In the wake of Orlando – A time to mourn, a time to heal, a time to act

This is not the first mass casualty event connected to radical Islam that Americans have witnessed, but somehow I can’t prevent the inescapable and oppressive feeling that over the last few days I have woken up to a new America, one that is riven with a population that does not even know how to mourn properly given all of our seemingly intractable divisions. With previous acts of terrorism, such as 9-11, Boston, and San Bernardino, we could plausibly point to the external enemy born outside of our shores who were naturally and somehow expectedly inimical to American freedom and our way of life. This tribal us versus them mentality would seem to have its own galvanizing effect fostering feelings of national unity against a common foe. Contrast that to the shocking tragedy carried out by one of our own homegrown malcontents using radical Islam as an excuse for his madness, and one can’t help but feel that our steep descent into mass violence has entered a new and uncertain phase. My own reticence on the tragedy in the wake of its immediate aftermath was borne out of shock, sadness, helplessness, and a feeling that bereft of any facts, it was honorable to keep my mouth shut in an attempt to abide by the old proverb that it is best to not speak unless one can improve the silence. I readily admit to lacking the soaring rhetoric that such a situation requires – then and now.  Alas, there is such a cacophony of noise on the issue that silence itself is hard to find. Silence is currently hiding in caves of ignominy and fear that I wish the mad men that choose to make macabre public displays out of violent aggression would make proper use of.

Consider that my Facebook feed immediately became an onslaught between people on both sides of the ideological spectrum manning their respective barricades, some blaming gun control, others lamenting the lack thereof; some blaming Islam, others quick to defend it; some finding refuge in religion, others saying all religions are flawed and blaming it at large for violence and backward thinking; some offering up prayers, while yet others ridiculed and spurned those same prayers.  Given this palpable discord, one wonders if we can ever find a proper state and stage of national unity and mournful silence and healing ever again. Personally I look at this ugly world and what it is capable of at its worst and I lament what my four children, in their current merciful innocence, will have to face. What senseless acts of barbarism and evil await their paths? Not only is the world full of horror, but the aftermath of horror can be vicious and cruel in an emotional sense. Pain can be debilitating, even more so when one finds no relief and comfort from their fellow man. This war against random and massive violence and bloodshed, whether it be in the form of virulent radical Islam, or in the form of a mental case shooting at schools and churches and minority communities out of who knows what irrational grievance and loathing of his fellow-man, is one that I can’t feel will be complex, multifaceted, and necessarily generational. It is daunting and foreboding. The great paradox of humanity has always been its dual nature – its great capacity for evil has always precariously been balanced by its great capacity for good. Otherwise, what hope do we have for any humanity and goodwill going forward? It is this force for good that gives me some semblance of optimism, and our ability to support one another in times of need is the highest form of goodness and charity.

I feel compelled to break my own refuge in silence in order to do the very least good that I can – which is offer my deepest condolences and sympathies over such a historically large casualty event and for the specific targeting of the gay community. As a Christian who believes in a merciful God who can heal and bring justice, I pray for these things for all involved. Recognizing that at a time such as this, many directly impacted may not be as receptive to that message and have their own hurts and anger for which my offer to prayer will not resonate, I expand on this approach to express a deep-seated and sincere sadness for the tragedy, barbarity, and senselessness of it all. One can never fully identify with the fear and deep emotions that someone in these situation faces, but I am trying to do what I can to enter into the proper emotions and feel deep regret and sincere pain for the feelings evoked by lost loved ones and being subjected to primal fear and tragedy. To be hunted down and murdered by a cowardly loser who discovered faux and fleeting power behind a gun is tragic and worthy of national unity in mourning and caring for those and their families that this injustice was visited upon. I can only hope that these sentiments, publicly spoken, provide succor to someone hurting in this time of need.

I want to be extremely careful not to take a tragedy and move beyond the mourning phase into the action phase too quickly, which is a tendency of society that I lament in this post. However, part of the figurative rush to the barricades is completely understandable, as unfortunately we seem to have listened to this same awful tune multiple times. The collective pain and anger stems from our seeming incompetent and powerless responses, as if we are sitting in some lounge chair sipping on fruit juice while a diabolical disc jockey keeps playing the same horrific tune over and over again. We wring our hands over the song, but we fail to shut off the radio. We don’t move from our chair. We fail to take any action to forcibly remove this acrid conductor. We shout aloud to the powerless birds sitting outside of our window, “who will remove this fiend and shut off this awful song!” Angry and mystified by their lack of response, we remain motionless in the chair.

