Commentary Magazine


Topic: counter-terrorism

Turning a Blind Eye to Homegrown Terror

On Tuesday, Americans commemorated the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing with solemn ceremonies and appropriate vows to not forget the victims. But in an ironic juxtaposition that few noted, the anniversary fell on the day when it became known that the New York City Police Department had abandoned an effort that was directly aimed at preventing more such instances of homegrown Islamist terrorism. As the New York Times noted in a news story and then celebrated in an editorial, the administration of new Mayor Bill de Blasio has disbanded the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that had the responsibility of monitoring extremists in the local Muslim community. For the Times and de Blasio, the decision by Police Commissioner William Bratton is a campaign promise vindicated and a victory for civil rights. They viewed the surveillance activities of the NYPD as a violation of the rights of Muslims and an unnecessary intrusion into that community’s affairs that amounted to illegal profiling.

But the notion that the NYPD’s efforts “undermined the fight against terrorism” is a noxious myth promulgated by radical Muslim groups who regard any scrutiny of Islamists as a threat to all Muslims rather than a prudent measure aimed at keeping tabs on preachers and groups that help incite hatred and violence. The decision of the NYPD to abandon the intelligence work that had helped keep the city safe in the last decade is not only yet another indication of the country’s return to a September 10th mentality. It is a case of willful blindness about the roots of homegrown terrorism that may, as the slip-ups in the investigation of the Boston bombers demonstrated, prove to be a costly mistake.

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On Tuesday, Americans commemorated the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing with solemn ceremonies and appropriate vows to not forget the victims. But in an ironic juxtaposition that few noted, the anniversary fell on the day when it became known that the New York City Police Department had abandoned an effort that was directly aimed at preventing more such instances of homegrown Islamist terrorism. As the New York Times noted in a news story and then celebrated in an editorial, the administration of new Mayor Bill de Blasio has disbanded the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that had the responsibility of monitoring extremists in the local Muslim community. For the Times and de Blasio, the decision by Police Commissioner William Bratton is a campaign promise vindicated and a victory for civil rights. They viewed the surveillance activities of the NYPD as a violation of the rights of Muslims and an unnecessary intrusion into that community’s affairs that amounted to illegal profiling.

But the notion that the NYPD’s efforts “undermined the fight against terrorism” is a noxious myth promulgated by radical Muslim groups who regard any scrutiny of Islamists as a threat to all Muslims rather than a prudent measure aimed at keeping tabs on preachers and groups that help incite hatred and violence. The decision of the NYPD to abandon the intelligence work that had helped keep the city safe in the last decade is not only yet another indication of the country’s return to a September 10th mentality. It is a case of willful blindness about the roots of homegrown terrorism that may, as the slip-ups in the investigation of the Boston bombers demonstrated, prove to be a costly mistake.

As I wrote last year when former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly came under fire for these surveillance tactics as a result of a lawsuit and a book that claimed the department had wronged Muslims, the charges were unfounded. Not only was the work of the Demographics Unit all authorized by the courts and completely legal, much of the criticism of its efforts stemmed as much from a rivalry with the FBI, some of whose agents resented the fact that the NYPD was infringing on what they considered to be their turf. Such turf battles were part of the reason that the 9/11 plotters succeeded, but years later the same lamentable trends in American law enforcement have resurfaced. Yet rather than sit back and wait for the feds to do their jobs, after 9/11 New York cops rightly decided they had to do whatever was necessary to ensure that they were not surprised again.

What the NYPD did was not an effort to besmirch all American Muslims, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens. But it did seek to go after Islamists who do pose a threat to U.S. security where they congregate: at religious institutions led by individuals who encourage support for extreme Islamist views. Though the FBI has been heavily influenced by criticism from radical groups like CAIR—which masquerades as a civil-rights group despite its origins as a political front for Hamas terrorist fundraisers—and has treated homegrown Islamists with kid gloves, the NYPD was more tough-minded. As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this week, this effort paid off to help make New York safer. But the department was lambasted by those who regard counter-terrorism intelligence work as intrinsically wrong because it is directed at the minority of Muslims who do pose a threat to public safety.

Much of this stems from the much-ballyhooed myth of a post-9/11 backlash that alleged American Muslims were subjected to discrimination and a wave of attacks. Though there is no proof that such a backlash ever existed, the notion that attention paid to the actual sources of Islamist hate is somehow intrinsically prejudicial has taken hold and helped to chip away at support for necessary police work. Even as Americans sadly remembered the horrors of the Boston bombing, the demonization of counter-terrorism continued on various fronts. Edward Snowden’s collaborators won a Pulitzer for their help in undermining U.S. intelligence work. But the celebration of the disarming of the NYPD demonstrates just how insidious the myth of the post-9/11 backlash has been in treating commonsense precautions as an affront to all those who wish to pretend that radical Islam is not a threat.

