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Commentary

To thwart terror, start with America’s own craven crazies

DRAGUIGNAN, France – I found an unsettling line in a Library of Congress study on why 30 to 60 million American buffalo vanished in the late 1800s. One reason, it said, was “the phenomenal stupidity of the animals themselves.”

Simple enough. A few hunters spooked a herd with rapid-fire rifles. Buffalo stampeded in panic, running around in circles. If the killers were crafty, or lucky, the whole herd plunged en masse over a cliff. You see where I’m going here.

A few twisted fanatics got the world’s attention in Paris. They caused unbearable pain for victims’ family and friends. Another 65 million Frenchmen, if shocked, were unscathed. However incensed many of them may be, few are terrorized.

It is different back home. Americans have been characterized in the past as a nation of sheep, docilely letting ourselves be flocked and fleeced. Today, too many of us seem like blinded, brutish buffalo.

We can counter what is still a limited global threat by understanding it and reacting sensibly. Our first priority is boxing off our own cowards and crazies who are ready to abandon fundamental values for the illusion of security.

Here are some vignettes of what we’re up against:

  • A plane leaving Baltimore turned back when a woman saw a man of “Middle-Eastern” mien fingering his phone. Grabbing her daughter, she raced off to warn the crew. “You have no idea,” she said, safe at the gate. “I want to kiss the ground right now.” The man and three others escorted away were released; he’d been watching the news. After a three-hour search of the hold, the flight resumed.
  • Police in North Carolina slammed to the ground a frail Indian grandfather, paralyzing him. He had come from Gujarat a week earlier for a family emergency and was out for a walk. A neighbor reported a suspicious, swarthy stranger. He was to blame, cops said, for not speaking English and not obeying their orders.

The big picture is harrowing. Many of our elected leaders feed the panic. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, cut off State Department experts at a House hearing to provide his own evidence that refugees were terrorists in disguise. He waved a clipping from London’s mad-dog tabloid, the Daily Mail.

A majority of governors, either clueless or cynically playing for votes, refuse to take in any of the Middle Eastern refugees whose plight traces directly back to us. Donald Trump wants to deport Syrians along with all those Mexicans.

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We are not usually the open-arms haven we paint ourselves as being. A Fortune magazine poll in 1938 found 68 percent of Americans opposed taking in Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria.

But today even those who care nothing about fellow humans must understand that this is, above all, simple self-interest. Does anyone really think border controls keep out hardcore fanatics? Condemning millions to squalid limbo only intensifies the hatred that feeds terrorism.

Keep this firmly in mind: The Islamic State traces directly back to Sunni militants who U.S. forces tortured and humiliated in Iraq. George Bush’s war on terror increased terror by geometric proportions. Many of those responsible still have their jobs in Congress and in government.

Europe is paying the price, and no one I know here likes it. Brussels, Europe’s capital, has been paralyzed for days because of fugitives on the run and undisclosed intelligence. Germany, Europe’s powerhouse, which opposed the Iraq war, faces internal discord from the million-plus refugees it has taken in.

The United States, like it or not, is crucial to curbing ISIS and its global impact as well as stemming the refugee flow. It is not working out that way.

Glenn Greenwald, who seldom cheerleads for The New York Times, just wrote this: “A truly superb … editorial this morning mercilessly shames the despicable effort by U.S. government officials to shamelessly exploit the Paris attacks to advance long-standing agendas…to manipulate post-Paris public emotions to demonize transparency and privacy and to demand still-greater surveillance powers for themselves.”

That editorial begins: “It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends…John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.”

The government gets away with it, Greenwald adds, “because, particularly after a terror attack, large parts of the U.S. media treat U.S. intelligence and military officials with the reverence usually reserved for cult leaders, whereby their every utterance is treated as Gospel, no dissent or contradiction is aired, zero evidence is required to mindlessly swallow their decrees, anonymity is often provided to shield them from accountability, and every official assertion is equated with Truth, no matter how dubious, speculative, evidence-free, or self-serving.”

Close enough. As it happens, it is election season. Signs are increasing across America that people who leave politics to others now see what is at risk. We still have time, if not much, to stop brainless bison from leading us all over a cliff.

This commentary was first published on MortRosenblum.net.


Mort Rosenblum is founding editor of the quarterly, Dispatches. From 1967 to 2004, Rosenblum was Associated Press bureau chief and special correspondent in Africa, Southeast Asia, Argentina and France, reporting from 200 countries. From 1979-1981, he was editor of the International Herald Tribune. Based in Paris and Provence, he returns each winter to the University of Arizona to teach global reporting. Among his 12 books are “Escaping Plato’s Cave: How America’s Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival,” “Who Stole the News?,” “Coups and Earthquakes,” “Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light” and the best-selling “Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit.” He can be reached through MortReport.org.

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