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DOTS AND THEIR CONNECTIONS? April 19, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Terrorism Issues.
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Three events have captured my attention this week. Firstly there was the bombing in Boston, then the “State” funeral for Margaret Thatcher, and the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas.

The bombing at he finishing line of the Boston Marathon was clearly a criminal act and there was always a strong possibility that it may have a political motivation, although what was intended to be proved by it is not clear. The fact there were four bombs, apparently dropped on the footpath, might suggest there is more than one person involved. If it is not an individual acting alone – a hypothesis that despite its apparent impracticality cannot be dismissed -then it a group of people. Then what are they going to do now after the event?

As Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau write in The Daily Beast are quite clear they did not do it. They write:

The Afghan Taliban leadership, which is in contact with Al Qaeda on the ground in Pakistan, has been worried about an Al Qaeda-inspired attack on the West, presumably like the one in Boston, for weeks, says a senior Taliban intelligence officer who declines to be named. He says the insurgency’s strategic planning committee told him a month ago that it feared a 9/11-type attack by Al Qaeda could “ruin” the insurgency’s future strategy and further tarnish the Taliban’s image. “We lost Afghanistan in 2001 because of 9/11 at a time when we almost controlled 100 percent of Afghanistan,” the intelligence officer says. “We don’t want these incidents to upset our plans again.”

The intelligence officer says the Taliban leadership explained to Al Qaeda about one month ago that the insurgency is trying to make political progress both inside and outside Afghanistan as well as improve its diplomatic relations with Muslim countries and the West before U.S.-led coalition troops withdraw in 2014. “We told them this is a very important time for us and that any attack on the West would hurt the Taliban’s strategy and the Islamist cause,” the intelligence officer says.

That makes sense from a Taliban point of view. They aim to be a government of a nation state.

The who and the why of the Boston bombings remain a puzzle. It is hard to understand why anybody would do such a thing. But then again, “Shock and Awe” had its own rationality. Understanding, which is needed, is not the same as justification.

Asymmetrical warfare follows on from a mismatch in military capacity, as happened in Northern Ireland. Margaret Thatcher died almost to the day of the 32nd anniversary of the hunger strikers in Northern Ireland, such as Bobby Sands. Much like those from the West Bank and at Guantanamo Bay, seem to have misjudged the humanity of if not their captors, the political leaders to whom they answer. In retrospect the hardheartedness of Margaret Thatcher does not seem all that exceptional. It might be argued that her attitude is not as egregious as the President and Obama Administration in relation to the hunger strikes at Guantanamo. The Israeli Government has a record of barbarity, cruelty and partial thinking they never resided from.

Margaret Thatcher was given the state funeral that she probably did not want. She had the good fortune to die before any serious assessment could be taken of the sinking of the Belgrano in the Falkland’s War. The extravaganza would go against her social ideology. And perhaps it was not well politically calculated – a most un-Thatcher-like thing to do. It can be too easy to forget that the House of Commons is not a hung parliament because of the alliance between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who will doubtless, much like the Social Democrats in Germany, live to regret their dalliance with the perks of office.

The legacy of removing legislative limitations on industry and undermining union organization and effectiveness is not limited to Britain and the imperial remanent of Northern Ireland.  Maggie, it was said put the “great” back into Britain, but equally the Falklands War did not, and could not restore imperial glory at considerable economic and moral cost.  The fertilizer plant that blew up in West, Texas was both “union-free” and had not been inspected for five years by the relevant government regulatory authority. There was first a fire, and then a powerful explosion, as shown by this video (which I found very shocking):

Bryce Covert reports at Think Progress:

It’s impossible to know at this point whether unsafe workplace conditions were a direct cause of this disaster, but we do know that it was cited for failing to obtain or qualify for a permit in 2006 after a complaint of a strong ammonia smell, a smell that was reported to be “very bad last night.” The plant hasn’t been inspected in the past five years, and in fact only six Texas fertilizer plants were inspected in that time. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is chronically understaffed, which means that a given plant like West Fertilizer can only expect to get a state inspection once every 67 years on average.
With this kind of neglect, worker safety is in serious condition. More than 4,500 people were killed at work in 2010, up three percent from the previous year, meaning that more American workers died on the job in one year than died during the entire Iraq war. This doesn’t even count the others who might suffer from dangerous workplace conditions like those residents of West injured in the blast who didn’t work at the plant.

Elsewhere, a Democracy Now interviewee says that employees do not report problems, or act as whistle blowers, for free of losing their jobs.

These events have immediacy because there is direct access to them, and not just due to cultural affinity. Generally, we do not see and experience events occurring on the West Bank, Afghanistan, Somalia or Syria. Nor are we as likely to get the background stories of the effect on individual lives. This is not simply a failure to report because of the difficulties that may be involved in reporting from Waziristan, it might be understood as intentional following experience in Vietnam.