New Yorkers must now pray that their security has not been sacrificed on the altar of misguided political correctness based in fictions spread by radical apologists for terror. If homegrown terrorists like the Boston bombers slip through the fingers of the police in the future, de Blasio, Bratton, their supporters at the Times, and others who have waged war on counter-terrorism will bear a great deal of responsibility for what follows.

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Will Sense Prevail in the War on the NYPD?

Tomorrow’s Democratic Primary in New York City offers a variety of personalities for voters to choose from but very little diversity when it comes to attitudes toward the efforts of Gotham’s Police Department to ensure the public safety of its citizens. All the Democrats seem to be intent on trashing the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” procedures that have helped reduce crime in the city. But it should also be noted that none seem willing to come to the defense of the cops as they come under attack for their equally successful efforts to combat homegrown terrorism. As I wrote last month, a report (that is the core of a forthcoming book on the subject) by a pair of AP reporters that seems to be largely based on information leaked by the FBI and dissident cops aims to discredit the NYPD’s counter-terrorist program. Though there is no evidence that the police broke the law or did anything unethical or inappropriate in their surveillance of places where Islamists gathered, including mosques, liberals and others determined to forget the lessons of 9/11 seek to shut down these efforts.  That campaign was endorsed again today in a New York Times editorial that was short on evidence of wrongdoing and long on innuendo about Islamophobia.

Over the last several years the Times editorial page has been a consistent campaigner for reinstating a 9/10/2001 mentality about terrorism. But what is particularly troubling this week as we observe the 12th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center is how these destructive attitudes have been allowed to become mainstream political opinion among New York Democrats who ought to know better. While some have speculated on the likelihood that whoever emerges from tomorrow’s primary as the likely nominee and therefore the favorite to be the next mayor will replace the NYPD’s dynamic leader Ray Kelly, the real issue isn’t personnel; it’s policy. If the Times and other left-wing critics get their way on effectively shelving the department’s counter-terrorist unit, the safety of New Yorkers will be put at risk.

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Tomorrow’s Democratic Primary in New York City offers a variety of personalities for voters to choose from but very little diversity when it comes to attitudes toward the efforts of Gotham’s Police Department to ensure the public safety of its citizens. All the Democrats seem to be intent on trashing the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” procedures that have helped reduce crime in the city. But it should also be noted that none seem willing to come to the defense of the cops as they come under attack for their equally successful efforts to combat homegrown terrorism. As I wrote last month, a report (that is the core of a forthcoming book on the subject) by a pair of AP reporters that seems to be largely based on information leaked by the FBI and dissident cops aims to discredit the NYPD’s counter-terrorist program. Though there is no evidence that the police broke the law or did anything unethical or inappropriate in their surveillance of places where Islamists gathered, including mosques, liberals and others determined to forget the lessons of 9/11 seek to shut down these efforts.  That campaign was endorsed again today in a New York Times editorial that was short on evidence of wrongdoing and long on innuendo about Islamophobia.

Over the last several years the Times editorial page has been a consistent campaigner for reinstating a 9/10/2001 mentality about terrorism. But what is particularly troubling this week as we observe the 12th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center is how these destructive attitudes have been allowed to become mainstream political opinion among New York Democrats who ought to know better. While some have speculated on the likelihood that whoever emerges from tomorrow’s primary as the likely nominee and therefore the favorite to be the next mayor will replace the NYPD’s dynamic leader Ray Kelly, the real issue isn’t personnel; it’s policy. If the Times and other left-wing critics get their way on effectively shelving the department’s counter-terrorist unit, the safety of New Yorkers will be put at risk.

Though the Times and the AP duo huff and puff about the law, they know this is a dead end since the NYPD has rigorously followed court rulings about what they may and may not do. But the problem here is more about institutional rivalries and politics than legal concerns. As I’ve noted previously, part of the pushback against the NYPD’s reasonable decision to keep an eye on local Islamists stems from a turf war with the FBI. The Bureau is famously jealous of its prerogatives. It is also deeply committed to a politically correct version of counter-terror surveillance that buys into the false notion that the government should be more worried about offending the sensibilities of some Islamists than in ferreting out radicals who encourage, aid, and abet terror. While the overwhelming majority of American Muslims are hard-working, law-abiding citizens, the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against Arabs and adherents of Islam in this country has led some to treat any effort to monitor the Islamist minority as an act of prejudice against all members of this religious group.

The point of these critiques as well as the nuisance civil-rights lawsuits brought against the NYPD is to create a zone of immunity around all Islamist institutions that would render them off limits to police surveillance. While that might sound like a defense of that community’s First Amendment rights, what it really does is give impunity to radicals who have repeatedly sought to inspire Muslim individuals to commit acts of terror. Should New York’s next mayor put such an anti-anti-terrorism policy in place, the result will not be a strengthened defense of individual rights but a return to the September 10th mentality where cops and federal authorities slept (and failed to cooperate with each other) while Islamists plotted mass murder.

