Terrorism and its Crucible

Terrorism and its Crucible


Howard Adelman

Last evening at a dinner party at our house, I told a friend, one of our guests, about my propensity to call each of my sons by another son’s name. It is a standing joke in the family. Often when addressing one of my four sons, I will go through all of my other sons’ names before I get to the correct one. I do not call my sons by my daughters names, or vice versa, at least I do not think I do. That is some relief. Since I have four sons, you can imagine how exasperating it is for them to have their father go through three other names before I get to their own. The only relieving factor to suffering from my malady over the years is that they know they are not being slighted since I do it to all of them indiscriminately.

In Friday’s missive, that propensity slipped into my blog. But instead of calling Joseph – I originally typed Jacob, but caught myself right away – by one of the names of his brothers, I referred to Joseph by his father’s name, Jacob. I did it eight or ten times, so it was not simply one slip. Any reader, I believe, could tell that I meant Joseph when I typed in Jacob, but my bad habit could be very disconcerting. My apologies. Today, I will write about something generic, so that error is unlikely to occur. I will write about terrorism generally in which I profess to be calling what I believe is terrorism by its correct name even if many readers may believe I am calling it by the wrong name or simply naming what is perpetrated by others as if we sometimes practice the same activity.

About two months ago, CIJA (19 October 2015 – http://www.cija.ca/exclusive-briefing-dj-schneeweiss/) organized a conference-call across Canada to discuss the then current state of terrorist attacks in Israel. I blogged about that discussion. Subsequently, about two weeks ago, as we entered the third month of the Stabbing Intifada, I wrote a blog about the Palestinian terrorism that continues to assault Israelis directly every day. (https://howardadelman.com/2015/12/08/palestinian-terrorism-and-israel/). Since then, that terrorism has insinuated itself in Paris (13 November 2015) and then in San Bernadino in California (11 December 2015). In response to the latter, Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination in the United States, has called for the temporary banning of the entry of all Muslims into the United States, at least, “Until we can figure this whole thing out.”

Quite aside from the hysteria, the discrimination, the outright insult to loyal Americans who happen to be Muslim, Trump gives no indication that he understands the first thing about terrorism and that he is playing on the same fears that the terrorists do. Or perhaps he does know and he is just a cynic quite willing to play the populist card in a current feeding frenzy on Muslims and terrorism. Canada is not immune to that fear-mongering. Thankfully, the new government, now in a leadership position across Canada, is taking Canadians in the opposite direction by welcoming into Canada thousands of Syrian refugees, many of whom will be Muslim.

I know readers will expect me to start an article on terrorism with a discussion of IS, ISIS or ISIL, but which I will subsequently refer to as Da’esh, and not because I do not know the name of the terrorist organization or, God forbid, that I am treating the organization as if it were one of my sons. Da’esh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State – al-Dawla al Ismlamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. The word sounds like a similar word in Arabic that means one who sews discord. Its root meaning suggests a sense of injustice and connotes anger and resentment, By using Da’esh, the identity of the organization can be established without accepting its grandiloquent claim to rule Syria and Lebanon or even aspire to be recognized as a state let alone a caliphate.

The expectation of starting with Da’esh is reasonable. Currently, Da’esh is the most extreme, the most ruthless, the best organized and the richest terrorist network on the planet. But if I start with Da’esh, I fear I may be misunderstood. For the identification of a terrorist organization with a specific religion or race or ethnic identity is merely the camouflage for that terrorism. Further, as I will try to show when I write about Da’esh, the attack on Paris was a sign that it is headed towards defeat and dissolution, though I expect it will rise again like a phoenix and morph into a new form.

So I will start with a group of terrorists that one might not immediately associate with terrorism. I am not talking about the priests in the Roman Catholic Church who preyed on their young charges by the thousand. Nor am I talking about the British authorities that arranged to forcefully separate at least 130,000 children from their mothers in Britain and ship them off to the colonies, especially Australia, where they were promised a better and healthier life, but were scarred again and again by the brutal treatment meted out to them so that the pain of those additional scars could hide the original separation they experienced, but never succeeded in doing so. Nor am I talking about the terror inflicted on the tens of thousands of aboriginal children in Canada who were torn from the arms of their parents and sent to the residential “schools” in Canada so they could be indoctrinated to giving up their so-called “savage” ways.

The Canadian government practiced a very cruel form of savagery, all in the name of a so-called higher good, but called it education when it bore the most flimsy resemblance to that activity.  The recent Canadian report on the terror – and mark my words, it was terror practiced on those tens of thousands of children – afflicted that group for generations to follow.  On 11 June 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for that systematic terror, but never named what it had done directly. For what was done was far worse than the re-education camps to which the Chinese and Vietnamese governments sent its own citizens. These were children, after all. Just read a few of the pages of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) (http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=10) which should be made compulsory reading and study in all the schools in Canada. Or read Dr John Milloy’s book, A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1979 to 1986. Yes, 1986!

