Suppose an evil happens, and you don’t want anything like it to happen again. A proposal is made. The minimal criterion for such a proposal is that, enacted in good time, the evil from which you are now suffering would have been prevented.
For instance, the Challenger disaster, caused by a brittle O-ring, could have been prevented by an O-ring embrittlement prevention programme. This would not have been sufficient; the O-ring failure was the outcome of a chain of cause and effect, beginning in NASA’s culture, that could easily have produced some completely different technical outcome; however, any solution that would not have prevented a brittle O-ring is no solution at all.
Forty-nine people were killed yesterday by an Islamist terrorist in an Orlando gay nightclub. The terrorist was a natural-born citizen of the United States, working as a security guard, with a concealed carry firearms licence. He beat his ex-wife. He also happened to be of Afghani descent. His father, Seddique Mateen, was last year running for the presidency of Afghanistan! What? Anyway, under Afghan law, the terrorist, Omar Mateen, therefore held a second, jus sanguinis, Afghan citizenship – assuming he never renounced it.
Candidate Seddique claims that his son’s bloody wounding and murder of 102 was occasioned by the sight, some weeks earlier, of two men kissing each other in Miami.
Now, here are some proposals I’ve seen since yesterday to stop this sort of thing.
Gun control: place additional restrictions on firearms access, make certain sorts of firearms illegal, etc. As a minimal solution, this would have had to apply to Omar Mateen, denying him – a security guard – the ability to acquire guns of lethality sufficient to kill half a hundred clubbers. This means that Mateen would have to have been denied the ability to acquire a gas-operated rifle. Unfortunately for you gun-grabbers, this is not going to be easy. In my country, Israel, we do our best not to allow people who are like Omar Mateen in any respect whatsoever to acquire such weapons. So they make them. Rather ingenious, really. It’s unlikely a prospective terrorist would need to go to such lengths in the States.
Systemic change: Cut the problem at the root! Remove the ultimate causes of radicalisation and, a decade or two later, no more radicals! Here we come to our first minimal solution. If his father is to be believed, a homosexual kiss in Miami set Mateen off. Thus, banning gay PDAs in Miami (better make it the whole of Florida, to be safe) would have prevented this tragedy. My problem with this solution is that I don’t believe the old rascal. In fact, I think he’s so full of shit he should be running for President of Afghanistan or something.
Well, that’s not really the sort of systemic change being proposed. The idea is that by addressing legitimate grievances of Muslims, the ability of old men to sway young men to commit heinous acts would be neutered. Well… that’s not it either. Systemic change isn’t just addressing grievances, it’s the wholesale restructuring of society to end cisheteropatriarchal white supremacy, the source of all these grievances. This will of course be a generational project with no final stopping point but if we all pull together we can
“A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Mateen was born in the United States. If his father or mother hadn’t been permitted entry, he would never have been around – that generational thing again. So this is technically a minimal solution. It’s hard to deny that Israel’s security benefits from denying entry to expatriated Palestinians.
Deport all Muslims: I did hear it, so here goes. It’s a wish. “If there were no Muslims in America, no Muslims would commit terrorist attacks in America” is a statement of the same nature as “If I were absolute monarch, I could resolve this problem”. It’s true, but it’s not actionable. The condition for “total and complete shutdown” is the election of Donald Trump, plus his ability (or luck – he has the devil’s luck) in pushing such a remarkable action through the incrustations of power that would resist. It is not particularly hard either to determine whether someone is a Muslim, nor to deny him entry at a national border. What are the conditions for deporting all Muslims? I think they would be spectacularly unpleasant, not least for my co-ethnics – not that you have any duty to care, this is just an admission of interest – and reviewing the literature on the subject I see that those conditions are assumed to be those of a heavily racialised revolution. Ten Bataclans, thirty Pulses a day, easily. Do you want such a thing, Americans? Do enough of you? Maybe one day, if everything goes to hell, but not today. You hope for something better, not something worse – that’s the American Way. The penalty for saying Yes, I Want Total War prematurely, by the way, is a bullet and a New York Times spread. So.
Libertarianism: Gays should be free to arm themselves in clubs without legal restraint. Mateen would have been mown down in a second. This one won’t prevent terrorist attacks, per se, but it will ameliorate them. It so happens that this club was prohibited from allowing guns on their premises, so we have a nice law to point at as not fit for purpose. Sadly, gays seem not to want to be libertarians – not to the extent of arming themselves every time they go drinking. Perhaps they can all hire personal bodyguards? One policeman wasn’t enough, apparently, but perhaps three or four? They should at least have insurance to pay for the crime scene cleaners. Externalities must be internalised. On this view, terrorism is just a natural phenomenon. The police can hardly wait till the Day of Judgement to send Mateen the bill at his new residence in Jannah, so it must perforce be someone else’s problem.