We can only hope that in the weeks left before the November election, somebody on the ballot, no matter which party they represent, speaks up for the NYPD and sanity and against the Times’s effort to rout common sense on counter-terrorism.

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The FBI and the War on the NYPD and Counter-Terrorism

This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denounced as fiction allegations in an Associated Press article published today that the NYPD “labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations” in order to spy on imams and members without any prior proof of wrongdoing. Kelly said the piece’s purpose was to “hype a book” that the authors of the article have written. He went on to insist that the federal judiciary has specifically authorized the activities of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism unit. Moreover, Kelly hinted that the agenda the AP reporters and their book is furthering is not so much one of innocent Muslims or the ACLU but that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that is still angry that the NYPD had been allowed to poach on their territory and work on counter-terrorism rather than ordinary police work.

Indeed, even a quick reading of today’s AP piece, which is more or less a summary of many previous articles on the subject, indicates that although many of the official sources remain unidentified, the FBI’s fingerprints are all over what must be viewed as a hatchet job on the NYPD. But though this sort of federal-local rivalry is the stuff of numerous Law and Order episodes, the stakes in this dispute are bigger than even the egos of the personalities involved. At the heart of the tussle is the plain fact that after the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD felt that they could no longer play by the old rules of engagement that had led to the murder of thousands of New Yorkers at the hands of Islamist terrorists. Instead, they got to work investigating not only al-Qaeda imports but also the very real threat of homegrown Islamist terror.

The NYPD has come under a steady barrage of criticism for using its resources to seek out potential terror suspects in exactly the places where they are known to congregate: religious institutions led by people who encourage support for extreme Islamist views. While the FBI has chosen to avoid flack by treating Islamists with kid gloves, the NYPD did their job. The AP’s hit pieces should be viewed in the context of a long campaign by many in the liberal mainstream media to falsely assert that there has been a post-9/11 backlash of discrimination against American Muslims. But more than that, it is also part of an effort to demonize counter-terrorism work at a time when paranoia about government spying fed by the controversy over the National Security Agency is running high. But while many in Congress and the media are feeding the spirit of complacency about terror, Kelly has rightly tried to remind us that efforts such as those of the NYPD are all that stands between the nation and new atrocities.

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This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denounced as fiction allegations in an Associated Press article published today that the NYPD “labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations” in order to spy on imams and members without any prior proof of wrongdoing. Kelly said the piece’s purpose was to “hype a book” that the authors of the article have written. He went on to insist that the federal judiciary has specifically authorized the activities of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism unit. Moreover, Kelly hinted that the agenda the AP reporters and their book is furthering is not so much one of innocent Muslims or the ACLU but that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that is still angry that the NYPD had been allowed to poach on their territory and work on counter-terrorism rather than ordinary police work.

Indeed, even a quick reading of today’s AP piece, which is more or less a summary of many previous articles on the subject, indicates that although many of the official sources remain unidentified, the FBI’s fingerprints are all over what must be viewed as a hatchet job on the NYPD. But though this sort of federal-local rivalry is the stuff of numerous Law and Order episodes, the stakes in this dispute are bigger than even the egos of the personalities involved. At the heart of the tussle is the plain fact that after the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD felt that they could no longer play by the old rules of engagement that had led to the murder of thousands of New Yorkers at the hands of Islamist terrorists. Instead, they got to work investigating not only al-Qaeda imports but also the very real threat of homegrown Islamist terror.

The NYPD has come under a steady barrage of criticism for using its resources to seek out potential terror suspects in exactly the places where they are known to congregate: religious institutions led by people who encourage support for extreme Islamist views. While the FBI has chosen to avoid flack by treating Islamists with kid gloves, the NYPD did their job. The AP’s hit pieces should be viewed in the context of a long campaign by many in the liberal mainstream media to falsely assert that there has been a post-9/11 backlash of discrimination against American Muslims. But more than that, it is also part of an effort to demonize counter-terrorism work at a time when paranoia about government spying fed by the controversy over the National Security Agency is running high. But while many in Congress and the media are feeding the spirit of complacency about terror, Kelly has rightly tried to remind us that efforts such as those of the NYPD are all that stands between the nation and new atrocities.

As Kelly said:

“We have an agreement that has been authorized by a federal judge,” Kelly answered. “We follow that stipulation to the letter, and it authorizes us to do a whole series of things. Certainly investigations are part of it. We follow leads wherever they take us. We’re not intimidated as to where that lead takes us.”

Yet that is exactly what the NYPD and the anti-anti-terror lobby led by those who claim to speak for American Muslims and civil liberties extremists want.

