An American Perspective to Global Terrorism

(The following is an op-ed.)

Working in the media, I once again get to watch the aftermath of a terrorist attack in a European city. This time it is Brussels.

It should be noted that there was barely a mention in American media of the terrorist attacks in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey; Maiduguri, Nigeria; Mastaba, Yemen; or Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire.

Flag-Pins-Belgium-TurkeyThere was no changing of Facebook statuses for the other places or a public outcry of grief. While we publicly announce that we stand with Brussels, we stay silent of standing with the people in these other places that have suffered in the exact same way and from the exact same militant religious extremists.

It all comes down to how we Americans view the world, and how the media reinforces those stereotypes.

During a presidential election year, a terrorist attack takes even more precedent. Opponents instantly claim that the current administration isn’t doing enough to prevent such horrific acts, and it is the same old talking points that seem to be resurrected.

We can blame immigrants and refugees but then we are just scapegoating. Most are escaping from a hellish nightmare that we can’t even begin to imagine in this country. Yes, nothing is 100% fool-proof and some could possibly slip through that shouldn’t but that doesn’t make it right to blame all of them.

And ask yourself this question: Do you know how a refugee comes to the US? They don’t get to pick where they go and very few even leave the refugee camps. For coming to the US, this infographic gives you the steps that it takes. It is a rather lengthy process.

As some would like done, constant government surveillance of Muslim-American communities, including their mosques, would be a violation of the Constitution. I find it interesting that after a mass shooting, these same candidates will start screaming about protecting the Second Amendment, but are willing to violate any and every amendment (with the exception of the Second) when it comes to a terrorist attack.

I’m actually more concerned about mass shootings than terrorism. Both are essentially the same thing. They can be unexpected, violent, and have a great deal of casualties.

And then there is our military. Our military force does not need to be made great again as some might say that it does in order to fight global terrorism. We have the the world’s largest, most technologically advanced military. It would take the next seven countries to equal what we spend on our military. To stand and proclaim that our military needs to be made great again is an insult to the brave men and women that don the uniform and serve throughout the world.

There are no easy answers to fighting terrorism. There is no soundbite from a political candidate that will instantly give us the solution that we seek. We have to see things from a global perspective instead of the narrow-minded American-way. We must get past generalizations and stereotypes of other places, people, and cultures.

I’ve been to Europe a few times over the past decade. I love visiting. And despite the attacks in Paris and Brussels (and anywhere else), I will return. It can be fun to immerse yourself in something different and to get a new perspective.

Working in the media industry can be difficult in times like these. But then I think back to those trips… to those great places and wonderful people. And no terrorist can take that away from me.

The Politics of Syrian Refugees

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The above appears on the Statue of Liberty and is part of a larger poem by Emma Lazarus. With its location near Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty became the symbol for new immigrants and refugees entering the United States in search of a better life. Even though the massive immigration center no longer processes new people into the country, the statue still retains its symbol for those that are yearning to be free. Yet it would appear that the quote above doesn’t apply to the 21st century… at least to some.

Syria has been bogged down in a civil war since the Arab Spring. In the past couple of years, a new terrorist group (ISIS) has emerged as a major threat both to the stability of Syria and neighboring Iraq and to the western world. It has become a confusing mix of who is fighting who. (The following video tries to simplify the ongoing war in Syria. https://www.facebook.com/ezraklein/videos/10153737513773410/)

On November 13, Islamic extremists went on a rampage throughout Paris killing 129 people. It turns out that one of those responsible is a Syrian refugee that got into France with thousands of other refugees that have been entering Europe as the war in Syria has escalated. This was one out of thousands yet there is no way to determine if there are more. It was always a concern that ISIS would try to slip agents into Europe and the US through the mass migration of Syrian refugees. It would appear that at least one did and possibly others, but it may not warrant the mass hysteria that seems to be coming from this horrible event.

