Among the most insightful discussions of the Boston bombing case occurred on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. While Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is still unable to speak due to his wounds, a number of themes are emerging in the aftermath of the rampage.
First is the startling revelation (for some) that we may have now migrated from large-scale terrorist assaults to al-Qaeda directed assaults to individuals independently radicalized by violent Islamic jihadism. David Remnick, Martha Raddatz, George Stephanopoulos and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, had this exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: And David Remnick, you’ve spent a lot of time in Russia for The Washington Post and everybody’s going to be looking at these six months. We know his parents went back and lived in Russia for some time. From the mother we’ve also heard that she says the FBI was on top of Tamerlan for several years.
REMNICK: Well the parents moved back to Dagestan in order to, because the father wants to die there. He’s very, very sick. That’s the circumstance as far as we know and we have no link between the parents and anything like jihadist interests at all. In fact they seem to be utterly shocked and in disbelief.
Now the older brother has been visiting jihadist websites, I spent Friday looking at his YouTube list and they are extremely frightening, ominous websites, pro-al Qaeda. There was one preacher that’s going on and on about the evils of the magic of Harry Potter. All kinds of deluded things that he was involved in.
The Twitter feed of the younger brother hints of this kind of thing as well. So there’s no question that they weren’t merely religious, they were, there’s no sin in being religious obviously, but interested in jihadist struggle, global jihad is now the slogan in that region, in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. . . .
RADDATZ: And what do [we do when] they get when they radicalized? They get this sense of importance. They get this sense of mission. They fit in, themselves, in their own way. And unfortunately for all of us, it’s a rather either way.
REMNICK: They play out a fantasy of fury and romantic nationalism for a place they’ve really never lived. I mean if in fact, its Chechnyan nationalism or some kind of fantastical global jihad that they’re interested in, there’s no sense that these kids are well read in this, especially the younger brother.
RADDATZ: He spent most of his time in America.
REMNICK: They’re highly deluded. And so the connection between their rather idiotic interests and the evil acts that they carried out is still at this point a mystery. . . .
THOMPSON: I think one of the problems George is that, how do you deal with people who are already in this country? How do you deal with their radicalization? Is it on internet? Is it their association with other friends? And that is something we are having to deal with every day.
Indeed, the link connecting lone individuals, jihadist ideology and the decision to engage in terrorist activities is so fine, and largely, invisible to authorities that it poses a huge challenge to national security experts. Such individuals are not in any real sense part of al-Qaeda and so the administration (if that is the pattern here) probably had no choice but to utilize the criminal justice system.
Raddatz summed up:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not going to be eradicated Martha Raddatz, but it does come at a time when the al Qaeda leadership top to bottom has been pretty well decimated.
RADDATZ: It’s been decimated which I think is frightening in a way because of exactly what happened. Because you have these fragmented groups, these splinter groups, and really we can’t prevent attacks on soft targets. We just can’t.
Second, the president has mislabeled the enemy and confused the terrorism debate by referring to our enemy as “al-Qaeda” or simply as “violent extremists” (extremists in what?). The enemy is not a specific organization nor is it an entire religion; it is radical Islamic jihadism that calls for war against the West. The president has been so worried about offending non-jihadist Muslims that he’s tried to take the ideology out of our enemy, which is nuts considering our enemy is the violent ideology.
The propensity to avoid the obvious has infected the media as well. Now cable network hosts shush interviewees (and even worse, ignoramuses masquerading as media critics praise them) for pointing out how terrorist ideology is transmitted. NBC News analyst Evan Kohlmann was muzzled on air simply for explaining the link between Chechnya and Islamic jihadism. Poor Kohlmann later had to plead: “At no time did I ever suggest any specific terrorist organization was directly responsible for this week’s tragic events in Boston. To the contrary, I have repeatedly and emphatically cautioned that these events are likely within the capabilities of individual actors — and in fact, I have cited public denials from groups like the Pakistani Taliban and the Chechen mujahideen. However, I believe it is indeed worthwhile to at least explore the possibility that there was an organization involved — and which groups are credible potential culprits.”
He is right, and we are not enlightened by willful ignorance. Former congressman Artur Davis was appalled by that and similar scenes. He e-mailed me that it’s one thing to cut down on unverified allegations by these suspects, but “it’s another to shut down an analyst for making the observation that elements of violent Islamic fundamentalism exist within Chechnya, especially when multiple networks have reported links between Tamerlan and radical Islamic postings.” Indeed, it is only when we know what we are up against that we can, in both the public and private realms, try to disrupt the radicalization process.
Third, anti-immigration-reform voices were quick to jump after the Boston incident and call to end the immigration-reform debate. But in fact, these two suspects came legally to the United States and became U.S. citizens. Are we supposed to stop naturalizing legal immigrants? And what about those born here who are radicalized? Again on ABC there was this exchange:
SEN. DAN COATS: We have a broken system, it needs to be reformed. But I’m afraid we’ll rush to some judgments relative to immigration and how it’s processed. So let’s do it in a rational way rather than an emotional way.
REMNICK: George, with respect, I think that’s as bad an idea as calling this an enemy combatant. We have a 100 percent success rate of prosecuting terrorists in the United States. 100 percent. And I think that’s a bad idea on the part of Senator McCain in the lead.
I think the idea of delaying immigration reform, if you ask anybody involved with immigration, including the immigrants themselves, this is a horrible idea. To take this isolated, horrible, violent, evil incident and make it stand for larger politics and put immigration reform, put the brakes on it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Where do you stand on that Congressman?
THOMPSON: Well it is not the right thing to do. We’re a nation of immigrants. I trust our government. We vet people up and down. We review policies every day. But to put it on hold is not in the best interest of this country.
HAASS: I agree with the Congressman, one of the things the Immigration Reform Bill will deal is the 11 or 12 million people who are in this country but are still living in the shadows. One of the lessons of this incident, we need to integrate all Americans into this society. We want to mainstream. Rather than delaying the bill, I actually think we should move it even faster.
If anything, the only agenda that took a beating is one that tries to perpetuate the fallacy that the government is our greatest menace and that we need to stop legitimate legal and national security efforts because in some bizarre, hypothetical situation we might have a government out to use anti-terrorism methods to squash legal dissent. In fact, we are faced with a complex, tenacious threat to Americans. We’ll have to be sensible enough to protect ourselves while protecting the essentials of our constitutional system. The first step is to be honest about the nature of that threat.