Terrorism in the U.S.: A PLI Special

I had originally wanted to write about how violence and terrorism in America incites fear which, thus, results in stereotyping. However, I had reread my column the next day and realized that I had gone off track and focused much more on terrorism in the U.S. I decided to stick to it due to it being much more interesting and thus my column special was born.

Part I: Terrorism, Fear, & Stereotyping

9/11, the Boston Bombings, and the Santa Monica College shooting (though, not an act of terrorism); what do these events have in common? The suspect(s) were Muslim. We’ve seen it time and time again; the blame game, the generalization from the majority of the American public that all Muslims are terrorists and radicalized. In a sense, it kind of reminds me of the Second Red Scare back from 1947-1957, when the fear of communism and the far left wing was real. Contrary to belief, not all Muslims are terrorists. Just because one person committed a crime doesn’t mean every person from that race/ethnicity commits crimes. Not all Muslims have been or are already radicalized. Let’s, however, talk about those who have been.

Part II: Manhunt for bin Laden & al-Qaeda’s Historic Motives

I was watching an HBO documentary on CNN called “Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden”. A group of all-female analysts in the CIA called The Sisterhood were telling about how they not only proved the Jihadist terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, exists, but also proved that Osama bin Laden was their leader. For two decades this same group of analysts and operatives had been watching the al-Qaeda leader’s every move. They knew what he capable of and how influential of a person he was. However, even when bin Laden himself told Peter Bergren in an interview that he planned to attack the United States of America, even when the Sisterhood had spent years warning about the likelihood of an attack on U.S. soil, no one listened.

This same group being blamed for the 9/11 terrorist attacks now had even more of a cause to track down the terrorist leader and other al-Qaeda leaders and operatives. All the while, here and there bin Laden’s sphere of influence was still growing. Jihadists conformed left and right; the U.S. just now starting to truly realize the threat of terrorism. A two-decade search for the most wanted man in the world had begun, and finally, with the help and leadership of Marty Martin – a former senior CIA case officer in the Middle East – on May 2nd, 2011, a group of Navy SEALs known as SEAL Team Six went to work on a covert operation in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. I remember when President Barack Obama announced that OBL had been captured and killed in a firefight. I remember watching CNN showing people who were lined up along the White House gate, or along the streets of New York proudly shouting and chanting “U.S.A! U.S.A! “, some even singing the Star-Spangled Banner. However, in my mind, I knew this was far from over. Whether or not you believe that the most wanted criminal in modern history was killed in a firefight or just died of natural causes with the government covering it up, that doesn’t matter. What matters is his influence. The U.S. may have gotten revenge for the terrorist attacks, but there is still more to come.

Today’s technology, while helping us as a nation try our damned best to prevent future terrorist attacks, is also aiding the antagonists. While U.S. troops abroad face the threat of IEDs (or Improvised Explosive Device) in roadside bomb attacks overseas, the popularity of IEDs is also growing back at home. The threat of home-grown terrorism has increased, and government officials and agencies are cracking down on specific known terrorists and potential converts to radical Islam. It is almost impossible to tell who the potential converts are. When the PATRIOT Act was passed in 2001 by former President George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11, it was designed to give government agencies such as the CIA the right to do whatever they felt was necessary in preventing another terrorist attack and disrupting any terrorist networks (specifically al-Qaeda). Now, this was deemed by some citizens and politicians to be unconstitutional as the U.S. could now tap into the phone conversations and seize phone and email records from its citizens in part because of the PATRIOT Act. In mid-June of 2013, Edward Snowden – a former contractor for the NSA and CIA – disclosed classified information about the U.S. surveillance programs, and on June 21st, he was charged with espionage and theft of government property.

As the controversy over what the government can do to prevent terrorism without going overboard continues, so does the effort to disrupt al-Qaeda’s terrorist network. We can’t talk about the terrorist group without analyzing and fully understanding its historical motives for going against the U.S. What purpose did al-Qaeda have in attacking us, and why the hatred against us? And first off, how was the terrorist group formed? For these questions, we have to go back to our conflict with Soviet Russia during the Cold War. Leading up to the Soviet-Afghan conflict in which the Soviets had tried to invade Afghanistan, the now-Muslim country had an internal conflict between anti-Communist Muslim guerrillas and the Afghan communist government, which was aided from 1979-1989 by Soviet troops. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the Soviet-Afghan conflict, the Afghans had employed the idea of jihad, or “Holy War”. Osama bin Laden was part of Sheikh Abdullah Assam’s mujahideen, or holy warriors. (By the way, Assam is the man who was most responsible for expanding the jihadist movement into a full-scale international holy war against enemies of Islam, not bin Laden)

A year before the Soviets’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, bin Laden had secretly separated from Assam’s army of jihadists to form the group we know as al-Qaeda. The CIA eventually noticed Assam’s and bin Laden’s separation, and several months later, Assam was assassinated. During the remainder of the Cold War, the CIA had trained Osama and his followers and funded Al-Qaeda. After the Soviet withdrawal, al-Qaeda had gone covert for a couple of years to build up financial and operational assets. Bin Laden would be hailed as a hero in his return to Saudi Arabia, where he easily raised money for his new terrorist organization.

Prior to the Gulf War, on July 17, 1990, then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) of stealing oil from a disputed supply and therefore waging economic war against Iraq. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi military forces invaded and occupied Kuwait. The U.S. immediately got involved and while the Emir of Kuwait met with then-Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney to request U.S. military assistance, former President George Bush condemned the Iraq’s actions. While the U.S. military formed offensive plans, the UN passed a resolution for military action if Hussein didn’t withdraw his forces by January 15 of the following year. Iraq ignored all demands, and a union of UN forces imminently began to arrive in Saudi Arabia.

Osama bin Laden was enraged by the U.S. occupation in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War in 1991. Convinced that the U.S.’ presence was a personal attack on his own Muslim people, in 1992, he declared jihad and committed al-Qaeda to forcing a permanent withdrawal of U.S. forces by launching a series of terrorist attacks against the nation.

Part III: Osama bin Laden’s Sphere of Influence and the Threat of Home-Grown Terrorism

Even after the U.S. finally tracked down the most notorious criminal in history and sent in SEAL Team Six for the kill, bin Laden’s influence which had already grown massively continued to reach other Muslim jihadists. While al-Qaeda’s core was severely weakened by U.S. counter terrorism efforts, it is hard to eliminate the group. As long as there are Muslim extremists to buy into their notion that, essentially, “if you’re not Muslim, you’re dead meat” – which bin Laden has done a marvelous job of propagating – al-Qaeda will remain alive with fresh blood. While the general mentality of the American public seems to very much be to kill every Muslim in existence, this is obviously far from the right idea. This war isn’t about violence. Jihadists all over the world use violence to spread their message and make sure it is loud and clear, but this is a war of ideology. So long as this mentality remains, there will be more people declaring Holy War against the U.S. Although our security has done a much better job of preventing further terrorist attacks post-9/11, the Boston Bombing fully show that our security system is not totally foolproof.  The good news is that while the threat of home-grown terrorism still exists, it’s not nearly as much of a threat as people think. However, until we find a way to win the War on Terrorism, it’s far from over.


http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2006/RAND_MG429.pdf (Beyond Al-Qaeda Part II e-book)






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