Postscript:

Margaret Thatcher is clearly a significant and influential political figure. One aspect of this assessment is her determination to break the political consensus , buck the opinion polls, and then go on to electoral success. She was a highly disciplined, “programmed” politician  from sticking to her script and following the dictates of the spin doctors.  She was moved to tears at times, and yet she showed an apparent lack of empathy for people at large, and for the consequences on them of her policies. Perhaps this condition is more general that at first might be suspected and could be objectively understood. Her personal accomplishments cannot be gainsayed, but there are factors at play beyond her obvious personal gifts and diligence. Did she leave the world a better place? (A question we might well ask ourselves.)

  • Robert Skidelsky, By her Metric, Thatcherism was a Failure (Sydney Morning Herald)

    Thatcher offered her own summary of her political project: ”Economics are the method. The object is to change the soul.” If that is the metric, then, despite her achievements, Thatcherism was a failure.
    The shift toward finance that Thatcher promoted heightened inequality and made the economy more volatile. Her ”right to buy” policy triggered an upward spiral in house prices, which encouraged households to take on more and more debt. The ”Big Bang” of 1986, which deregulated financial services, made risky behaviour in the City of London the norm. These reforms sowed the seeds of the financial crisis of 2008.
    The ”Victorian values” that Thatcher sought to foster fell afoul of the unrestrained celebration of material wealth that her rule brought about.

  • Norman Solomon, Cluster Bombs Come Home (Counterpunch) – an example of the empathy deficit, which sadly is not limited to criminals or apparently some public figures. The issue is in part one of been held accountable.

    In his novel 1984, Orwell wrote about the conditioned reflex of “stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought . . . and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”

    The doublethink — continually reinforced by mass media — remains within an irony-free zone that would amount to mere self-satire if not so damaging to intellectual and moral coherence.

    Every news report about the children killed and injured at the finish line in Boston, every account of the horrific loss of limbs, makes me think of a little girl named Guljumma. She was seven years old when I met her at an Afghan refugee camp one day in the summer of 2009.

    At the time, I wrote: “Guljumma talked about what happened one morning last year when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley. At about 5 a.m., bombs exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.”

    In the refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, where several hundred families were living in squalid conditions, the U.S. government was providing no help. The last time Guljumma and her father had meaningful contact with the U.S. government was when it bombed them.

    War thrives on abstractions, but Guljumma was no abstraction. She was no more or less of an abstraction than the children whose lives have been forever wrecked by the bombing at the Boston finish line.

    But the same U.S. news media that are conveying the preciousness of children so terribly harmed in Boston are scarcely interested in children like Guljumma.

  • Black Mountain message for Thatcher (newsletter.co.uk)
  • Margaret Thatcher repeatedly told top British politician the Irish were ‘all liars’ (irishcentral.com)
  • Peaceful protesters mark Margaret Thatcher’s funeral – burning effigies and back turning – VIDEOS (irishcentral.com)
  • Margaret Thatcher And The Irish (ansionnachfionn.com)

UPDATE:

Two suspects were identified. The elder of the two brothers is now dead, and the younger Tsarnaev is still on the run. He will either be captured or die in the process of  arrest. Now we know who committed the crime. It is still is not clear why they took that action or whether they acted alone, which seems to be the presumption. Their family came from Chechnya, they were Muslim and they spent time in Kyrgyzstan become emigrating to the US in 2002. Joanne Slater and Thanh Ha in The Globe and Mail report on the remaining fugitive. There is a religious connection, but it is possible that the explanation may come down to psychological and sociological vectors. More of the same from Erica Goode in The New York Times, Brothers seen as Good Students and Avid Athletes.

At War in Context, Paul Woodward observes:

What will probably be glossed over is the fact that the Tsarnaevs have lived in the U.S. for the last ten years. Dzhokhar, the one who has yet to be apprehended has been here since the age of nine and probably looks, acts and sounds just as American as any born-American citizen.
More significantly perhaps than their Chechen origin could be that these are two young men whose identities will inevitably have been shaped by the post-9/11 zeitgeist and the gulf this has created between Americanness and foreignness.

Alienation is no excuse for terrorism, but every American should pause to consider what it means for those who grow up in this country yet in multiple ways receive the message that they don’t belong here.

As has been the case throughout the last decade, the greatest threat to America is not terrorism; it is xenophobia. This is the virus of suspicion that makes a foreign name and a slightly darker complexion, reason to trust someone less and for no other reason than that they are not white.

. . . Chechen identity must be baked in at birth. The first nine years of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s life in Russia must have influenced him much more deeply than the following ten in the United States. Likewise, his older brother’s apparent interest in jihadist teachings again speaks most loudly of his Chechen roots. Or perhaps not.

The search for identity and the need for roots often becomes most intense among those who feel rootless. It seems less likely that as children the Tsarnaev brothers brought their extremism from Chechnya than that their experience of living in America led them in search of something they either couldn’t find here or felt excluded from here.

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