The point of the AP piece is to portray the police investigations as a threat to the freedom of religion and the First Amendment protections that would theoretically protect sermons or other activities at mosques from any scrutiny. But the idea that the Constitution allows people to preach violence or to create places where potential terrorists are inspired or given guidance with impunity is absurd. If some religious institutions have come under such scrutiny it is because the NYPD has had a reasonable suspicion that such activities have taken place there. To treat any such investigations as inherently prejudicial not only ignores the duty of the police to follow criminals to their source but also ignores the reality that radical Islamists have found a foothold on our shores.

While I have little doubt that the actions of Kelly and the NYPD will be upheld in the courts against suits brought by critics of their policies, what their opponents are shooting for is just as important as a legal victory: the delegitimization of counter-terrorism work that is willing to address the problem of domestic Islamist terror. That is the agenda pursued by some Arab and Muslim groups that have even counseled their members not to cooperate with the authorities when they investigate terror cases.

But it is even more troubling to see that the FBI is willing to help this cause via leaks and prejudicial anonymous quotes whose purpose is to pursue their rivalry with the NYPD. It should be remembered that such turf wars was one of the principle causes of the failure of the FBI and other authorities in the 9/11 case. To see the FBI revert to this sort of lamentable behavior now in order to settle scores with the NYPD is nothing less than a tragedy.

The NYPD deserves the applause and the gratitude of the city as well as the people of the country as a whole for their sterling work that has served to ferret out potential and actual terror plots. Kelly is resolute in his determination that on his watch, those trusted with defending the safety of New Yorkers will not revert to the sort of September 10th mentality that has characterized many of those who wish to pretend there is no such thing as Islamist terror. We can only hope that the next mayor of New York will empower him and his successors to keep up the good fight to keep the city and the nation safe.

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Algerian Tactics Recall Russian Disasters

Reports out of Algeria are still sketchy but it appears that Algerian security forces attacked the Islamist group holding hostages at a gas plant near the Libyan border—and in the process killed a number of hostages along with hostage-takers.

This is not exactly how the United States, Britain, Israel, France or other Western nations would approach a hostage crisis. The security forces in all those countries would seek a resolution that would be most likely to leave the hostages unharmed and plan an attack only if there was absolutely no alternative or if there was actionable intelligence which suggested a good chance to free the hostages. See, for instance, the hijacking of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama that ended with Navy SEAL snipers taking out the hostage takers and freeing the captain, Richard Phillips.

The Algerians, by contrast, appear to have blundered in, guns blazing. This should not be particularly surprising since (a) Algeria is not a democracy and (b) it has long cultivated a ruthless style of counterinsurgency. During the war pitting Algerian security forces against Muslim militants (including the predecessors of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in the 1990s, an estimated 100,000 or more people died as a result of the indiscriminate and heavy-handed tactics employed by both sides.

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Reports out of Algeria are still sketchy but it appears that Algerian security forces attacked the Islamist group holding hostages at a gas plant near the Libyan border—and in the process killed a number of hostages along with hostage-takers.

This is not exactly how the United States, Britain, Israel, France or other Western nations would approach a hostage crisis. The security forces in all those countries would seek a resolution that would be most likely to leave the hostages unharmed and plan an attack only if there was absolutely no alternative or if there was actionable intelligence which suggested a good chance to free the hostages. See, for instance, the hijacking of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama that ended with Navy SEAL snipers taking out the hostage takers and freeing the captain, Richard Phillips.

The Algerians, by contrast, appear to have blundered in, guns blazing. This should not be particularly surprising since (a) Algeria is not a democracy and (b) it has long cultivated a ruthless style of counterinsurgency. During the war pitting Algerian security forces against Muslim militants (including the predecessors of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in the 1990s, an estimated 100,000 or more people died as a result of the indiscriminate and heavy-handed tactics employed by both sides.

The Algerian way of fighting Islamist militants is eerily similar to that of the Russians who have pursued a similar scorched-earth approach in Chechnya. When confronted with Islamist hostage-takers, Russian security forces also rushed in–and the result was hundreds of dead hostages in a Moscow theater in 2002 and a Beslan school in 2004. In all these cases the assaults went so wrong partly because of a lack of skill on the part of the attackers and partly because their superiors simply didn’t care that much about who lived and died.

Of course there was no accountability for the Russian forces because their government is not democratic. The same undoubtedly will be the case in Algeria. Such blunderbuss tactics can work, at least for a time, but in the present instance they will exacerbate Algeria’s relations with the U.S., Britain, Japan and other countries whose hostages were in the line of fire and which were not consulted before the assault.

All of this should make us all the more thankful for the highly skilled and highly humane U.S. Special Operations Forces as they have developed over the last few decades. Some of their operations go awry too, but if you are ever taken hostage, you had better pray to be rescued by SEAL Team Six or Delta Force—not by the Algerian army.

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Loose Lips Sink Ships

Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.

The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).

Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.

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Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.

The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).

Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.