So when I am writing about terrorism, do not believe for a minute that I am simply writing about the savagery inflicted on innocents by fanatics abroad. We have our own history of practicing terrorism. Though the priests and the British bureaucrats and the Canadian authorities practiced a form of terrorism, they were not overtly organized as a terrorist group. They did not brand or think that what they were doing was a form of practicing terrorism. But it was, as I shall eventually try to demonstrate. Instead, I will write about terrorism perpetrated by self-described terrorists, but initially not Da’esh, for it is best to introduce the subject through what you recognize as terrorism.

Muhiyidin d’Baha’s father is a Muslim and his mother is a Ba’hái. D’Baha is a campaigner against racism in the American South, He was one of the organizers of Black Lives Matter in Charleston. He describes the racism practiced in the South before the Civil Rights movement as follows: “That was Charleston. That was accommodating white feeling and white superiority,” That was racism in the guise of respectability politics as distinct from the crude violence of the Klu Klux Klan. “It was, ‘Yes massa. Can I have another?’ But, at the same time, it was spiritual fortitude forged in a crucible of terrorism” as far as the Blacks were concerned who were victims of this racism and terrorism, (Cf. David Remnick (2015) “Blood at the Root: In the Aftermath of the Emanuel Nine,” (2015) The New Yorker, 28 September, 33) If we want to understand terrorism, we must first understand both it and the crucible in which it is formed.

For those who have been so overloaded with terrorist incidents that those heinous acts begin to merge together, let me remind readers about the Emanuel Nine. On 17 June 2015 in the evening, Dylann Roof, a twenty-one-year-old ninth grade dropout, entered Mother Emanuel Church, one of the oldest Black Churches in the American South. He was white. The parishioners and the minister were all Black. Roof entered through a side door carrying a 45 Glock semi-automatic. He rested in a pew until he gathered his resolve as the parishioners were all praying with their eyes closed. He drew the pistol and started firing at point blank range, including at parishioners who had fallen to the floor. Nine members of the congregation, including Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, lay dead.

When one of the parishioners only a few minutes from taking his last breath asked Roof why he was doing this, Roof replied, “Y’all are raping our women and taking over the country.” Does it sound like a Trump supporter raging currently against Muslims? Earlier on the website, “The Last Rhodesian,” he had typed in, “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” If the incident was not so terrible and so tragic, one could laugh at the thought that Roof believed he was operating in the real world. He was killing upright Americans who would end up praying for his redemption and salvation. They were as far from rapists as anyone could find.

Charleston was the seat of the Confederacy. Charleston was a prime location where Blacks were murdered and butchered. Charleston was the city in which, in the aftermath of Root’s slaughter in Mother Emanuel Church, the state finally voted to take down the statue of John C. Calhoun, the racist leader and originator of the doctrine of states’ rights and nullification. The statue of Calhoun was finally dismantled from its prominent position in Marion Park in front of the State legislature. Calhoun was a very ambitious politician from the South who unsuccessfully sought the presidency several times and retired back to a seat in the Senate representing South Carolina. He went from being Vice-President to earn far greater renown as the author of the doctrine of states’ rights and the principle of nullification. He promoted it as law until the Compromise of 1850. Calhoun argued that states had the right to nullify federal laws and secede from the Union if the federal government attempted to enforce laws unacceptable to the states. This set the legal and political grounds for the Civil War.

What is the difference between the genteel racism of many of the Whites in the South (and in the rest of America, or Canada for that matter, in relationship to aboriginal peoples) from the resort to terrorism of Dylann Root? Dylann Root not only regarded Blacks as Other, not only regarded Blacks as wholly Other, not only regarded Blacks as inferior, not only regarded Blacks as a threat to Whites, but thought that Blacks had to be exterminated to protect and enhance America as a White Nation. Genteel racists may regard Blacks or Aboriginals or Muslims or Palestinians or Jews as Other, even as wholly Other, even as Inferior, but do not usually regard them as a threat to the supremacy of Whites, or whomever, let alone demand their extermination. The Whites may be very strong racists, but they are not generally terrorists as we recognize the use of the term, though I regard what they practice as a form of terrorism.

Even those who believe those Others deserve to be exterminated are not terrorists as long as they are not the perpetrators of that terrorism. For example, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas who believe that the end is near, that the destruction of the Twin Towers and America’s casualties in the Iraq War were the result of American profligacy, more specifically, America’s toleration for homosexuality, are not terrorists in the usual sense. The members of that church were well known for their picketing all over the United States, particularly for one very offensive sign they carried: “DEATH PENALTY FOR FAGS,” referencing a particular passage in Leviticus. “If a man lies with a male, as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)

Homosexuals were not their only targets. The members of the church believed that all countries would unite in a war against Israel, that Israel would be destroyed and that only 144,000 Jews who repented their killing of Christ would be spared. But the Westboro Church never once attempted to advance that destruction. That was God’s responsibility. They were full of hate, but they were not terrorists per se.