Intelligence: What the “pragmatists” are now settling on. Mateen should have been surveilled. His radicalism should have been unearthed, his planning should have been caught. In fact, the FBI interviewed him – three times! And yet Mateen had the constitutional right to freedom of speech, including extremist speech. His contact with an American suicide bomber was constitutionally protected. This should certainly have increased the FBI’s suspicion of him more than it did – but what would they have done about the guns he legally owned? He had a constitutional right to those too. The camel’s nose of gun control, then, will involve giving federal organisations like the FBI the ability, without criminal conviction, to prohibit firearms ownership. It will be resisted, and Obama, a lame duck at this point, doesn’t have it in him to get it passed, but if Clinton is elected, put money on it.
This combination of better intelligence and a whiff of gun control will also fail to solve the problem presented by guys like Mateen. There are too many to monitor with the necessary rigour, they will adapt their behaviour to avoid too many gross indicators like scaring their co-workers, and preventing them from buying guns will tip them off.
From a certain perspective, the “more intelligence and better use of it” proposal does have a few points in its favour. It generates more government jobs. It generates more results – the more potential terrorists banned from owning a gun that the FBI can report, the better. There isn’t even any real need to focus on potential Islamic terrorists – on the contrary, dumbfuck Nazis are much better for government purposes. And it would have stopped Mateen; not “the next Mateen”, but Mateen himself. It is, therefore, a politically palatable minimal solution to the problem. When launching the rocket is a secondary concern, O-ring embrittlement prevention is about the best you can expect.
I think that covers the main positions espoused on the commie-nazi spectrum. Most of this stuff would have applied just as well in the unlikely event of a non-Islamic terrorist attack, something I reflected on in the hour or two of uncertainty about that. The point though is that it wasn’t a neo-nazi or radical Christian or whatever terrorist attack, it was the thing it was most likely to be. There’s something missing from any solution that doesn’t address Islamic terror.
That’s why Trump’s statements resonate. Don’t discount either the power of holding to account the man whose responsibility it was to prevent this atrocity.
What else is there? Consider Mateen’s personal circumstances. Second generation immigrant – highest risk for radicalism – with dual nationality, violent towards women in his power, very mysterious family background. These particulars are found, exactly, in the figure of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the Boston bomber brothers (Dzhokhar was very much his follower). Isn’t that odd? What are the chances of two of the worst ‘home-grown’ Islamic terrorists to attack the US resembling each other to the extent of having politically connected fathers and uncles?
The FBI and State Department do not need more resources to deal with Mateens and Tsarnaevs. They need lustration. That having been effected, it should be a simple matter not to grant asylum to shady foreign political families. But yet more should be done. Dual nationality is a nice-to-have, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. It seems that current conditions make it unwise for the US to permit it. Two years from attaining the age of majority is quite long enough to decide what nationality one wants to have. Moreover, Omar Mateen and the two Tsarnaevs were granted US citizenship through jus soli or through naturalisation. This was a mistake. If the new, improved FBI comes across similar mistakes – radical Islamists with US citizenship – those mistakes should be rectified by loss of citizenship and removal from the country. A trial of fact to determine such allegiances would be appropriate. Should this render the Islamist in question stateless, too bad. He should have picked the other nationality before he turned twenty.
The problem with the above is that it’s a message to power, and power isn’t listening. I hardly expect someone to disqualify himself from his own job at State, but at least now I can do my best Robert Conquest impression. For the rest of you, I would like you to consider the recent terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. Watch this video:
The moment the shooting starts, everyone rushes for the exits. The ones who trip crawl out. One patron, Haggai Klein, threw objects at the terrorists to distract them. This is what happens when everyone has some degree of preparedness for a terror attack, and knows that everyone else does, too. It was a bad attack – four fatalities.
What about Orlando – why did so many die at the hands of a single man? There are theories circulating that there was more than one terrorist. That seems very unlikely, but there was someone else directly responsible for the body count:
Luis Burbano held shut the door which he used to escape because he heard the gunshots growing louder and people in front of him weren’t moving fast enough for his liking.
One club-goer was making a snapchat when the firing started. Instead of bolting, she froze. She died.
Israelis are taught and trained in how to react to terror. Israelis value aggressive bravery. Some Americans – too few – will have similar training and similar dispositions. Associate with them. Avoid being around concentrations of people whom you do not trust to respond properly to a terrorist attack. If you suspect yourself not to have sufficient readiness, practice.