In fairness, there is a case to be made that having al-Qaeda fear penetration by double agents could actually be beneficial. It could lead to terrorist paranoia and fratricide that could prove harmful to its ability to carry out operations. But in general, secrecy is always to be preferred in the covert world of counter-terrorism. Without it, covert techniques are blown and foreign intelligence agencies, whose cooperation is vital to the U.S., become more reluctant to extend cooperation. Yet for some reason, those with top-level TS/SCI security clearances (top secret/sensitive compartmented information) can’t resist bragging about their exploits to the news media.

One hopes the administration will make every attempt to uncover and prosecute the leakers rather than looking the other way because these leaks are so politically convenient for the president.

 

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The End of the Northern Ireland Model for Negotiating with Terrorists?

For the past few days I’ve been in London, where I was presenting a paper at the Counter Terror Expo. I had the privilege to sit-in on other talks far more interesting than mine revolving around British preparations for the Summer Olympics; strategies to counteract terrorist charities; and very practical tactical approaches to the counter terror fight.

A few items jumped out at me during the course of the two-day conference which I simply had not known or previously thought about at length. For example, while American counter terror officials will confront terrorist charities and shut them down, the British believe (naively, in my view) that they can excise the terror influence yet preserve the charity. Likewise, while the U.S. Treasury Department is expert at tracking U.S. dollar transactions in order to deny terrorists funding, I had never fully considered the problem of laundering such transactions via the Mexican Peso, an increasing problem especially given the interplay between terrorists and drug gangs and the prevalence of informal Peso transactions in the American southwest.

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For the past few days I’ve been in London, where I was presenting a paper at the Counter Terror Expo. I had the privilege to sit-in on other talks far more interesting than mine revolving around British preparations for the Summer Olympics; strategies to counteract terrorist charities; and very practical tactical approaches to the counter terror fight.

A few items jumped out at me during the course of the two-day conference which I simply had not known or previously thought about at length. For example, while American counter terror officials will confront terrorist charities and shut them down, the British believe (naively, in my view) that they can excise the terror influence yet preserve the charity. Likewise, while the U.S. Treasury Department is expert at tracking U.S. dollar transactions in order to deny terrorists funding, I had never fully considered the problem of laundering such transactions via the Mexican Peso, an increasing problem especially given the interplay between terrorists and drug gangs and the prevalence of informal Peso transactions in the American southwest.

Perhaps the most important fact I learned was that British security officials believe that their pact with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) may be unraveling.  British intelligence and counter terror officials are now tracking and interrupting more IRA terror planning that at any time since before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The problem is not simply IRA dissidents, as some reports suggest, but mainstream IRA upset that their goals are not being fully met through the political process.  The reason why the collapse of the IRA model is so important is because it has increasingly been the key justification for negotiation with terrorists. When former Sen. George Mitchell took over as President Obama’s Middle East envoy, he repeatedly justified Obama administration actions with the IRA analogy.  “In a sense, in Northern Ireland, we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success,” Mitchell remarked in 2010. The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl noted that there was seldom a press conference in which Mitchell did not make reference to the Northern Ireland peace process as a model and inspiration. German diplomats have also cited the IRA model to justify their engagement with Hezbollah, and British and American diplomats have cited the Northern Ireland process to justify negotiation with the Taliban.

The analogy has always been faulty. The IRA never had a Pakistan or Iran to support it, nor was it committed to wiping Great Britain from the map. The IRA may have been noxious, but its basic platform did not seek to deny women schooling. Still, if the British could bite their lower lip, talk to terrorist enemies, and strike a deal, why couldn’t other Europeans or Americans?

With the IRA’s resurgence, hopefully the arguments for engaging and appeasing terrorists can be put to rest. The Northern Ireland process rewarded IRA violence and may have brought some quiet. But just as terrorist leaders like Muammar Qaddafi never change their stripes no matter how much money they donate to British universities or how they enrich Western diplomats, terrorist groups never fully embrace rule-of-law and the democratic process. Rather, they abide by the philosophy so elegantly stated by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: ‘Democracy is like a streetcar. You ride it as far as you need, and then you get off.’ It’s time Western policymakers deny them entry in the first place, rather than fall all over themselves to provide free tickets.

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Afghan Deal Would Be a Win-Win

Chalk it up to Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen–our dynamic duo in Kabul. They can get results even in the most unpromising circumstances.

Recently, they completed a deal to transfer custody of the main U.S. detention facility to Afghan control while maintaining American oversight and an American veto on any prisoner releases. Now they appear to be on the verge of concluding an agreement that would allow “night raids”–heavily criticized by President Hamid Karzai for their supposed infringement on Afghan sovereignty–to continue with only mild modifications. Afghan judges will be required to approve the raids but their approval apparently will be obtainable after the fact–which means that the secrecy essential for these operations will not be compromised.

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Chalk it up to Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen–our dynamic duo in Kabul. They can get results even in the most unpromising circumstances.

