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Tag: Terrorism

The New Normal

The New Normal

The New Normal.” That phrase, already becoming hackneyed through use, pretty much tells it like it is.

Whether in New York or Nice or London or Barcelona, terrorists’ use of vehicles to mow down innocent people has become part of that “new normal.” Why bother with hijacking or blowing up an airliner when one can rent a truck, penetrate low-security areas, and make one’s twisted point with the blood and broken bones and murder of innocent people? With this approach, every low-level fanatic or miscreant worldwide becomes a tool for ISIS or other such groups to spread their message of terror.

Sad, but I believe accurate, to say, what happened in New York on Hallowe’en afternoon when Uzbeki émigré Sayfullo Saipov used a rented truck to career down a bike and pedestrian lane to take the lives of eight innocent people and injure at least another 15 embodies this “new normal.” And while it isn’t the first, by no means will it be the last time we see such an attack. What’s more, the ease and economy of mounting attacks of this nature makes everyone who ventures outside or who takes part in enjoying group activities or just taking a walk on a nice day a potential target.

It has been reported that ISIS put out the word through its social-media channels encouraging its adherents worldwide to mark Hallowe’en by doing exactly what Saipov did. Probably the only remarkable thing is that there weren’t other such attacks to mark the day and provide ISIS with more of the impact it seeks. But that should not offer any solace or encouragement. There is every reason to believe that there will be more vehicular and other low-level attacks and they will, in fact, figure into this “new normal.”

Other than personal vigilance and being acutely aware of one’s surroundings, there isn’t a huge amount anyone really can do to protect against attacks of this nature. It’s hard to tread a path somewhere between being blithely unaware and persistent paranoia. Somewhat akin to awareness of the potential for criminal activity in any public place or on any public conveyance, staying on what I would term “Condition Yellow” – being attuned to what’s going on around oneself and being prepared to react quickly to a perceived threat – should probably become the base condition for any of us when out and about.

In terms of public safety, a better response demands keen and focused policing. It’s now known that the authorities were aware of Saipov, who figured into various security investigations that were under way. Why Saipov’s plans were not uncovered and why he was not picked-up before he could carry out his heinous attack remains to be seen. Whether we’ll ever know the answer to this question also remains to be seen. We see shades of the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamarlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who also were in the FBI’s radar. The FBI even had been warned about the Chechen brothers by the dreaded Russians, but the FBI failed to take the pair into custody in advance of their murderous 2013 attack that killed three people and injured hundreds of others.

Failures in intelligence gathering and failures to act on intelligence leads are serious and have real-world consequences. Boston and New York and many of the other terrorist attacks that have taken place here and abroad where it later came out that the terrorists were on officials’ radar demonstrate the truth of this.

One thing that has come under scrutiny as a result of the Hallowe’en bombing is what is known as the Diversity Visa Program (DVP), better known as the Visa Lottery Program. Saipov had been admitted to the U.S. in 2010 under this program. While it might be a stretch to say that were it not for the DVP the New York attack – or at least others like it – would not have happened, it is a program that demands scrutiny.

As a consular officer in 1990 when DVP was first introduced, the “brain child” – to speak euphemistically – of the U.S. Congress, I and other consular officers with whom I worked were appalled by the program. Not only did it offer one more way for foreign nationals to skirt the normal strictures of our immigration law, it took the value of immigration to the U.S. and debased it, making it a matter of simple luck. Neither skills nor specific qualifications nor even family relations played any role in being selected for a DVP visa. All it took was being a citizen of what was deemed to be an “under-represented” country and having a post card with one’s name on it picked at random. Winning a visa under the DVP was the same as winning any other lottery.

Now, 27 years later, the only substantive change to the DVP is that the numbers of visas allowed have increased from 20,000 to close to 50,000. While the initial rationalization for DVP was to benefit Irish would-be immigrants, 48,000 of whom were legalized in the first three years of the program, the mix of DVP immigrants today is strongly tilted toward Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. I can’t help but ask why the most diverse country on earth needs to resort to a lottery to further that diversity?

While admission of would-be terrorists can’t be any more directly attributed to DVP than to any other U.S. immigration category, it’s pretty clear it was the source for Saipov being in the country in the first place. It’s also pretty clear that Saipov, described by people who knew and worked with him as a disgruntled truck driver with a poor driving record, lacks any of the higher-level skills that the country needs and which DPV fails to address. If, as a matter of policy, the country wants to open up immigration to other than simply family members of those already here and to encourage merit-based immigration, the answer is not a visa lottery but rather a points-based immigration system, much like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries have. To see why, be sure to read my posting on Pointing Immigration in the Right Direction.

Regardless what happens with the DVP, it’s clear that we’ve moved into the era of a “new normal” where terrorism is concerned. So be alert, stay on Condition Yellow when in public, and let’s hope those whose responsibility it is to track and apprehend those who would do us harm do a better job than they have in cases like Saipov and the Tsarnaev brothers.

