The new year has begun with brutal affirmation of old problems, and the most difficult of them continues to be terrorism -- not only terrorism abroad but at home as well.
I use the term advisedly even though an obvious and important distinction exists between international terrorism and our domestic variety of terror. The international one, spawned in the Middle East and most lately sickeningly displayed in the bloody concourses of the Rome and Vienna airports, springs from a mad but withal passionate conviction of a just cause, however perverted the rationale and reasoning of the terrorists may be. There, the driving motivation is political. It receives most of our attention, for understandable global reasons. The domestic one springs from no cause but violence for the sake of violence, terror for the sake of terror. Here, the motivation is personal, not ideological -- and for whatever profit can be gained through the tactics of fear and physical assault.
Of the two strains of this plague, domestic terrorism may be even more difficult to resolve if only because it appears to be shrugged off (if not accepted). It's a frightening but familiar ingredient of American life. It doesn't get that much attention. It's not that big a story.
In Manhattan, three nights before New Year's Eve, a "rap" music concert at Madison Square Garden erupted in a wave of bloodshed and violence. Eight people were shot or stabbed, two were hospitalized in critical condition, 16 were arrested on robbery or disorderly conduct charges and police were forced to close 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, all this occurring after the concert when, as The New York Times reported on page 21 the next morning, "bands of youths roamed through the streets, breaking into fights and causing several disturbances."
In Washington, on New Year' Eve, during the city's officially promoted festivities around and inside the Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, one woman was murdered and, as The Washington Post reported, "there were numerous incidents of fighting and bottle-throwing outside the Pavilion" as well as robberies, petty assaults and other unpleasant acts.
In Pasadena, during the Rose Bowl Parade, once again violence marred the New Year's Day celebration. More than 480 people were arrested, one person was critically wounded and police dealt with a bomb scare. (The emphasis of the 97th annual Rose Bowl parade this year was on "humor.")
Perhaps all this adds up to nothing more than unrelated incidents, events that have no underlying connection with each other, certainly no relevancy to international terrorism, but I think not. At the least these violent incidents are evidence that mass events in America today -- parades, holiday celebrations, some forms of musical events -- are potential settings for violence and terror. And, like the international strain, they will continue to bedevil us until stronger measures are enacted.
The current debate about how best to respond to murder teams launched from Libya essentially comes down to two courses of action: either strike directly at Libya in retaliation for its support and training of terrorists, assuming of course that irrefutable proof exists of their guilt as our government claims, or isolate that nation from civilized commerce. For a number of reasons, the second course is far more preferable. It has not occurred for a simple -- and ignoble -- reason. The companies and countries who profit from economic dealings with Libya have been unwilling to forgo their profits. So they continue to do business there in the same old way.
Everybody does it, therefore nothing can be done about it.
Granted, the situation and the worldwide stakes for humanity are quite different from the American acts of violence that affect individuals, not nations. But something of the same mentality about how to deal with them seems to be at work.
In Washington, for instance, in the aftermath of the city's New Year's Eve problems, a member of the City Council, Nadine Winter, was quoted as suggesting that such problems here are nothing new -- and nothing much to worry about. There have long been problems at other large gatherings, such as Times Square on New Year's Eve. "You can have incidents anywhere," Winter told The Post. "In other places where people gather, there could be dead bodies. You don't stop a basketball game or football game if someone gets hurt."
Everybody does it, therefore . . . .
That's an implicit abdication of responsibility, and it won't do. Something can be done to safeguard people. The example of Boston is worth emulating: not permit the sale of alcohol in officially sponsored public celebrations that stress family gatherings in neighborhood settings.
Unless authorities can ensure citizens that adequate protection and control measures have been taken, these kinds of public events can and should be banned as a public menace. Public officials who condone them, or justify their inability to act in the public interest, are undeserving of their public positions.
It's bad enough that we must live with unspeakable acts of madness from without our borders because we lack power to resolve them. It's unacceptable that we should tolerate acts from within our boundaries that we do have power to control.