The rest of the attackers that night, though still Muslim extremists, were European nationalists. As Republican governors, members of Congress, and even candidates for President have started foaming at the mouth about not accepting any Syrian refugees now, they say absolutely nothing about allowing Europeans into the country. These are the same Republicans that say one can’t blame all law-abiding gun owners any time there is a mass shooting. Yet somehow they are going to accuse all Syrian refugees because of one terrorist that came in with all the others.

Governors throughout the US have been declaring that they will not accept Syrian refugees within their state. This is more political posturing than reality. The Refugee Act of 1980, which was an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, created explicit procedures on how to deal with refugees entering the US by creating a uniform resettlement and absorption policy. Basically this makes it a federal matter, not a state. So all of these governors have no real say. Once someone has been approved and is allowed to enter the US, they are free to move about the country and settle wherever they would like just the same as anyone else.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, under new House Speaker Paul Ryan, are preparing legislation to halt Syrian refugees. It’s unclear as to whether such a bill would pass the Senate where Democrats can still filibuster. And it’s more likely to get a veto from President Obama if it were to reach his desk. Republicans need to tread more carefully and watch their words and their tone though. According to an article on POLITICO, faith-based groups as well as Evangelical Christians are largely in favor of the Syrian refugees.

The words of President Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear and hate aren’t the answers. True, we can’t tell which of the refugees are good and which might be members of ISIS or another extremist group. But we can’t even say that about our own citizens. We have to remember that 99% of those that are coming to this country are in search of safety and a better life… something that was ripped away from them in their home country.

In early 2015, several Bosnian refugees that had settled in St. Louis in the 1990s were arrested for sending money and military supplies to terrorist groups overseas. Did this mean that all the Bosnian refugees that entered our country were terrorists and should be deported? Of course not. Just a few bad apples in a community that has been a valuable asset to the city as a whole.

According to the American Immigration Council, the United States took in approximately 70,000 refugees in 2014 (the same as 2013). Almost half have came from the Near East/South Asia which includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. The cap for the number of refugees is set at 70,000 for 2015 as well.

Our nation has always been a melting pot of different people. It makes our culture quite unique as we have found a way to blend it all together. There have been times when immigrants and refugees haven’t been given a fair chance… the Irish, Catholics, Italians, Eastern Europeans, etc. In the end, the fear that was largely rampant was proven mostly unfounded. The vast majority melted into our society. The new Syrian refugees will be no different than those that have come before.

Sure we all want to feel safe and protected. The majority of those refugees want the same thing. Is it possible that a member of ISIS could slip in? Sure. But they could always slip in another way, too, or influence an American citizen. We know the latter has happened already. We can’t blame all Syrians any more than we can blame all Americans. It is a risk we take, but it is part of our values as well. And we can’t lose sight of those. We must rise above hate and fear to see the bigger picture… the humanitarian aspect.

US Involvement Against the Threat of ISIL

Americans are war weary.  The nation has been at war since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  We have been involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Libya during its uprising.  For the past couple of years, we have even been “secretly” shipping arms to rebels in Syria.

As we finally see our troops coming home from Afghanistan, in what has become this nation’s longest war, we are now talking about Iraq once again.  This time it isn’t the nation as it is a group that calls itself ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  It has also been referred to as ISIS.  It comes from Syria and has crossed the border into Iraq taking one town after another in sweeping fashion.

A couple of months ago, the United States began bombing ISIL targets on the ground.  First, it was to protect a minority group of Yazidis who are ancient Mesopotamian.  Then we began to assist the Kurds as they fought for their own survival in northern Iraq.

But where has the rest of the Iraqi army been?  The one that we spent billions training and equipping?  As ISIL swept through the country, they fled… some even without firing a shot.  And to make it even worse, they left behind the equipment that we left for them which includes tanks that ISIL now has and that we now bomb.

isil

President Obama has spoken with congressional leaders and has asked for approval before committing to a larger international mission that he laid out in a speech to the American people on Wednesday night.  But how much support is there from Congress or the American people?  Though we are only a couple of months away from an election, and Congress would like to duck this issue altogether, the stakes are too high and it is likely that they will indeed support such intervention.  The real question is whether the American people support such action.