Terrorism takes place when one individual or a group takes on the responsibility and engages in active murder against another group regarded both as inferior and as a threat that is so great that the Other or that Other’s culture must be exterminated. Its most extreme form is genocide. It does not matter whether the action is undertaken by a lone wolf, such as Roof, or an organization such as Da’esh. It does not matter whether the murder is committed in the name of Christianity and the name of Whiteness or whether it is committed in the name of a group that sees itself as the leader of an evangelical and fundamentalist Islam against other Muslims it regards as apostates, against Christians and Jews, against Communist Chinese or Hindu Indians. It does not matter if it is committed in the name of protecting a saving remnant, even if that saving remnant consists of Jews. The initial focus may be on the “imperialist oppressors” and their lackeys or those dedicated to making Islam supreme. However, if the result of those beliefs ends in action to attempt or commit murder, then what you have is terrorism.

If the terrorists are well organized, if the terrorists are so well organized that they control their own source of wealth – Da’esh controls oil wells in Iraq and Libya – if the terrorist group is so well organized as to commit six virtually simultaneous acts of terror and end up killing 129 people in Paris, if the group uses terrorism as a publicity tool both to intimidate those who fall within their control and their ostensible military enemies, if they believe not only in the inherent superiority of who they are, but believe that everyone else must bow down to them and serve them even if, at the very least, they are permitted to live on sufferance, if they use terror as a recruiting tool, then you have a far more dangerous and formidable terrorist threat than the lone wolves who commit acts of terror in Israel or in the United States.

If that terrorist group has an ideology that convinces its believers of their eventual success, that convinces its followers that dying for the cause is heroic, if that group believes that it is entitled, even commanded, to kill Others, if that group believes not only that it is superior to Others, but that it is the duty of its adherents to exterminate those others and/or the culture or religion that raises and shapes them, then you have an example of extreme terrorism.

Terrorism simply is the logical end of a certain way of thinking. Wahabism in Saudi Arabia may be much politer than the words of Donald Trump. However, the Saudis lack any global political and military agenda. They keep their sense of superiority hidden under immaculate and flowing robes. If a large number of Palestinians refuse to pick up weapons to attack Israelis, many, even possibly most, greet those who do as heroes and martyrs. In such cases, we do not find terrorists or even ones who abet terrorism with their fiery rhetoric. We find polite members of society who abet the logical development of terrorism as an outgrowth of a temporary interim position that will culminate in due course in extremism. It does not matter whether the believers are Muslim, Christian or Jewish. They are abetters of terrorism. Those minor and major precursors of terrorism bear some responsibility for its development, and certainly more responsibility than those who are bystanders; they watch, and will not, or do not interfere, or they interfere with too little too late.

As Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, told Al-Monitor, “Israeli teams have been terrorized multiple times.” As the columnist, Pinar Tremblay, noted, during the singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, Turkish fans threw water bottles, coins and other objects at the women’s national basketball team. The Greek-Turkish soccer match began with a minute of silence to honor the victims of the Da’esh terror attack in Paris on 13 November. The fans interrupted with boos, whistles and chants of “Allahu akbar” (God is great) and “Martyrs don’t die.” Erdogan did not criticize or even comment on this behaviour.

Insulting shouts and putting up posters advertising hatred does not constitute terrorism. A silent response to that misbehaviour does not constitute terrorism. But these are all part of the crucible breeding terrorism, for they indicate one group treating another in an inhumane and inconsiderate way. Primo Levi described the Nazi who wiped his greasy hands on Levi’s clothes as if Levi was not a man. If Nazis, or anyone, peer at you as through the glass of an aquarium looking from one world as spectators on a scene of animal behaviour, even one not regarded as terrible, then that degrading behaviour ploughs and fertilizes the soil of terrorism. If Donald Trump wants to register all American Muslims, if Donald Trump regards Mexicans as aliens who need to be excluded from entry into the U.S., then Donald Trump is on the side of terrorism and not engaged in a battle against the phenomenon.

The way to fight terrorism is with resolve and determination, sometimes quiet and dignified resolve as has been the case of the members of that Black Church in Charleston.  Sometimes it is through conversations with extremists. But sometimes it requires fighting back with all the tools of the legal system and the use of police and military forces when necessary. When Jewish terrorists set fire to a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem, the three perpetrators were captured, charged and sentenced a week or so ago to three years in prison. We must not only fight against terrorism from the enemy side, but against terrorism and its precursors within our own ranks. A three year sentence is laughable. The perpetrators will be out in a little over a year, released on parole. What message does that send to the Palestinian authorities and public that receives its own terrorists with high honours? This form of breeding terrorism is not much better than the breeding grounds for Palestinian terrorism.

If we do not fight the terrorism or its breeding ground within our own communities with all the vigour, with all the energy at our disposal, then we risk becoming precursors of an opposing terrorism. Precursors may not be terrorists, but without them, there would be no terrorism. We best undercut terrorism by the respect we give to the Other, even when that Other is a terrorist who we are trying to kill. Then we not only have to recognize them, but respect them for their skills and dedication as we try to arrest them or, preferably interrupt them before that can act on their murderous mission. Even as we seek to kill or “neutralize” them, we must remember that they are humans and that our own societies have similar propensities.

We must not surrender to those propensities even as we confront alien terrorists.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s