Sunday, May 8, 2016

'United States of Jihad' & Homegrown Terrorists

Review by Bill Doughty

San Bernardino terrorists Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook at airport security.
The journalist who interviewed Osama bin Laden nearly twenty years ago in 1997, four years before 9/11 – and who accurately predicted the location of bin Laden's hideaway more than a decade later – assesses the level of danger of neighborhood jihadists in his latest work, "United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists" (2016, Crown Publishers).

Peter Bergen's conclusion may surprise some Americans.

Bergen's work – which includes insights into the Boston Marathon attack by the Tsarnaev brothers, the killing of Omar Hammami, the hunt for and death of Anwar al-Awlaki, and the Malik/Farook attack in San Bernardino on December 2, 2015 – grips the reader with its sense of immediacy and Bergen's mastery at nonfiction storytelling. 

The book opens with "Americans for ISIS," describing teenager Mohammed Hamzah Khan's attempt to join the Islamist "caliphate" with his younger siblings. Other highlights include behind-the-scenes insights into deranged characters Major Nidal Hassan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and David Headley.

Bergen examines the phenomenon of "lone wolves" as well as leader-led jihadists.

The roles of Navy SEAL Team 6 and CIA come up several times in the war against what Bergen calls "Binladenism." Bergen documents the success in tracking down and exterminating overseas terrorists. But, here comes the surprise: radical islamists were not the greatest threat to Americans on U.S. soil in 2015, he reports.
"Americans have also long tended to overestimate the threats posed by jihadists while underestimating the sources of other forms of terrorism, generally defined as any act of violence against civilians motivated by ideology. Since 9/11, extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right-wing credos, including white supremacists, antiabortion extremists, and antigovernment militants, have killed around the same number of people in the United States as have extremists motivated by al-Qaeda's ideology. As we have seen, by the end of 2015, forty-five people had been killed in jihadist terrorist attacks in the United States, while right-wing racists and antigovernment militants had killed forty-eight."
As an example, Bergen relates terrorist attack by Dylann Roof last year at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which Roof killed nine African Americans vainly hoping "to start a race war." He reminds us of the historical terrorism in our country, including "an astonishing 112 hijackings in the States during the 1970s."

Yet, the fear of ISIS for some is all-consuming, even impinging on some Americans' "pursuit of happiness." The influential philosopher Epicurus (Thomas Jefferson called himself Epicurean) reasoned that people's greatest desire should be the pursuit of a life of happiness, and that the greatest barrier to that pursuit was fear.

So what about our fears? Bergen writes:
"Americans' persistent fear of terrorism can be explained partly by the disparity between expert and lay evaluations of risk. In the words of Clinton Jenkin, a psychologist writing in the peer-reviewed journal Homeland Security Affairs, 'Experts view risk as the likelihood of actual harm based on mortality estimates, whereas lay perceptions of risk are based on a number of qualitative (and subjective) characteristics.' The average person's perception of risk, he explains, is influenced by 'the voluntariness of exposure,' how much control we feel we have, how great we judge the potential damage, how unpredictable the situation seems, and so on. Since terrorists can strike anyone, anywhere, in a random and dreadful manner, we tend to fear them more than we fear far more common and predictable causes of death. In any year since 9/11, Americans were twelve thousand times more likely to die in a car accident, for instance, than in a domestic terrorist incident."
Bergen continues to put fear and Americans' actual risk in perspective:
"The extent to which our government and the media participate in this endemic paranoia is damaging in that, apart from doing the terrorists' job for them, which is to terrorize, it helps to crowd out the far more serious issues the planet faces. Climate change is far less telegenic than ISIS. More to the point, homicide is the fifteenth leading cause of death for Americans. The scale of this death toll resembles both a national security problem and a public health issue. Around 70 percent of American homicides are accomplished with firearms, according to an authoritative study by the United Nations; some eighty-eight thousand Americans died in gun violence between 2003 and 2010. This means that in the years after 9/11, an American residing in the United States was around five thousand times more likely to be killed by a fellow citizen armed with a gun than by a terrorist inspired by the ideology of Osama bin Laden. It's probably more or less inevitable that most Americans will die of cancer or a heart attack, but why is it even plausible that Americans in high schools, colleges, movie theaters, and churches should die at the hands of young armed men?"
Kerry Cahill and Nader Hasan
He concludes his book with a hopeful profile of Kerry Cahill (whose father, Michael, was killed by Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood) and her bond of friendship with Nader Hasan, cousin of the terrorist assassin, who reached out to her. 

Nader Hassan's Nawal Foundation is dedicated to American Muslims speaking out against terrorists and terrorism. Kerry joined the foundation after bonding with Nader over homemade baklava and a children's book ("Mouse Soup" by Arnold Lobel, author of "Frog and Toad"). "Mouse Soup," Bergen writes, "had been Michael Cahill's favorite book to read to them as kids."

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