We don’t tend to have the greatest luck in picking sides in the region.  We have supported authoritarian dictators in the region such as Egypt and Iraq.  In Iraq, we had to overthrow the regime; whereas, the people of Egypt overthrew theirs.  We support the Saudis and the regime in Bahrain though both are authoritarian.  We even overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in the 1950s to install the Shah who would be overthrown in 1979 by the Iranian people.

When civil war broke out in Syria, we didn’t want to get involved.  We didn’t know who the rebels were that we’d be helping.  There were too many factions.  It was only have chemical weapons were used that the world began to take more notice and an active role.

In the US, there were calls from members of Congress (Senator John McCain being one of them) that called for arming the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime.  Interesting enough that ISIL comes from some of those Syrian factions that we were originally so worried about arming, and they still got American weapons when they invaded a destabilized Iraq and swept from town to town.

Now here we find ourselves again getting involved.  The President claims no actual combat troops on the ground just advisers though that is exactly how our involvement in Vietnam started.  Arming Syrian rebels has also come back into the discussion.  But exactly who would we be arming?  Even Senator McCain has called for helping Syrian President Assad deal with ISIL in Syria.  This sounds like a complete 180 from just last year.  Maybe we should just admit that in Syria, we shouldn’t support either side.

The members of ISIL aren’t just coming from Iraq and Syria or even other nations in the region.  They are also coming from western Europe, the United States, etc.  They are our own citizens with passports that can come and go as they choose making it easier for them to be trained to bring the organization into our own nations.

President Obama mentioned a broad international coalition including Arab nations that also see ISIL as a threat to the region.  It is important to have those nations in this coalition.   Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the region trying to shore up more support from those nations and work out plans.  This does include Iraq and helping bring the Sunni minority of that country into a government role.

A hundred years ago, World War I broke out across Europe.  Interesting how we are still putting out the fires from that great conflict here in 2014.  ISIL is a threat to the US, and they have already made sure that we get the message loud and clear.  Our involvement is crucial.  However, we must start realizing that we cannot arm people in other countries especially in this particular region.  Somehow we always seem to spend billions of dollars to destroy it all in the end.

Again, as I stated at the beginning, we are a war weary nation.  We have spent trillions of dollars in this region to evoke “change” and here we continue to do so.  We have seen what a well-organized terrorist group can do if we don’t take the necessary precautions.  We don’t need to relive that day again.  The nation is poised to enter the fray with a specific goal.  It will not be quick, and it will not be cheap, and it’s doubtful that in the end we will learn from our mistakes of the past.

Illegal Search and Seizure

Unconstitutional Acts of the NSA

I have been a Verizon Wireless customer since late 2001.  You can imagine my disdain then, not at Verizon, but at the federal government that has issued a court order for Verizon to turn over all of the data for its customers regarding phone calls and even metadata.  The story broke early on Thursday in an article in the UK’s The Guardian.  This should actually scare the American people even more than the act of terrorism itself.  The court order was issued on April 25 by the Foreign Intelligence Service Court (FISA) and orders Verizon to turn over the information on a daily basis until mid-July.  The FBI and the National Security Administration (NSA) have refused to officially comment on the situation.  The court order also explicitly tells Verizon that it cannot disclose to the public the FBI’s request or the court order itself.

fbi_wiretapIt would seem that since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, that the federal government has gone out of its way to completely abandon the Constitution and the rights of the people that are protected within it.  Only days after the attacks, Congress passed the Patriot Act which gave the President a blank check to fight global terrorism though we have never really defined what terrorism is.  Inside the Patriot Act was the legal authority for the federal government to secretly wiretap international calls and emails.  This came to light during the waning days of the Bush administration, and the public was indeed outraged.  But that outrage soon died and a new administration was elected.  Though Senator Obama objected to the secret wiretaps while running in the 2008 primary against then-Senator Hillary Clinton, he did an about-face after securing the nomination. (CNET)  And since being elected President, he has secretly expanded the program now to include all domestic calls as well which is a direct violation of Fourth and Ninth Amendments of the Constitution.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fourth Amendment~

