We Aren’t the Anti-Terrorists

Inventing the EnemyA lot of people in the United States want terrorism to be a major problem—it seems to define us as a people. But apparently, terrorism is an extremely minor problem. How else can we explain the fact that almost every time I read about a foiled terror plot, it turns out that all the tools for the act and very often even the idea came from the FBI? Michael Tarm over at the Associated Press reported yesterday on two such cases, FBI: Ill. Man Tried to Join Al-Qaida-Linked Group. In it, he wrote about Abdella Ahmad Tounisi who tried to board a flight to Syria to join a group that is fighting against the Bashar Assad regime. The article didn’t say, but I wouldn’t doubt that the FBI even provided the plane ticket.

Tounisi was a allegedly a friend of Adel Daoud who, like most “terrorists” in America tried to detonate a fake bomb that the FBI had given him. I question how valid these prosecutions are. Would these people have actually gone through with these acts if the FBI hadn’t made it so easy? We’ll never know. And the bombing at the Boston Marathon shows how ridiculous these investigations are: we spend enormous resources setting up fake terrorist acts to foil while real ones go unnoticed. I understand that plotters like the Tsarnaev brothers as almost impossible to detect beforehand, but certainly resources could be used that now go to people likely couldn’t commit a terrorist act without government help.

There was something else in the article that caught my eye:

There are no links between Tounisi and the Boston Marathon bombings earlier in the week, the head of the FBI office in Chicago, Cory B. Nelson, said in a statement announcing the arrest.

This goes along with a common meme in conservative media right now: the Boston Marathon bombers were part of some large terror network. Now certainly, I don’t know. But that sounds really unlikely and there is certainly no indication of it. But people really want to believe in some vast conspiracy that isn’t there. From what we know, al-Qaida is not that organized a group. Many acts that are supposedly by al-Qaida are really only by people who align themselves with al-Qaida. And that makes them harder to detect. But as “public enemy number one,” al-Qaida is a pathetic group—like a mouse who keeps attacking your feet: annoying and even painful at times but certainly not an existential threat.

I just read the title essay in Umberto Eco’s Inventing the Enemy. He explains what is going on perfectly:

See what happened in the United States when the Evil Empire vanished and the great Soviet enemy faded away. The United States was in danger of losing its identity until bin Laden, in gratitude for the benefits received when he was fighting against the Soviet Union, proffered his merciful hand and gave Bush the opportunity to create new enemies, strengthening feelings of national identity as well as his own power.

That’s about right. What Eco is getting at is the fact that we only have identity to the extent that we are not “the enemy” or more generally “the other.” That’s a much more profound discussion, which I may write about later. For now, it is enough to say that we need to fight against this. The barbarians are not at the gates and there are much more edifying ways to define ourselves than as “not those pathetic religious fundamentalists who think God wants them to kill other people.”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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