Anniversaries of Justice and Injustice

Anniversaries of Justice and Injustice

Today is June 12 in this part of the world, and it is a day of major anniversaries, some of justice, some of injustice. All noteworthy in one way or another.

 

Pulse Remembrance Day

Most current, it is the first anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. To refresh any memories that need refreshing, 49 people were killed and another 58 people wounded by a Muslim fanatic gunman in the nightclub, largely frequented by gay patrons. It was an act of hate, the product of a twisted vision, undertaken by Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard. Mateen, who himself was shot dead by Orlando police responding to emergency calls for help from the nightclub, pledged his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS (ISIL), and claimed in a 911 call prior to the attack that it was provoked by the killing of ISIS leader Abu Waheeb by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike the previous month.

Mateen was born in the U.S., lived in Fort Pierce on Florida’s east coast, and had a record of making threats against people’s lives, using racial slurs and expressing dislike of black people, Jews, Hispanics, and gays, and was accused of being physically abusive and “mentally unstable and mentally ill” by his first wife. There also is considerable evidence indicating Mateen himself was gay, and there were reports of him frequenting the Pulse nightclub on a number of occasions prior to his murderous attack.

Meanwhile, Mateen’s second wife and widow, Noor Salman, is currently under arrest and awaiting trial next March for aiding and abetting her husband’s actions, going so far as to accompany him the night before while he purchased five containers of ammunition for use in the attack.

There have been significant commemorations of the Pulse attack in Orlando and elsewhere, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott has proclaimed June 12 as Pulse Remembrance Day and ordered flags flown at half-staff in the state.

 

Tear Down This Wall”

It was also on this date, in 1987, that former President Ronald Reagan addressed those words to then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev during a speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. It took another two-plus years for the wall to open, and then to fall, but it was on this date 30 years ago today that Reagan issued the challenge to Gorbachev to bring down the barrier that split the German people and was an enduring symbol of Communist repression and injustice since its erection in 1961.

Less known about the call to tear down the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent end of East Germany and the reunification of Germany, is that other Western leaders, notably British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President François Mitterand, opposed unification, fearing that it would adversely affect the balance of power that had contained German ascendancy since the end of World War II.

 

The End of Anti-Miscegenation Laws in the U.S.

On June 12, 1967 – 50 years ago today – the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, ruled that anti-miscegenation laws that made interracial marriage illegal were unconstitutional. With that single decision, all remaining such laws, which still existed across the South and a couple of border states, were struck down.

The ironically named case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison, with the sentence suspended on the condition they leave the commonwealth, for violating Virginia’s law that prohibited such interracial marriage. The couple had been married in the District of Columbia, where there was no such prohibition, in 1958, but when they settled back in Virginia the police, acting on a tip, raided the couple’s home during the night, hoping to catch them having sex, also prohibited under Virginia law at the time.

In 1964, frustrated in not being able to visit their families in Virginia, the Lovings filed a legal action to challenge their ban from the state. The case worked its way through the Virginia court system, with each level upholding the law and the Lovings’ sentence, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. And on June 12, 1967, the court issued its landmark decision stating that laws such as Virginia’s violated both the due process and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

June 12 has become known as Loving Day, and the Loving case was cited as precedent a dozen times in the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges in which the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not prohibit same-sex marriage.

 

The Beginning of Anne Frank’s Diary

It was on her 13th birthday, June 12, 1942 – 75 years ago today – that Anne Frank received the red, checkered autograph book she had picked out with her father the prior day as a birthday present. It was that book that became the first volume in her famous diary. She began writing in the book two days later, and she documented in it, in two subsequent volumes and on some loose pages, the two years and one month in which she, her sister, and her father and mother, along with the family of Anne’s father’s business partner, were kept concealed from the Gestapo and the Dutch police in the upper floors of an annex of her father’s Amsterdam factory.

The Frank and van Pels families were Jewish and subject to the Nazi sweep to exterminate the Jews. They remained secreted in the annex until being discovered and deported to Nazi concentration camps in August 1944. Anne died of typhus in 1945 at the age of 15 at the Bergen-Belsen camp, anywhere from weeks to months – the exact date of her death is unknown – before the camp was liberated by British troops. Her memory and words endure through her diary, which came to be known as The Diary of a Young Girl.

 

And in Brazil . . .

June 12 is Dia dos Namorados – Lovers Day – in Brazil, since it falls on the eve of the anniversary of the death of St. Anthony of Padua, known for blessing couples with happy and prosperous marriages. Since Valentine’s Day falls in February and is so close to Carnaval, it’s not celebrated in Brazil. Instead, Dia dos Namorados is the Brazilian equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

June 12, a momentous day indeed, this June 12 even more so.

 

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