President Obama said he’s ready to have a discussion of secret wiretaps.  There is no discussion to be had.  It is a blatant violation of his oath of office.  As for members of Congress, they have completely dropped the ball and missed the point on this issue.  The head of the House Intelligence Committee is more alarmed about the leak of the court order rather than the court order itself.  Why is that?  Because Congress gave the President this kind of authority.  Yet, President Obama has stated that all three branches of government have approved of this program.  If that is the case, then it is our government that has become the greatest threat to our rights and freedoms; moreso, than any outside force.  And this is exactly why our Founding Fathers wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights.  Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has stated that he is worried that that calls by members of Congress and the Supreme Court could have been included within the sweep.  Attorney General Eric Holder has said “that there was no intention to do anything of that nature.”  But Holder has also stated that it has kept Congress fully informed on these issues as they were developed.  Does that really make it acceptable or put anyone else at ease?

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) warned back in 2011 that the NSA was using a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act to basically spy on Americans.  Where was the media on this story?  For two Senators that saw this coming, this time it was the media that dropped the ball.  In a 2011 floor speech, Sen. Wyden said, “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”  I question how angry the American people will get or if they will even bat an eye over it.  Earlier today, when I actually had the TV on for a moment, the news was more concerned about the attempted-suicide of Michael Jackson’s daughter than the federal government’s unconstitutional wiretaps of American citizens.  This should be the largest story of the day (and following days) and heads should be rolling for anyone that has authorized this illegal action.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a statement on his website where he stated, “The United States should not be accumulating phone records on tens of millions of innocent Americans. That is not what democracy is about. That is not what freedom is about. Congress must address this issue and protect the constitutional rights of the American people.  While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans.”

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Ninth Amendment~

Since the court order did not target one specific person that was under investigation, but rather a blanket search over the American populace, it is easy to see how it would violated the Fourth Amendment.  It doesn’t matter if all three branches agree that the secret surveillance is allowed to protect the people from terrorism.  Common sense clearly states that it is direct violation of our rights against illegal searches and seizures.  But what about our right to privacy.  That comes from a Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) that stated, “The Framers did not intend that the first eight amendments be construed to exhaust the basic and fundamental rights…. I do not mean to imply that the …. Ninth Amendment constitutes an independent source of rights protected from infringement by either the States or the Federal Government…”

wiretappicnikYet, the federal government says that this type of program is necessary to keep Americans safe from terrorism.  Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) of the House Intelligence Committee stated in an article in POLITICO that “[w]ithin the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States.”  And yet,there are those citizens that are OK with this premise.  They will allow the federal government to do whatever it takes to prevent terrorism.  This is because the federal government is ruling by fear and has them scared instead of ruling by law.  So I ask where do we draw this line if we are willing to throw away our basic fundamental rights in order to protect ourselves from the very people who attack us because of those rights?  Tyrannical governments are formed when the public becomes so afraid that they don’t care that their rights are taken away so long as they are protected.

There is an old axiom that states that justice is blind.  Maybe it’s not so much justice but rather the people who right our laws.  Since 2001, there seems to have been a constant attack on our founding principles and our basic rights by the people who are sworn to uphold and protect them.  Our legislators (and the President) are sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution not to protect us from terrorism.  Yes, we, the people, must make sure that we protect our nation, but it cannot be at the sacrifice of our rights.  If we do, then we cease to be Americans.  For any member that has voted in favor of the Patriot Act and the NDAA, who does not see why this type of activity is wrong and illegal, they should be removed from office for violation of their oath and their duty.  To quote President Lincoln, this is a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  It is time that we, the people, step up and hold these elected officials accountable for their illegal actions.

SIDENOTE:
According to The Hill, the court order was to be declassified in 2038.

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