be rigorously investigated and any officer who exceeded the rules of engagement in place at the time would be disciplined.
Of course, the British police and government should also apologise profusely to the family of the slain Brazilian, and make some meaningful form of amends to them.
But what about the Bushites’ extreme form of over-reaction in Iraq?
When will we see that policy reversed?
When will see a thorough investigation into the whole affair, and those responsible for that dangerous over-reaction brought to justice and disciplined?
When will we see a US apology to the affected Iraqis, and serious efforts to make amends to them?
Soon, I hope.
And at that point, everyone in the world who actually, in practice, recognizes that solving longstanding political differences through dialogue and discussion is a far better way of doing things than through any applications of violence, can start to come together and make the case for a far smarter, more focused, response to the terrorists.
This response would be based on:

    (1) solid, international investigative and police work;
    (2) building strong political alliances based on a commitment to nonviolent values rather than a reliance on militarism; and
    (3) a commitment to hearing everyone’s existing political claims and grievances with an equally sympathetic ear, and a commitment to equality-based outcomes.

There are many ways to respond to terrorism without getting sucked into the terrorists’ games and paradigms of relying on violence to solve problems. Pleae God, let’s be smart enough, and concerned enough about the kind of world we’ll bequeath to our children and grandchildren, that we commit to using those ways.