Bombs and Banality

WaPo's Jim Hoagland writes today that the surveillance images of London's would-be July 21 bombers "show the face of evil as all too human and surprisingly mediocre -- a face not of mysterious supernatural forces that we cannot comprehend or combat, but one of petty criminality and hatred that we can easily recognize."

Hoagland argues that these portraits are a natural counterpoint to the dramatic images of terrorist destruction, whether of 9/11 or Sharm el-Sheikh, which can distort the nature of the terrorist operative in terms of the scope of his deeds. But, writes Hoagland drawing on Hannah Arendt, "To glimpse Yasin Hassan Omar and others as the shiftless punks they seem to have been for most of their lives -- to put a name and a face on evil rather than resign ourselves to endless speculation about the motives and long-lost origins of these criminals' grievances -- should help shrink the sense of menace we feel around us."

Theo van Gogh's mother made a related observation following last week's sentencing of her son's Islamist murderer. "What is so regrettable after this trial is that Theo has been murdered by such a loser," Anneke van Gogh told a Dutch newspaper. [Van Gogh link via Samizdata.]

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    What? Has Charles Paul Freund "got the duty" this weekend?

  • Adam||

    My impression is that the ones who were caught were "terrorist lite" and the dead ones from 7/7 were substantially different from the 7/21 captives.

    This guy, captured in Zambia on charges related to 7/7, seems (at first glance - amazingly enough, I haven't sat down to get to know any of the involved parties and my judgment here is completely and totally superficial, to be taken with many grains of salt) little more medieval than the 7/21 wannabombers.

    I do appreciate Mrs. Van Gogh's indignance and comments.

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    I anticipate that observations like these will fuel yet more calls for jobs programs, poverty alleviation programs, youth empowerment programs, multicultural awareness-raising programs, community center programs, and a host of other state-funded spending sprees. The New Urbanists will get involved, pointing out how bleak urban environments need to be redesigned to foster community connectedness (light rail included). Massive public grants for after-school activities will be needed. Taxes will need to be raised to save these generations of young men whom society has so callously thrown away.

    No one will dare suggest addressing the problem of the "banality of evil" the way the Israelis did.

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    To glimpse Yasin Hassan Omar and others as the shiftless punks they seem to have been for most of their lives . . . should help shrink the sense of menace we feel around us.

    But they're "shiftless punks" animated (and trained and financed) by a ruthless religious/totalitarian ideology that wants to rule the world. And their beliefs are shared by a not-insignificant fraction of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. So their banality notwithstanding, my sense of menace remains.

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    JMoore,
    I suspect, even in the UK, and throughout the EU, they know, in their hearts, that government programs have been the problem, and will not be the solution.
    And I don't think they're going to fall for faith-based initiatives either.

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    Yeah, I agree Mrs. van Gogh, it's much worse to be murdered by a loser than a winner.

    If a winner kills you, it barely hurts, and sometimes you don't actually die, you're just "mostly dead" for a little while.

    I hope I have the good fortune to be murdered by a winner some day.

  • Sourav||

    Mrs. Picasso:

    Hers is a statement on the randomness and unpredictability of the killing, not of superciliousness.

    Or at least that's my guess.

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    There is an interesting front page article in today's NYT on the backgrounds of the London bombers. Short version: Hoagland is wrong.

  • ||

    "...a face not of mysterious supernatural forces that we cannot comprehend or combat, but one of petty criminality and hatred that we can easily recognize."

    Nothing new here. Hitler had a dog. Nikita Khrushchev cried when he couldn't go to Disneyland. Lee Harvey Oswald was more pathetic than scary. Not to sound like a pro-war neocon (which I most emphatically am not), but what's really the point - they're still the bad guys, right?

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    "...to put a name and a face on evil rather than resign ourselves to endless speculation about the motives and long-lost origins of these criminals' grievances -- should help shrink the sense of menace we feel around us."

    I dunno - to me this is just stating the obvious. Am I missing something here?

  • ||

    Nikita Khrushchev cried when he couldn't go to Disneyland.

    Really? That really happened? God, that's so pathetic. Did he at least pound his shoe on a table before he bawled like a little girl?

    I'm starting to really wish you hadn't told me that. I mean, that was the quality of our archenemies? Makes us look bad by comparison.

  • ||

    "The New Urbanists will get involved, pointing out how bleak urban environments need to be redesigned to foster community connectedness"

    Have you ever SEEN a public housing project?

    Howard Roark isn't the only one whose mind turns to explosions in those places.

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    You mean like Howard Roark? The words "public housing project" are just begging for bombs, just not in subways.

