Monday, February 7, 2011

America, Fighting Terrorism with Terrorism

Tomorrow, there will be a domestic terrorist attack on Capitol Hill. It won't be the first, and it won't be the last either, as legislation that strips away rights from both citizens, and non-citizens is pushed through the US Congress. Tommorow, it'lll be reauthorizing aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act that are due to expire, and it does this in the name of "fighting terrorism". The sad irony, is that the entire Patriot Act itself is quite literally a domestic terrorist act.

To understand how the bill touted as the US' most potent weapon on terrorism is, in fact, terrorism, what terrorism is itself must be defined. Many people see terrorism as "people killing people because of religion". That's one aspect, a common one yes, but not the whole. The IRA (and associated/similar groups) were very prolific terrorists in the UK int he 80's and 90s, and the majority of their acts - certainly their bombings - didn't kill people. In fact, codewords were established between the groups, and the UK authorities, so that threats would be taken seriously, but that the loss of life would be minimised. The purpose of terrorism then? well, the clue is in the name -  TERRORism; it's about generating fear.

The US Department of Defence agrees with that, and it defines terrorism as
"the unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to instill fear and coerce governments or societies. Terrorism is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political."
(Source:  Joint Pub 3-07.2, Antiterrorism, (24 November 2010))
The Patriot Act, however, defines it as

"activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state, that (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping, and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S."

There is a significant difference there. The main difference is that the Patriot Act does not include the 'threat of violence', (a smaller one is that it 'occurs primarally within the US' makes sense as it is a US law).

That might not be a big dal, except there is a big hole there. the Millitary considers it terrorism if you use the actuality or just the threat of violence, while the Patriot ACt requires that the action be against the law, AND is dangerous. That leads a HUGE chasm of actions that are accepted as terrorism, but not punishable by the Patriot Act. That would seem to be a big oversight, especially given the backronym for the act - Uniting and Strengthening America (USA) by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (PATRIOT) Act of 2001.

There is a method to the madness though. The bill itself - indeed most anti-terrorist legislation - was passed on a method of 'threats of violence'. "We must have this bill, or else they'll strike again and kill people". The Bodyscanners, 'we need this technology, so that you are safe' (despite the fact that airline-based terrorism is incredibly rare). Such actions are not illegal, but they are terrorism.

To see it in context, let's look at the bodyscanners.

18 months ago, the idea of willingly submitting to a stripsearch, by deafult ,with no probable cause would be ludicrous. Then the 'underpants bomber' incident happened, and very soon after, a Gallup poll was conducted, asking about the scanners, in the wake of that attempted attack. You can read Gallup's report here.

To break it down, we have an implied threat of violence (people blowing themselves up on aircraft) that was used to generate fear, exacerbated by the questions, and was motivated by a political belief (more government control) for a political end (government control and monitoring). It is textbook terrorism.

It's not just advocacy groups though, it's politicians as well. In 2001, current US Senator Saxby Chambliss was a mere Congressman, that happened to chair the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security. In his remarks to CNN in October of that year, he rolled out the fear wagon pretty hard. He's still rolling it out hard even now, with this on his official Senate site, under "Homeland Security"
Homeland Security
A Safer and More Secure America…Since September 11, our local, state and federal law enforcement officials have taken great strides to make communities, national landmarks, cities, and air and water ports safer and more secure.
Information Sharing Improvements... We’ve improved our information sharing capabilities between federal and local first responders and law enforcement officials. Within our intelligence community – the CIA, FBI and NSA – we’ve increased our information sharing capabilities – both vertically within each agency and horizontally with each other.
Winning the War on Terrorism…Since 9-11, and our global war against terrorism, we’ve made more arrests, dismantled al Qaeda terror training camps, disrupted their communication and planning capabilities, prevented and foiled potential terror attacks, broken up sleeper cells and captured members of al Qaeda’s top leadership. We’ve seen al Qaeda shift it’s targeting from “hard” to “soft” targets. Much more needs still to be done, but there’s no doubt about it, we are winning the war on terrorism.
Three points, all of which play up the threat, and then use it to justify a political change to the US way of life over the last 10 years, ending with a statement that 'much more needs still to be done' - an indication of still more sweeping social changes to be made perhaps? No wonder he could afford to spend $15.7Million to get re-elected in 2008. And even when he finally responds to complaints about the security apparatus going too far, he still couches it in platitudes of 'we know this is needed'. There is no doubt as to how Saxby will vote when the bill reaches the Senate.

There is a saying about turning into the things you hate the most. Governments, especially the US and UK ones, have become terrorists, as indeed have many of the talking heads popular in those countries. Take Glenn Beck, for instance. He's been acting as a domestic terrorist now for several years, although is careful to stay inside the bounds of the Patriot Act. Of course, some people are not standing for it, as this video clip shows.

If only more people wouldn't act like terrorists, to allegedly protect us from terrorism. The only way to deal with it, is to not be afraid. No amount of laws will stop the actions, because the point is they don't care about the laws in the first place. The way to deal with terrorism, is to not be afraid; the fear element is designed to move you, like a dog herding sheep. If the sheep aren't afraid of the sheepdog, then the dog has no power.

Say no to terrorism, domestic or foreign, and just say NO to Fear. And Saxby, Glenn, and co. If you're really serious about fighting terrorism, stop doing it yourself, hypocrites.

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