Saturday, November 2, 2013

Feature or Bug? When We Consider Terrorists Criminals and Crazy

We do not know much really about yesterday's attack at LAX, so it is really too soon to speculate.  However, it is not too soon to think about a key dynamic that may play out here.  The first indications seem to be that the perpetrator affiliated himself with far-right wing extremist conspiracy theorists.  The Southern Poverty Law Center  puts the references to NWO and fiat currency* into context with the explosion of extremist groups that occurred at the same time as both an economic meltdown and the election of black President.  So, we might be considering this guy a terrorist, but given the reports that his family considered him to be potentially suicidal, it is more likely he will be seen as a crazy person than a terrorist.  That, and, well, we have tended to think of terrorists over the past ten or so years only being those who are Muslim.
*  Perhaps part of the reason we treat the far right folks with less seriousness is that their obsessions are so strange.  We have had "fiat currency"--paper money--for a hundred years.  Time to get over it, eh?

We know better than that--that there has been heaps of terrorism over the years in the U.S. by people who are not Muslim but are Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, Jews, Croatians, anarchists, Armenians, anti-abortionists, environmentalists, and, of course, white folks such as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.  The strange thing is that we tend to code most of the non-Muslims folks not as terrorists but as crazy and as criminals.  The question is: is this a problem or is a feature of American democracy?

One take on this is: this is religious discrimination where Muslims have become viewed as the only "real" perpetrators of terrorism.  This, of course, would be a problem.  Another take on this is, when thinking about white supremacists and other far-right folks, that these acts are criminal acts and not political ones.  If we treat much of the crimes of these people, the white nationalists, anti-government folks, as political, then one could code the U.S. as facing an insurgency.  That there is a political movement in the U.S. using unconventional tactics to attack the political system, that we are in the midst of a civil war.  That would seem to be worse than treating the situation as a bunch of crazy people with crazy theories about the political system and treating the problem as a criminal one.

When we think about places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea was not to turn them into Norway but to reduce opposition to the government from insurgencies threatening the entire political order into lower levels of violence that could be considered a criminal problem rather than a major political crisis.  So, in this light, treating the radical right violence as a criminal problem is actually a feature, a positive thing, about the American political system--that they are so marginal that they are not treated seriously as a political movement.

Of course, the flipside of this is that we discriminate against Muslims and do diminish the threat of white nationalism and radical right movements.  So, I am conflicted.  I am not sure I want this latest violence to be seen as terrorism but I am not sure I don't want it to be seen as terrorism.

To paraphrase from the constructivists, violence is what we make of it.  So, what should we make of the LAX attack?  And of other attacks by folks with "crazy" far right leanings?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Err - by flat, you mean fiat, I'm guessing?