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Terrorism: We have met the enemy... and he is us

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Terrorism: We have met the enemy... and he is us

Nearly all terrorism — in Oslo, OK City or Tucson — is domestic

  • Flowers lie in an Oslo street the day after bombing and shooting attacks killed nearly a hundred people.
    cyclopsr/FlickrFlowers lie in an Oslo street the day after bombing and shooting attacks killed nearly a hundred people.

The bombing and shooting attacks in Oslo that killed more than 90 people and injured nearly 100 were initially suspected to have been the work of foreign terrorists.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement shortly after the blast, saying:

"You won't destroy us. You won't destroy our democracy. We are a small but proud nation. No one can bomb us to silence. No one can scare us from being Norway. This evening and tonight, we'll take care of each other. That's what we do best when attacked."

We know now, of course, that the suspect in the shooting, who was arrested at the scene and has also been linked by Norwegian police to the bombing, has been identified as Anders Behring Breivik and described as tall, blond and blue-eyed.

With a few extremely high-profile exceptions (you know the ones I mean), nearly all the terrorism (which has within the past 100 years come to mean violence by non-state actors directly or indirectly against state interests) in history has been domestic.

The Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 and wounded 450. Domestic. The sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway, which killed 13, severely injured 50 and caused vision problems for nearly 1,000 others. Domestic. ETA terrorism, pursuing Basque independence in Spain, which has killed more than 800 people since 1968. Domestic. The Kennedy assassination(s). Domestic. Jared Loughner… domestic.

In the early 1950s, when McCarthyism was at its peak in the United States, cartoonist Walt Kelly, best known for his Pogo comic strip, wrote:

"There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve, then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tiny blasts of tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us."

Kelly was parodying a message sent in 1813 from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Army General William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie, stating "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." He later ran the pithier "We have met the enemy and he is us" in several comic strips dealing with the issue of pollution.

Our first instinct when we experience inexplicable and unimaginable tragedy is to look outside our communities, to wonder, "Who would want to hurt us?" The answer, nearly always, is someone who does not feel a part of "us." In the context of terrorism that usually means either a group that feels disenfranchised by society and the governing state, or an individual who feels the same way, usually as a result of mental illness.

Examples of the former are Muslim separatists in China and Russia, Germany's Red Army Faction, the Maoist Shining Path in Peru, and in the United States the Ku Klux Klan, the Jewish Defense League, and the Weathermen; examples of the latter are the Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh and Jared Loughner.

Breivik is reported to have expressed right-wing and anti-Muslim views. Why would he have wanted to set off a bomb in downtown Oslo, and to gun down teenagers at a youth camp? We may never know.

Why did Jared Loughner allegedly shoot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others at a political rally outside a Northwest Side Safeway? We may never know that either. And even if Breivik and Loughner do some day offer reasons for their actions, those reasons may not be ones we can understand.

Within hours of yesterday's attacks, millions of people around the world had expressed concern to friends, family and colleagues via email, social network postings and tweets. A frequently heard question was, "Why Norway?"

Walt Kelly had the answer to that, sixty years ago: "… Those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand."

While Prime Minister Stoltenberg and millions of others around the world were quick to assume the attacks were the work of Islamic militants, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, a member of the Labor Party, which operates the youth camp that was attacked by Breivik, said the arrest of a blond Norwegian should reinforce the importance of allowing the police to investigate thoroughly before jumping to conclusions.

"We've seen in Europe in recent years that politicians have been jumping to conclusions about suspects before investigations have been conducted, and we will not commit that error," he said.

Foreign Minister Store's measured view is all too rare in a world in which cellphone cameras live-tweet the carnage around the world only seconds after a bomb has gone off.

Roberto De Vido is a communications consultant, writer, cartoonist and jack of many trades. The former chief of Tucson Sentinel’s East Asia Bureau, he now lives in California (make of that what you will).

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