Reflections On The Berlin Christmas Market Attack

As you’ve probably heard, someone recently drove a tractor-trailer truck into a crowd of shoppers in Berlin, Germany. An anonymous senior law enforcement official says, “We have a strong lead at the moment and our officers are out on the street.”

Apparently, the attacker is considered a “soldier of the Islamic State,” and he left his identity papers in the truck. A number of questions emerge quite naturally, chief among them: Why do these groups exist to begin with? Also, why do people join them? In this case, one wonders why he would leave his papers in the truck. If it was done intentionally, it means he actually wants his identity to be known, and his origins to potentially be traced. The terror plot in this case seems relatively spontaneous — as a dead man was found in the passenger seat with multiple stab wounds, and he was shot in the head. Also, the truck was “zig zagging” on its way to the crowd, suggesting a struggle probably took place.

The suspect was an asylum-seeker from Tunisia. It’s another incident that will give Muslim immigrants a bad reputation. But to what extent should it? As anyone can note, not all Muslims are terrorists. In fact, most of them are not. A simple thought experiment demonstrates this point: If there is at least one billion Muslims and they were all terrorists, it’s safe to say the world would actually be far more violent right now.

Also, it seems no one successfully convinced these people, “You’ll ruin your life with this kinda thing.”  Why is that?  Why do some people not see the error in terror?  This suspect was also (apparently) known to have connections with extremists, and was under investigation when he disappeared. It seems like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. People can beef up security, pursue every suspicious person and end up with some dead ends, or they can have very lax security, pursue few suspicious people and hope for the best. Some plots may be thwarted, and some people may end up unjustly detained.

To look at another case:  Ahmad Rahami, the Afghan-born man arrested after bombings in New York and New Jersey, was flagged for “secondary” questioning at the airport. His own father says he “reported concerns about his son to the FBI in 2014.”  He was not stopped.  Could he have been stopped?  It should be remembered that non-Muslim terrorists (and potential terrorists) still exist, too.  Are we paying enough attention to them?

Meanwhile, city dwellers would like go out for burgers without the fear of being randomly attacked — most likely over something they had nothing to do with. And that’ indeed one idiotic aspect of terrorism. The victims seem to be overwhelmingly random, having no way of knowing what’s going on until it’s too late. Many are probably not interested in politics. Their sole crime — aside from being in the wrong place at the wrong time — is that they probably lack the beliefs that the terrorists have, and are therefore expendable props.  They aren’t even given a chance to understand why they’re being attacked.  In addition to being evil, terrorism is plainly anti-intellectualism in one of its purest forms.

So, ultimately, this is what we are dealing with. Sure, groups like ISIS are indeed a threat which should be physically restrained from acting out violently, but the real war is a war of ideas. And nothing ISIS does — as foul as it is — means any other group’s ideas and acts are inherently immune to criticism. An example I mention frequently (and without hesitation) is the Iraq War. More broadly, we can consider America’s preoccupation with war in other countries in general. America has done some really messed up things, such as supporting Islamic radicals in Afghanistan, supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army, supporting (then dethroning) Saddam Hussein, and essentially destroying Iraq, and being strong allies with Saudi Arabia. All of these things matter — they’ve taken lives, oppressed people, terrorized civilians, and tended to ruin infrastructure and economies. In fact, the sanctions against Iraq were said to kill half a million children.

Even more amazingly, everything mentioned above is mainstream information. It’s not all from conspiracy theory websites, or something I just dreamed up. It’s not even “liberal propaganda,” or some other buzzword you’ve probably heard. No, it is mainstream information. You could learn it from the BBC, CBS, NBC, CNN, official government documents, etc. Hell, you could even learn bits and pieces of it from FOX News.

So, what is my ultimate message here? Am I just saying “Hate America!,” or trying to downplay how awful ISIS is? Nope. Conservative/Republican types will likely argue that, but my point is simply that we can’t be suckers. Just because ISIS is terrible does not let the United States government off the hook. In fact, I’m not saying that the government is necessarily 100% evil, or anything like that. Quite simply, if the government didn’t give me reasons to distrust it, I would have a much harder time critiquing it. The same goes for a group like ISIS.  If they were known for a fanatical devotion to golf, I would say, “Well, they like wearing funny pants and teeing off.  Good for them, but I’m not really into golf.”

The same goes for these bastards:

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I know people who are afraid of Muslim immigrants. I know people who are afraid of the United States government. It’s not just a matter of cowardice, either. In some cases it’s arguably a matter of practicality. Normal people do not want to be killed, or even manipulated or controlled. If they perceive a threat to their safety, to their well-being (or even their “souls”), they will want to limit or annihilate that threat. This is partly why people wish to limit immigration, limit government, or — to mention another issue – limit access to guns. People really do feel threatened by these things, and not entirely without reason.

The problem is, restrictions are also oppressions.

Any time you “beef up security,” you are also beefing up insecurity, and you risk feeding into a clash of ideas. And, because people are insecure, they struggle to understand concepts like “general amnesty.” Instead of noticing the word “general” — implying probably not everyone will be let in — they will imagine an almost literal flood of immigrants, and see the new people as invaders. And why wouldn’t they see it that way? They feel threatened. They don’t want the additional perceived risks that come with new people. They may be prejudiced and therefore not very moralistic themselves, but there are nevertheless basic reasons for their fears. Meanwhile, if more good-natured immigrants are kept out because of the inevitable bad ones, it tends to emphasize the behavior of the bad ones even more. That’s exactly why, in some cases, we see violence against immigrants merely for looking “Muslim.” This is how terrorism works. It’s a way of saying “If you want a war, you’ve got one.”

I guarantee you such motivations also drive groups like ISIS, who believe only Muslims should exist. They are one of the logical conclusions of fearig diversity of thought. They perceive anyone outside of their ideology as impure, and a type of threat. They wish to make everyone like them, and are ready, willing and able to impose their ideas through violence. No one is safe, and no one is allowed to think and live differently. That’s why any group can become more ISIS-like — less accepting of diversity, more controlling of thought, legitimizing violence, and considering “strength” a virtue over intellect. These are different degrees and incarnations of stupidity at work. That’s the magnitude of difference.

ISIS and the US government aren’t exactly the same thing. But they don’t need to be in order to behave reprehensibly.

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