Recently, they completed a deal to transfer custody of the main U.S. detention facility to Afghan control while maintaining American oversight and an American veto on any prisoner releases. Now they appear to be on the verge of concluding an agreement that would allow “night raids”–heavily criticized by President Hamid Karzai for their supposed infringement on Afghan sovereignty–to continue with only mild modifications. Afghan judges will be required to approve the raids but their approval apparently will be obtainable after the fact–which means that the secrecy essential for these operations will not be compromised.

Assuming the deal is sealed, this will be an important victory that will allow coalition forces to continue employing one of their most effective counter-terrorist tools while still giving the appearance of respecting Afghan sovereignty.

 

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The Never-Dying Post 9-11 Backlash Myth

Those determined to portray the life of American Muslims as a never-ending series of officially inspired torments have always confronted a basic problem: there is no tangible evidence that there is any wave of oppression that has reduced followers of Islam to second-class citizen status. Nor has there ever been. FBI crime statistics continue to show anti-Muslim hate cries dwarfed by those linked to Jew-hatred. Even when the mainstream media takes up the subject and treats the truth of this assertion as self-evident, such as last August’s TIME magazine cover story that asked “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” the authors had to admit that all they can come up with to back their claim were anecdotes.

But that doesn’t stop those determined to force the country to repent of its supposed sins. The latest example is a blog post from New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal that is breathtaking in its lack of intellectual integrity. While readers of his editorial page are accustomed to outrageous hyperbole delivered in the Times’ trademark tone of condescension, Rosenthal appears to have no limits in the depths of absurdity he is willing to plumb on behalf of his cause. Rosenthal not only hypes the post-9/11 myth, but goes so far as to assert that the United States has now established a “separate justice system” for Muslims. His proof: the fact that the New York City Police Department conducted a program of surveillance on mosques and community groups where Islamists were suspected to congregate. Oh and don’t forget Guantanamo Bay, which the Times editor describes as a “special detention center for Muslims.” So intent is Rosenthal on proving that America is hostile to Muslims that it seems to have slipped his mind the only reason the NYPD or the federal government is somewhat concerned about radical Muslims is because Islamist groups attacked the United States.

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Those determined to portray the life of American Muslims as a never-ending series of officially inspired torments have always confronted a basic problem: there is no tangible evidence that there is any wave of oppression that has reduced followers of Islam to second-class citizen status. Nor has there ever been. FBI crime statistics continue to show anti-Muslim hate cries dwarfed by those linked to Jew-hatred. Even when the mainstream media takes up the subject and treats the truth of this assertion as self-evident, such as last August’s TIME magazine cover story that asked “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” the authors had to admit that all they can come up with to back their claim were anecdotes.

But that doesn’t stop those determined to force the country to repent of its supposed sins. The latest example is a blog post from New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal that is breathtaking in its lack of intellectual integrity. While readers of his editorial page are accustomed to outrageous hyperbole delivered in the Times’ trademark tone of condescension, Rosenthal appears to have no limits in the depths of absurdity he is willing to plumb on behalf of his cause. Rosenthal not only hypes the post-9/11 myth, but goes so far as to assert that the United States has now established a “separate justice system” for Muslims. His proof: the fact that the New York City Police Department conducted a program of surveillance on mosques and community groups where Islamists were suspected to congregate. Oh and don’t forget Guantanamo Bay, which the Times editor describes as a “special detention center for Muslims.” So intent is Rosenthal on proving that America is hostile to Muslims that it seems to have slipped his mind the only reason the NYPD or the federal government is somewhat concerned about radical Muslims is because Islamist groups attacked the United States.

Rosenthal also makes a meal out of the revelation that FBI training material at one time contained statements that might have been inflammatory. The “crude stereotypes” that Rosenthal cites have since been rejected. But he leaves it unclear whether this offensive material was referring to all Muslims or just radical Islamists. It is true that the vast majority of American Muslims are not terrorists, but hard-working law-abiding American citizens. But Islamists, including those that work to fundraise for rationalize the efforts of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and other radicals are not figments of the imagination of over-zealous law enforcement personnel. They are real threats and absent the vigilance of organizations like the NYPD, they would have done far more harm than they already have.

Any rational examination of post-9/11 American society would reveal quite the opposite of Rosenthal’s overheated charges. Despite the fact that the 9/11 terrorists and their allies justified their crimes in their faith, the instinctual response of the overwhelming majority of Americans and their government was to make it clear that they didn’t hold their Muslim neighbors responsible for any of it. Muslims were subjected to no official discrimination and there is no evidence that there was much, if any, unofficial prejudice. If anything, the popular culture of post-9/11 America went out of its way to avoid the depiction of Muslim villains or to connect the dots between al-Qaeda, bin Laden and the Islamist interpretation of that faith that is widely supported in the Middle East.

