The Issue of Homegrown Extremism
The tragic events in Orlando have certainly shaken the current political and media landscape, a not-uncommon phenomenon with these types of devastating events. The shooter, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, killed 49 and wounded 53 others; many of whom remain in critical condition.
At present, the media has done an adequate job of presenting information to the public as it has become available. That information included the shooter’s 911 call proclaiming his allegiance to ISIS. Information that is certainly in the realm of the publics right to know.
In the wake of the current political circus, during a speech addressing the massacre President Obama launched a full throated defense for not using the term “Islam” when talking about terrorism. In his speech he cited various disenfranchising factors of using such terminology and heartfelt proposition that we should rather build bridges with Muslim-Americans and Islamic communities.
Declaring that this lunatic was inspired, much less apart of ISIS is much like arguing Peyton Manning and Arnold Palmer are long-time teammates because they’ve both won championships while completely ignoring the fact that they were professional athletes for two completely different sports. While the facts surrounding a case such as this should not be ignored, there is a national fervor for ISIS related “news", and media outlets are fiercely obliging the wishes of their viewers.
By doing that we’re elevating the importance and impact of the self-proclaimed Islamic State when much of the evidence suggest that they have been put on the defensive. While online radicalization is certainly an important factor to consider in this case, a deeper dive into the psychological state of the shooter shows that he had a lot of deeper issues. It appears more likely that he choose to use ISIS’s extremist ideology as a crutch for his actions.
Going beyond parenthetically mentioning the shooters 911 call joining his beliefs and ideologies with those of ISIS is ludicrous. Mateen, prior to proclaiming allegiance to ISIS had apparently claimed or showed admiration for both Jabat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing) and Hezbollah (the Lebanese based terrorist and political organization). The views of these respective terrorists groups are as diverse as the shooters alleged sexual preferences.
The threat from both domestic and international extremism is real and pervasive, it’s for that exact reason that the threat shouldn’t be amplified except in cases where the overwhelming preponderance of evidence warrants it. If we allowed every act of lunacy to be considered an act of “terror” then when actual terrorist attacks occur (e.g. Nidal Hassan, Bataclan, etc.) that are acts of terrorism of the magnitude that warrant such a response are less likely to mean as much and less likely to be responded to appropriately.
Much debate has been made in the post-9/11 era of whether to treat terrorism as a law enforcement or military matter. As with most debates the answer typically resides somewhere in the middle. But in this specific case, it is clearly a law enforcement issue and since we do not currently live in the age of “pre-crime” we’re going to have to accept two very simple concepts:
The first is that law enforcement agencies are inherently designed to be reactive rather than proactive. In the case of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the keyword is “investigation” and that clearly indicates their function; to investigate crimes once they’ve been committed. While local and federal law enforcement agencies have made strides in their efforts to prevent terrorist attacks nationwide, this system is fundamentally flawed because of the constitutional and judicial constraints that these agencies must adhere to.
The second concept is that this scourge of violence in the name of Islam will never cease until we defeat the ideology itself, something that will be no easy task. As long as these groups continue to promote their agenda, have any measure of success on the battlefield and can continue their massive propaganda campaigns then they will continue to find impressionable young men who will carry out violent acts on their behalf.
This age of bootstrapped terrorism is nothing new, but has in many ways been perfected by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The leaders of these groups understand, in a way that al-Qaeda has only just grasped, that they do not need to expend the time a resources to plan large scale attacks beyond the areas of their control. Attacks of such magnitude require massive efforts, at least some financial resources, communication networks and well trained attackers in order to be successful. Even if those components are in place law enforcement and intelligence agencies the world over have become extremely adept and foiling these plots.
Organizations like the Islamic State have concluded that it’s much more efficient and effective to convince indigenous impressionable young men to carry out these attacks on their behalf, no matter the scale. The likelihood of such lone-wolf attacks is directly correlated to the strength of these organizations in the places where they operate. As we see their relative strength wane, the probability of such attacks on the homeland should do so in kind.