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    Probably 99% of Bolshevik operatives and 99% of Nazi operatives and 99% of the Golden Horde were all pathetic losers who were easily swayed by grandiose promises and propaganda. I understand Mrs. Van Gogh's and others' sadness in accepting this, but I don't see how it bears on our (or the Brits') effectiveness in getting these bastards.

    (Now that I think of it, 99% of inner city U.S. gang bangers are pathetic losers, too, but how does knowing that help prevent their vicious behavior?)

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    Of course these guys are pathetic losers. Why would a non-pathetic winner ruin their good life? When you've got it good, there ain't no reason to screw things up.

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    The more widespread the opinion that some group are pathetic losers the harder recruitment gets. There are of course many counter impulses, but I believe the broad idea is sufficiently true.

    To deny that the media portayal of gang members make the lifestyle seem more attractive than it proves to be is, I think, to be blind to human nature. The same mechanism works for sports figures, and used to work for soldiers. We no longer hold our military in such high regard, and that certainly makes it more difficult to attract officer candidates. If popular opinion is strong and outspoken enough about the "terrorist loser lifestyle", would't you expect it to have some anti-terrorist effect?

    99% of everyone has the potential to be a pathetic loser. The "propaganda" for order and respect must be better at appealing to innate virtue than the grandiose promises are at touching innate need in a world of individual powerlessness.

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    Hanging them after due process a la Eichmann? I'm all for it. The other Israeli methods: land confiscations, home demolitions, license to kill, dispossession, etc. Less in favor, and they obviosly have failed.

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    Tha above addresses this comment:

    No one will dare suggest addressing the problem of the "banality of evil" the way the Israelis did.

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    Dyanimist,

    We no longer hold our military in such high regard, and that certainly makes it more difficult to attract officer candidates.

    We do more so than we traditionally did prior to WWII.

    ___________________

    These guys are all rational actors who are dying for a cause, etc. they feel is right. Audie Murphey when he got on top of that tank was willing to make a similar sacrifice for similar reasons (though the ends were obviously different, and noble in comparison to barbarism of the bombers in London). Calling these guys "punks," or "losers," or "nuts," simply ignores the true nature of their behavior. I guess it might feel comforting to express it in those terms, but I just don't find it useful. I'm more comforted by the fact these guys are rational actors; that means you change their fucking minds.

  • ||

    I gotta agree with Mathew Hogan, the Israeli method whatever it is hasn't seemed to work very well.

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    kwais,

    Even the shortest insurgencies can last decades. Some can flare off and on for hundreds of years. Further, think of the case of the modern IRA, UDA, etc., where only a few hundred committed terrorists for each group was able to foment decades of bloody strife that forced Britain to deploy thousands of troops to Northern Ireland. In Iraq, you have thousands or perhaps tens of thousands.

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    You don't think that the Brittish army was the cause of a lot of the strife? I mean there was strife before they were deployed there en masse, but two dogs on a leash fight a lot longer than the same dogs unleashed.

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    I saw photos of a couple bombers being arrested at their welfare flat. Maybe if they had had to find jobs they would not have been hanging around a whacko-fundie mosque every day. I wonder how British taxpayers feel about bankrolling jihadist losers.

  • ||

    The whole terrorists who were living on welfare angle is the most depressing concept I've run across in years. It kind of makes me want to vomit.

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    Hakluyt- Can you give an example of a situation in which people who are caught up in the unholy nexus of religion, nationalism, and tribalism have changed their minds on a large scale?
    While it makes sense to say that those folks are rationally acting towards goals based on their own first principles, the first principles themselves have eclipsed any hope of reasoning about what is right and wrong. In other words, when you combine the above 3 factors, rationality goes only so far.

  • ||

    So can we now claim that welfare breeds terrorists and start scrapping the welfare programs?

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    I gotta agree with Mathew Hogan, the Israeli method whatever it is hasn't seemed to work very well.

    Except for the part about the Jews not being driven into the sea, and no Middle East country being willing to take them on except through Pali proxies, and the Palis still not having their own country, yeah, I would say the Israeli method of fighting back against terrorists with real bullets really blows.

  • ||

    Metalgrid
    "So can we now claim that welfare breeds terrorists and start scrapping the welfare programs?"

    I'm in.

    RC Dean,
    An Arab army driving another nation into the sea by force is unlikely. Specially when that Army is funded and equiped by us.

    On the other hand, I bet that in Iraq in less that five years, unless something drastically changes, Iraq will be peacefull and prosperous.

    Isreal is going on 50 years and they are still dieing in bombs from territories that they supposedly control.