I don’t presume to have the wisdom to know how to immediately solve this most monumental of societal and moral problem of our times. As I mentioned previously, I don’t believe any quick fix is on hand for this fight against terrorism, either global or domestic, and I believe it will be multi-generational. No doubt the major news publications will be littered with observations and policy proposals from our pundits and politicians in the coming days. What could I possibly add to this onslaught of information? Humbly, I make the following quick observations of my own personal beliefs:

  • We can give up on the notion that we can safely observe and contain ISIS from afar. Their murderous ideology only takes a maladjusted and angry misanthrope with an internet connection to find fertile ground in the U.S. ISIS feeds off of momentum of a caliphate built on physical land. We have to be committed as a nation to the complete annihilation of ISIS on a short timetable. Making it a loser on the ground will make it a loser not worthy of being followed (ironically) by the social misfits that fall prey to its dystopian ideology. This will take more American resources and American forces than is currently planned for or allowed. The bulk of the forces can and should come from Sunni powers, but American commitments and strategy are essential to bringing about this coalition.
  • Counter propaganda must be funded, sustained, intense, fierce, and supported and fronted by moderate Sunni communities making a religious and ideological case for why violent jihad is for the weak, impure, and misguided.
  • The above will take time to make a marked impact. Meantime, the ISIS strategy will shift from holding territory to exporting terror to the West. This is obviously already occurring. Unfortunately, in the short-run this will spawn even more potential threats from lone wolf terrorists until the ISIS poison is eradicated at its source in the Middle East. These individuals may not even have to be in direct communication with their overseas counterparts, making actionable intelligence gathering even more difficult. Basic plans on inciting terror and the appropriate targets (schools, churches, and gay clubs) are already in abundance on ISIS websites. Intelligence tools will necessarily have to become much more robust in picking up on clues and breadcrumbs dropped along the way through web searches, websites visited, and social media posts. It is apparent that much of this and more occurred with the Orlando massacre perpetrator (my choice to not even speak his name is deliberate) including hateful and telling statements and rants made to fellow employees and FBI investigators. These warning signs went nowhere. Remarkably, this individual was still allowed to legally serve as a security guard and purchase and keep weapons, which gets me to my next point below.
  • I am a 2nd Amendment advocate and believe that individuals have a right to protect themselves from harm by owning and maintaining weapons. But surely there must be some common sense reforms that can be enacted and intelligence sharing holes that can be filled in the aftermath of this tragedy. A case in point is when a confirmed potential menace to society wants to purchase a weapon, much less a semi-automatic, he should not be allowed to until cleared through some defined  and safeguarded process of mental health evaluations. Such a model would have to be governed well so that it is not abused by government, which might be able to unilaterally slap the mental health label on anyone with whom it disagrees. Policies that foster connecting the dots between federal agencies and maintaining accurate and timely weapons “no buy” lists seems to be a right policy direction. That being said, I also believe that movements in this direction are but a small palliative and addresses a symptom and not a cause of the cultural malaise that we face. Gun control can’t be a feel good distraction from the true heavy lifting that must occur. After all, the Paris attacks happened in a country with much more restrictive gun laws than America. Perhaps more effective than hopelessly trying to prevent all guns from getting into the hands of creative and committed jihadists would be better strategies for our intelligence forces in fleshing out potential terrorists through sting and baiting operations.
  • I sincerely wish that the media could make a concerted effort to de-emphasize the individuals who enact these horrific crimes. Rather than plastering their faces all over and in effect sensationalizing their exploits, I would rather see a concerted effort to de-humanize them in the process. Infamy can be its own form of toxic draw to the maladjusted, after all. What if the headlines were always something along the lines of, “Cowardly loser who will be forgotten in a short amount of time and who by blowing themselves up achieved precisely 0% of what they were trying to achieve in the long run, unjustly murders 50, bringing eternal and lasting shame upon themselves and their families, and according to many highly renowned Imams, consigned himself to eternity in a blazing pit of fire…” I wonder if a drumbeat of such announcements regularly produced over time might begin to have a lasting impact on the would-be terrorist conscience.
  • My final point to make, at great risk of being considered alarmist, is that I at long last will personally get my concealed carry license. No, this is not to be that guy in Whataburger with a gun strapped to my holster. In the extreme outside event that someone attacks a place that I happen to be, such as a church or shopping mall, then as a relatively good shot with great familiarity with firearms from my Army days, I feel duty-bound to protect my family and serve my various communities in some way. It seems reasonable to me that a madman with a gun firing at innocents is better held down by someone who is trained in firing back. Basic army tactics indicate that covering fire, even when it does not hit the mark, can pin an enemy down, which makes them far less lethal. History favors the prepared.  I am not exactly at the point where I am stock-piling Ramen noodles quite yet, so reserve the heightened scorn for another day.

Quote of the Week – Dealing with Populism

Populism

Taken from this week’s edition of The Economist – Playing with fear. 

“Part of the answer is to draw on the power of liberal ideals. New technology, prosperity and commerce will do more than xenophobia to banish people’s insecurities. The way to overcome resentment is economic growth—not to put up walls. The way to defeat Islamist terrorism is to enlist the help of Muslims—not to treat them as hostile. The main parties need to make that case loudly and convincingly.”

“The Cost of Fighting ISIS Compared to Iraq and Afghanistan”

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This is an interesting graph from Statista just to grasp the budgetary enormity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the drastic (I would argue way too premature) of drawdown in the focus and expenditures in Iraq that began in earnest in 2008, resulting in the power vacuum that led to the rise of ISIS. This is to say nothing of the lack of wisdom involved in the original Iraq invasion, but one should not double down on foolishness and compound mistakes. The budget and focus on ISIS will necessarily grow in the near future, and the fight and focus on radical jihadist terror, be it directed against ISIS or whatever group takes their mantle, will be decades in coming.