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It’s the business of reporters to report on events like the Boston bombings, and the business of commentators to explain them. But since we don’t have enough evidence, yet, about who did what, all commentators can do is speculate . . .
And that’s not very illuminating. Anyone can speculate.
Instead, let’s take a step back.
“Terrorism” is old. Anarchists at the end of the 19th century began their “propaganda by the deed” campaigns, eliciting from the U.S. government a vast repressive effort against anarchists (even peaceful, non-terrorist anarchists) and syndicalist unionism.
Striking out and terrifying a populace tends to unite that populace, making people more supportive of their government and its policies, not less. This has been observed from time immemorial. So anarchist terrorism was probably the dumbest terrorism in history.
An earlier bout of terrorism was the mob of “democrats” in France, during the late French Revolution. The furor to kill and dispossess got so out of hand that the French were prepared for a tyrant, Napoleon.
Not very effective there, either.
The most common form of terrorism in the last century was state terrorism, where governments brutalized their citizens, the better to solidify power. These regimes seem to succeed, sometimes for long periods. But people eventually turn on such tormenters, preferring peaceful life under a rule of law.
As Bostonians reel from the bizarre bombing, we should remember: the rule of law is better than terrorism. It’s plodding, yes. It is never ideally just, since it is run by human beings. But refusing to resort to indiscriminate violence to “obtain justice” or “make a point” or “get/maintain power” is the basic idea of civilization.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.
“In schools,” the Washington Post headline warned, “a pointed finger or a toy gun can spell trouble.” The front-page feature detailed a far too extensive and growing list of zero tolerance, zero commonsense punishments meted out to children as young as five at various “educational” institutions.
A ten-year old boy in Alexandria, Virginia, showed kids on the bus his new toy gun, which sported a bright orange tip to let even the most dense person know its essential toyness. Police arrested him the next day.
His mother points out that her son did not threaten anyone. Or pretend to. Nevertheless, he has been “fingerprinted and photographed,” writes the Post. “He now has a probation officer, lawyers and another court date.”
In my Virginia county, Prince William, an eight-year-old boy contorted his hand and fingers into an apparently loaded pistol and through insidious manipulation of his mouth and lips may have imitated the sound of firing hot lead at a classmate, while said classmate was, in an evil orgy of violence, simultaneously pretending to be shooting arrows from an invisible bow.
The finger-slinger was suspended for “threatening to harm self or others.” He did neither, of course, but his offense is equivalent to having waved a loaded gun. (No word on the whereabouts of the silent-but-deadly pantomime archer.)
A five-year-old girl was interrogated by three school staff members, summarily found guilty of issuing a “terroristic threat,” and suspended for ten days for allegedly attempting to murder her friend and then commit suicide. She offered to unload her weapon all over her friend and herself. The weapon? A Hello Kitty gun, which fires bubbles.
The Post suggests the schools are jumpy after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. But this zero tolerance insanity didn’t begin last December.
My grandson was suspended from his public school more than a year ago. He was six and playfully shot his finger at several fellow students.
Educators, who long ago abandoned the distinction between play and reality, must have been shocked at the lack of fatalities.
Does the crusade against crime really require public institutions to reject, utterly, common sense?
Shouting “No!” . . . I’m Paul Jacob.
Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who used bombs and guns in a terrifying killing spree a little over a year ago, got what he wanted: He was judged as a political terrorist and not insane, sentenced to prison for ten to 21 years, Norway’s unbelievably minimum “maximum” — with the state’s option of keeping him confined indefinitely if judged too dangerous for release.
Which sounds rather “clinical” to me. Even without a ruling of insanity, Norway appears to treat its murderers as madmen.
But as one survivor of the Utoya massacre explained, “I believe [Breivik] is mad, but it is political madness and not psychiatric madness.” Exactly.
“Madness” is some sort of loss of self-control, a dangerous instability; “insanity” legally defines that subset of madmen who cannot distinguish between right and wrong. It is pretty obvious that though Breivik is deeply off his rocker, his condition is the result chiefly of bad ideas channeling base impulses.
And yet . . .
Breivik’s terrorism — like all others — justifies killing innocent people to serve a political goal. In doing so, the terrorist’s ideology becomes de facto insanity, rendering the terrorist incapable of recognizing his own evil.
In this case, his ideology also kept the terrorist from seeing the actual consequences of his horrifying violence. Breivik’s politics is of an extreme anti-Muslim nature. It has surely been fed by the rise of radical Islamic terrorism. But killing 77 people, including scores of non-Muslim teenagers, doesn’t exactly serve to rally European “militant nationalists” to an anti-Muslim pogrom. Mad. Wanton. Feckless.
But just “evil” will do.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.
On Monday, Senator Rand Paul got caught in a contretemps with the TSA. He was not in transit to or from his work in Congress, so he couldn’t enlist constitutional protection from being detained.
And detained he was.
Well, the TSA insists that he was not “at any point detained,” but what he says is this:
I was detained by the Transportation Security Administration . . . for not agreeing to a patdown after an irregularity was found in my full body scan. Despite removing my belt, glasses, wallet and shoes, the scanner and TSA also wanted my dignity. I refused.
I showed them the potentially offending part of my body, my leg. They were not interested. They wanted to touch me and to pat me down. I requested to be rescanned. They refused and detained me in a 10-foot-by-10-foot area reserved for potential terrorists.
Both Senator Paul and his father, Congressman Ron Paul, have criticized the TSA. They echo those 19th century classical liberals who had a word for the kind of treatment that modern security-obsessed governments inflict upon a (too willing) populace: “regimentation.” What’s more regimenting than being forced to wait in lines, holding shoes in hand, emptying the contents of pockets into institutional-gray trays, submitting to a variety of scans and gropes?
There have got to be better ways of securing big ol’ jet airliners. Why not apply greater legal liability to airlines for safety, and let them figure out more customer-friendly methods of keeping terrorists out of cockpits?
Any government security effort ought to focus on spotting and stopping terrorists . . . without sacrificing everyone’s freedom and dignity.
It’s Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.