    For everybody that wants to do it like the Israelis, I say "lets not do it like the Israelis". I don't think Bush's people have the perfect plan, but I haven't seen a better one.

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    Kwais-I wasn't aware that Bush's people have a plan.

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    Isreal is going on 50 years and they are still dieing in bombs from territories that they supposedly control.

    Well, no. The bombers come from territories under UN jurisdiction, not Israeli jurisdiction. Because they have UN protection, the Israelis are not permitted to go in and clean them out, old school, but instead have to do stuff like build fences and man checkpoints.

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    So, just a bit of the old genocide and things will be better, eh, Dean?

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    I don't think Bush's people have the perfect plan, but I haven't seen a better one.

    Exactly!
    I would love to see a better plan, based on today's situation. Instead, the brilliant opposition comes up with stuff like Number 6 offers.

  • ||

    R.C. Dean,

    Interesting how you change the issue.

    The bombers come from territories under UN jurisdiction, not Israeli jurisdiction.

    Sorry, but this argument is farcical. Israel literally ran the Gaza strip and the West Bank for many, many years. The idea that they even today "UN jurisdiction" is also a farce. The UN has no army there, has no civilian administration there, no courts, etc.

    ...Israelis are not permitted to go in and clean them out, old school...

    Except when they invade and do exactly that. During the al-Aqsa Intifada what do you think they were doing in Jenin?

    Number 6,

    Can you give an example of a situation in which people who are caught up in the unholy nexus of religion, nationalism, and tribalism have changed their minds on a large scale?

    History is replete with examples of groups of people laying down their arms.

  • ||

    Dynamist,

    I would love to see a better plan, based on today's situation.

    Plan for what? Iraq? Afghanistan? Terrorism directed at the U.S.?

    One of the things hawks need to do is stop being a roving target.

  • ||

    F"The bombers come from territories under UN jurisdiction, not Israeli jurisdiction." Not entirely true. There were suicide bombing carried out by Arab Israeli citizens within the past couple of years."

    "Because they have UN protection, the Israelis are not permitted to go in and clean them out, old school, but instead have to do stuff like build fences and man checkpoints." Jennin. Arafat in his compound. Checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

    Israel has sent its military in the occupied territories whenever they felt like it. Having a slightly more reality-based view of the problem than their State-side cheerleaders, they've come to the conclusion that such incursions aren't often a very smart thing to do. Among said cheerleaders, "Is this a smart thing to do?" isn't usually a conversation that ends up happening, since the declarations of moral acceptability tend to eat up all of the allotted time.

  • ||

    Hakluyt-Yes, history is full of such examples, but they work only after the people have given up on at least part of the religion/triabalism/nationalism trifecta.

    Dyanmist-Nice sneer, but that doesn't change the fact that Bush and his people don't seem to have any coherent plan. "We're going to make Iraq a democracy" doesn't count unless there's some roadmap between here and there.

  • ||

    I'll take a better plan for anything, in place of the histories and whining. What'cha got, Hakluyt or Number 6?

    If you're having trouble pinning me down, Hakluyt, then you'll just love it when I tell you I'm not a hawk. Give me a dove program that works. That's what I've been asking for all along. Instead, all I get are anti-hawk points, many of which are good, but do not magically coalesce into a rational plan.

  • ||

    On the flip side, RC Dean has a program that could be applied: Follow the Israeli model. It may be effective, but seems unnecessarily brutal and expensive.

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    Dynamist-The Isreali model is based, in part, on the fact that there are Isreali's living there. That doesn't really apply in Iraq, unless you count military types.

    Besides that, much of the resentment in the Middle East can be traced back to Arab resentment of the Isreali model.

    I must admit that I don't have an alternative plan. I tend to view Iraq as nearly unsolvable. Which would have been a good reason not to go in the first place.

  • ||

    Dynamist,

    Plan for what? I listed three options. Pick one or come up with something else.

  • ||

    Hopefully Ms. Young can arrange an interview. Then she can report 1st hand what the terrorists are po'd bout.

  • ||

    Hakluyt and Number 6

    What is now being done in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is your better plan if you have one? I think, and I am not alone in this, that they both were necessary.

    If I had to plan the whole thing again, there are many small things at the tactical and company level that I would have done different and better. But on the grand scheme of things, I don't know what I would have done better. I think this is the way it had to be done.

    As far as terror prevention in the home front. Yeah I would have done every thing different. I would never have created the TSA, nor given subsidies to Airplane companies. I would have disbanded the ATF and the DEA ect ect, but then I am preaching to the choir on those issues I assume. I just mention it because Hakluyt brought it up.

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