To allude, as Rosenthal does to the mass detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II, actually debunks his own assertion since in the wake of the latter-day Pearl Harbor, not only were Muslims not subjected to anything remotely like the treatment of the Japanese, but were actually actively protected by the government from even the slightest hint of discrimination. Anyone who doubts that should remember how President George W. Bush went weak at the knees at the idea that the U.S. was fighting a war against what he continually described as a “religion of peace.” The notion that Americans have sacrificed their liberties to ensure their security is another myth that was quite popular four years ago when liberals were using the charge to paint the Bush administration as a pseudo-tyranny that needed to be swept away by Barack Obama and the Democrats. But since Obama has largely kept the same policies in place (including keeping Guantanamo open), that is a trope we hear very little of these days.

While many liberals have longed for the world of September 10, 2001 before the attacks uncovered the truth of the Islamist war on the West, Rosenthal goes that mentality one better. He treats every measure taken to defend the country against terror is not merely unnecessary but a deliberate act of bias. By claiming that America only provides “liberty and justice for non-Muslims,” he seems to be trying to pretend the attacks and the hate-filled ideology that brought them about never even happened.

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Is the West Winning a New Cold War?

Max Boot believes that France is a success at counter-terrorism, despite “bungling” the case of Mohammad Merah. “Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters,” Max writes; “the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.”

Perhaps he is right. I am reminded, though, of something that Jean-François Revel wrote for COMMENTARY nearly three decades ago. The philosopher and former Résistance fighter who succeeded Raymond Aron as France’s most trenchant political commentator, Revel warned that Western democracies have a susceptibility to internal threats written into their genetic code. A democratic state can mobilize against external enemies, but:

can defend itself from within only very feebly; its internal enemy has an easy time of it because he exploits the right to disagree that is inherent in democracy. His aim of destroying democracy itself, of actively seeking an absolute monopoly of power, is shrewdly hidden behind the citizen’s legitimate right to oppose and criticize the system. Paradoxically, democracy offers those seeking to abolish it a unique opportunity to work against it legally.

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Max Boot believes that France is a success at counter-terrorism, despite “bungling” the case of Mohammad Merah. “Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters,” Max writes; “the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.”

Perhaps he is right. I am reminded, though, of something that Jean-François Revel wrote for COMMENTARY nearly three decades ago. The philosopher and former Résistance fighter who succeeded Raymond Aron as France’s most trenchant political commentator, Revel warned that Western democracies have a susceptibility to internal threats written into their genetic code. A democratic state can mobilize against external enemies, but:

can defend itself from within only very feebly; its internal enemy has an easy time of it because he exploits the right to disagree that is inherent in democracy. His aim of destroying democracy itself, of actively seeking an absolute monopoly of power, is shrewdly hidden behind the citizen’s legitimate right to oppose and criticize the system. Paradoxically, democracy offers those seeking to abolish it a unique opportunity to work against it legally.

Even worse, officials in a democracy who would call for harsher measures against internal threats would themselves be denounced as undemocratic. There is no easy exit from this “topsy-turvy situation,” especially in a country like France where rights and anti-racism are national obsessions second only to soccer.

What should democracies do? Revel’s first answer is a wake-up call: “don’t do what you are doing now.” And here I must respectfully dissent from Max’s conclusion. Whatever its past successes, France’s handling of Mohammad Merah suggests that it is helpless before the “lone wolves” of Islamic radicalism, who number in the hundreds of thousands. What France is doing about them now is not succeeding.

The second choice (to adapt Revel to the present moment) is to hope that, somehow, someday, the Islamists will voluntarily change their ways and agree to stop murdering Jews and anyone else who resists, simply by virtue of being who they are, the “household of Islam.” This of course is a fond but naive hope.

The third and final option is to accept the fact that the West is at war with Islamism. Among other things, this would entail the recognition that those who enlist with Islamism are the sworn enemies of democracy, who are no longer merely “expressing opinions” and exercising their right to disagree, but are seeking the violent downfall of democracy itself. In Revel’s terms, what is required is a new Cold War — against Islamism this time around.

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The Secret of French Success on Terror

D.G. Myers is right that French authorities bungled badly in the affair of Mohamed Merah who was on a terrorist watch list but was allowed to roam freely. That terrible mistake was obviated somewhat by the swift and massive French response after the terrible shootings at the Jewish day school; Merah was identified and cornered within two days of that attack and stopped before he could kill again.

But whatever the French did wrong in this case — and there is no doubt that a terrible oversight occurred — on the whole French counter-terrorism is a success story. I recommend reading this 2008 article by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt that calls France “the European country most serious about counterterrorism.” The secret of French success has been their willingness “to grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist, investigative magistrates, the juges d’instruction” — powers that far exceed any authorities given U.S. government officials even under the Patriot Act. With those powers, French forces have done an impressive job of stopping terrorist plots of which there is no shortage because of the large number of marginalized and aggrieved Muslim immigrants living there. Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters; the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.

