Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Who is Radicalizing Who?

Tashfeen Malik called herself a soldier. We call her the 29-year-old female terrorist who, along with her husband, killed 14 unsuspecting Americans during an office party. Either way, she is a cause celebre now. The more we demonize her – and fittingly so – the more ascendant her fame in the eyes of Jihadist everywhere. 

A psychologist appearing on CNN’s “Smerconish” explained Tashfeen’s actions in these terms:  “She seeks power, inclusion, and hero status.”

Seeking militarily to advance oneself – in any military – is an ambition as old as military history, itself. Recently, America’s defense secretary, Ash Carter, decreed that female soldiers serving in America’s military would no longer be excluded from frontline combat units. It was the right decision. Congressional Medals of Honor are scored on the battlefield, not in supply depots. As long as women serve in our military, they deserve the same breadth of field to satisfy their ambitions as men are afforded. 

Tashfeen, too, moved to the front lines in her army’s struggle with America. The psychologist appearing on Smerconish suggests that Tashfeen believed that by attacking Americans in America, she was “making the world better for her children.” I imagine our female soldiers yearning to fight and their families, too. This is not an attempt to draw a moral equivalence between Tashfeen and our own female fighters. It is simply an attempt to understand Tashfeen’s motivations. If we truly want to defeat our enemy, we must make a sincere effort to understand him. That begins with being honest with ourselves. 

On hearing about the killings in San Bernadino, Newt Gingrinch exclaimed, “The terrorists have declared war on America!” Let us be serious. Before the San Bernadino shootings, America had carried out over 6,000 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, killing thousands of ISIS fighters (and certainly some innocent men, women, and children besides.) Now, when was the war declared, Newt?

Americans kill 11,000 Americans in gun-related violence each year. In the past nine years, terrorists have killed 45 Americans in this country, an average of five per year. Yet, it is the terrorists whom we fear pose the existential threat. 

At this rate, America cannot defeat terrorism, not as long as we accept self-inflicted terrorism. Inner-city children are being slaughtered in gang violence that has nothing to do with them. White communities like Newtown and Columbine see the slaughter of their precious babies, and nothing changes. Then, a Muslim couple opens fire at a gathering of adults celebrating the holidays, and we self-righteously demand to know “who radicalized them?” 

A better question is:  Who is radicalized Dylan Roof, the man who shot nine black church members in South Carolina? Who radicalized Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke, who shot an African-American teenager 16 times? Who radicalized the Planned Parenthood shooter? America has put 300 million guns into the hands of a citizenry 300-million-strong. Who radicalized America into thinking that is a solution?

You want to defeat terrorism? This is how: Put down the guns and pick up the children. Teach them the lessons of love and respect. As long as we treat them with love and respect, they will listen. Raise good children and the need for guns will dissipate like a morning fog. When Americans truly learn to respect one another, this crushing array of weaponry will simply become an ugly reminder of the way we were. Let a terrorist come into that America, and we will rip him apart with our teeth. 

Rebuilding America will not be child’s play, (though it could be a lot of fun.) It will be the greatest task the men and women of this nation will ever undertake. It will take generations; we have time. For the sake of our children – which are the sake of this American nation – we must make time. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

They Call Them "Boots on the Ground" (I call them "Our Sons)

The politicians call “…boots on the ground.”  Apparently, they do not know what “boots on the ground” mean. Let me see if I can explain: My son, who is in the army, served two tours of duty in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. During those agonizing years, it was difficult, sometimes, for his mother and me to breathe. I feared ringing telephones. I wanted no one to approach me. Sometimes, I wanted no one to look my way, lest they were preparing to approach me with bad news from the front. This anguish was constant. My son was not a boot. 

President Obama has tried to keep our sons safe. He has pulled them out of that graveyard which is Iraq (where over 4000 of our young men and women have died). He is trying to get them out of Afghanistan where another 2000 lie dead. He has kept them out of Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

But, beware President Obama’s successor. Many of the Republican candidates advocate a more aggressive strategy against ISIS, even if it is one that sends tens of thousands of American troops to “hunt down and kill every ISIS fighter.” Be warned: ISIS is in ten affiliate nations stretching from Morocco in the west to Afghanistan in the east, an area encompassing over four million square miles. Besides ISIS, other terrorist groups – including Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Al Nusra Front – will rise out of the sands and cities of North Africa and the Middle East to turn that desert into the “Mother of American graveyards.” In the ensuing maelstrom, we will kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. We will spawn a new and more terrible generation of Islamic extremists, hell-bent on avenging the deaths of their parents and brothers and sisters. 

People say, “We have to hit them hard so that they will know not to mess with us again.” Forget about it. With their last breaths, they will avenge every hit we deliver. The great physicist, Isaac Newton, said, “For every action, there is a reaction.” In biblical terms:  “Eye for an eye…” That is how they live. It appears that is how we live, also.

We call the terrorists, “barbarians.” We call ourselves, “civilized.” Yet, we behave similarly. They seek vengeance; we see vengeance. They kill innocents; we kill innocents, (although we call our victims “collateral damage,” as though that makes it better.) Being civilized, should not we be the one to acknowledge that “vengeance begets vengeance,” and then do more to end this vicious cycle? Are not we supposed to be the adult in the room? I can’t tell. And don’t say, “They hit us first.” That would be childish, and denial. Time to stop the bloodletting. It can happen once those with cooler heads prevail. President Obama displays an even temper. Will his successor be as responsible? 

America’s sons are not afraid to fight. And we, as parents, must not be afraid to send them into a worthy fight. What we must fear, however, are leaders who would send our precious young men to fight and die for people on the other side of the world who will not fight and die for themselves.

It is our job to protect our soldiers, just as it is their job to protect this country. For them, we must be wise, not vengeful. They are not boots. They are the best of us.