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D.G. Myers is right that French authorities bungled badly in the affair of Mohamed Merah who was on a terrorist watch list but was allowed to roam freely. That terrible mistake was obviated somewhat by the swift and massive French response after the terrible shootings at the Jewish day school; Merah was identified and cornered within two days of that attack and stopped before he could kill again.

But whatever the French did wrong in this case — and there is no doubt that a terrible oversight occurred — on the whole French counter-terrorism is a success story. I recommend reading this 2008 article by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt that calls France “the European country most serious about counterterrorism.” The secret of French success has been their willingness “to grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist, investigative magistrates, the juges d’instruction” — powers that far exceed any authorities given U.S. government officials even under the Patriot Act. With those powers, French forces have done an impressive job of stopping terrorist plots of which there is no shortage because of the large number of marginalized and aggrieved Muslim immigrants living there. Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters; the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.

The Toulouse tragedy merely goes to show that any system, no matter how vigilant, cannot prevent all terrorist attacks. As the saying has it, the security forces have to be right all the time; the terrorists have to be right only once. The real test now for the French authorities will be how they conduct their “lessons learned” exercises and what they do to patch the holes uncovered by Mohamed Merah.

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Holder Takes Latest Cheap Shot at NYPD

Attorney General Eric Holder doubled down on his threats of a federal investigation of the New York City Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Unit yesterday at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. Asked to comment on the brouhaha about NYPD personnel performing surveillance on Muslims in the Greater New York region, including those in New Jersey by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Politico reports that Holder repeated his previous pledge that the Justice Department is reviewing these activities, clearly with an eye toward hamstringing the department’s work.

The NYPD’s post 9/11 attack surveillance program was both prudent and lawful. To his credit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has slammed the attacks by Holder, the New York Times editorial page (here and here), as well as politicians like Lautenberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as an attempt to turn the issue into a “political football.” Sadly, the campaign to restrain law enforcement agencies from taking a close look at groups and mosques where Islamists gather is taking its cue from those groups that purport to represent American Muslims but whose real agenda is to promote the myth there has been a wave of discrimination against this group when there is no evidence to back up their claims. The upshot of this grandstanding will be a blow to the effort to root out homegrown terrorists.

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Attorney General Eric Holder doubled down on his threats of a federal investigation of the New York City Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Unit yesterday at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. Asked to comment on the brouhaha about NYPD personnel performing surveillance on Muslims in the Greater New York region, including those in New Jersey by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Politico reports that Holder repeated his previous pledge that the Justice Department is reviewing these activities, clearly with an eye toward hamstringing the department’s work.

The NYPD’s post 9/11 attack surveillance program was both prudent and lawful. To his credit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has slammed the attacks by Holder, the New York Times editorial page (here and here), as well as politicians like Lautenberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as an attempt to turn the issue into a “political football.” Sadly, the campaign to restrain law enforcement agencies from taking a close look at groups and mosques where Islamists gather is taking its cue from those groups that purport to represent American Muslims but whose real agenda is to promote the myth there has been a wave of discrimination against this group when there is no evidence to back up their claims. The upshot of this grandstanding will be a blow to the effort to root out homegrown terrorists.

At the bottom of all the outrage generated by a series of articles by the Associated Press about the NYPD’s surveillance efforts is the assertion by groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that American Muslims are somehow being deterred from attending religious services or gatherings because of this. Critics of the program believe there is no correlation between any information the NYPD might obtain from legally monitoring communities whose members have expressed support for foreign terrorist groups such as Hamas (CAIR was founded as a political front group for the Holy Land Foundation, that terrorist organization’s fundraising outlet in this country.) Given that the NYPD has foiled a number of terror attacks in recent years, the idea that it should cut back on its intelligence efforts aimed at seeking to stop terrorists and their sympathizers before they strike is the sort of politically-motivated mischief that could potentially cost lives.

It is also important to note that the claim, repeated by the New York Times in its latest editorial on the subject, that Muslims “are now wary of praying in public, joining faith-based groups or patronizing some restaurants and shops” is put forward without a shred of proof. If there has been a decline in attendance at mosques, particularly those led by figures such as Christie’s friend Imam Mohammed Qatanani, who have expressed support for Hamas, we have yet to hear of it. The Times believes “the real life consequences” of the surveillance has been to impede the government’s law enforcement activities because they undermine American Muslims’ trust in their fairness. But this is an absurd distortion of the truth.

The NYPD’s counter-terrorism record is exemplary. The mere fact that its members sought to keep tabs on those communities where Islamists might be found did nothing to harm law-abiding Muslims. Rather, like everyone else, they were protected from potential killers.

Groups like CAIR who promote the myth of the post-9/11 backlash do so to advance their own political agenda. The same can be said of outlets like the Times and liberals like Holder who seem determined to return to the mentality of September 10 when concern about Islamist terror was marginalized. Should they prevail the consequences for all Americans, no matter what their faith or ethnic background, will be serious.

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