Means, opportunity and motive are the three crucial elements of investigating a crime and establishing the guilt of its perpetrator. Many crimes cannot be narrowed down by motive until a suspect is on the scene; but acts of terrorism can be. Almost anyone might be responsible for a random killing; but political killings are carried out by those who subscribe to common beliefs.
Eliminate motive from terrorism and it becomes no different than investigating a random killing. If investigators are not allowed to profile potential terrorists based on shared beliefs rooted in violence, that makes it harder to catch terrorists after an act of terror and incredibly difficult before the act of terror takes place.
Investigations consist of connecting the dots. If you can’t conceive of a connection, then the investigation is stuck. If you can’t make the leap from A to B or add two to two and get four, then you are dependent on lucky breaks. And lucky breaks go both ways. Sometimes investigators get lucky and other times the terrorists get lucky.
Federal law enforcement was repeatedly warned by the Russians that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was dangerous, but operating under the influence of a political culture that refused to see Islam as a motive for terrorism, it failed to connect the dots between Chechen violence in Russia and potential terrorism in the United States, and because it could not see Islam as a motive, it could find no reason why Tamerlan was a threat not just to Russia, but also to the United States.
The missing motive factor has led to a rash of lone wolf terrorists whose acts are classified as individual crimes. Nidal Hasan’s killing spree at Fort Hood was put down to workplace violence, but workplace violence isn’t a motive; it’s a bland description. The motive was there in Hasan’s background and his behavior; but the military, an organization that by its nature has to be able to predict the actions of the enemy, had been crippled and left unable to see Islam as a motive.
The current working concept is that by refusing to allow our military and law enforcement to identify Islam as a motive, we are stifling terrorist recruitment by preventing Muslims from identifying terrorist attacks with Islam. This ostrich theory of terror assumes that if we blind ourselves to the motives of the terrorists, then potential terrorists will likewise be blinded to their own motives.
Any law enforcement protocol that prevents investigators from understanding the motives of the killers in the hope that this will take away that motive from the killers is absurdly backward. The investigators of terror are not the instigators of terror. A police detective arresting a rapist does not create rape. An FBI agent arresting a terrorist does not create terror. Identifying a crime does not create the crime. It makes it easier for law enforcement and the public to fight that crime.
The insidious infiltration of blowback theory into terrorist investigations has dangerously subverted the ability of investigators to get to the truth and to catch the terrorists. Blowback theory assigns each act of Islamic terror an origin point in our actions. Everything that Muslim terrorists do is caused by something that we did. To those who believe in this linkage, the only way to fight Muslim terror is to stop inspiring it. The only way to defeat Islamic terrorism is to defeat ourselves.
Blowback theory has been dressed up in academic language and expert jargon, but all it amounts to is Stockholm Syndrome with a lecture hall. Its essential postulate is that if we become more passive in our responses, a strategy that is usually described with the complementary term, “smart”, as in “smart war” and “smart investigation”, then the enemy will become more passive in response to our passivity.
Smart wars and smart investigations are those that don’t offend Muslims. The cost of the smart war in Afghanistan has been a very expensive and bloody defeat. The cost of the smart investigation can be seen in the streets of Boston or in Fort Hood.
Defeating ourselves in order to defeat Islamic terrorism is a dead end because we are not the source of that terrorism; we are its target. When we handicap ourselves out of a misguided notion that the best way to fight terrorism is with one hand tied behind our backs and an eyepatch on one eye, then Americans die.
Without Islam as a motive, there is no way to fight the larger threat except as a discrete collection of seemingly random events. What connects a Tamerlan Tsarnaev to a Nidal Hasan to Ahmed in Jersey City or Mohamed in Minneapolis plotting the next attack? The official answer is nothing. One was a boxer and another was an army doctor and the third is just an Egyptian student or a Somali bank clerk. They have no motive in common except that of Islam.
Media accounts have presented various exculpatory motives for Tamerlan Tsarnaev ranging from the possible head injuries he may have suffered as a boxer to the murder of a best friend that investigators suspect he may have carried out. All these motives are irrelevant, not because they may not have some figment of truth to them, but because they stopped mattering once he became what he was.
The Islamic terrorist abandons his individuality and his motives become no longer personal, but collective. To strive to understand him as a father or a son, as a boxer or a doctor, is a waste of time. These biographical footnotes no longer represent him. They are the things he has discarded to become a messenger of death in obedience to a faith that values death more than life.
Without understanding that, the terrorist becomes a cipher, another nice young man who suddenly turned violent, and the trend of terrorist attacks ceases to be a pattern and becomes a rash of horrifying incidents that can happen at any time. If Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev had not carried out their attack at a public event in the age of the ubiquitous camera, then how long would law enforcement have chased down dead ends or searched for the Tea Party tax protesters that the political establishment expected them to find?
Without a motive, there is no place to begin searching. Without Islam, there is no motive. Terrorism denial isn’t just an intellectual error; it is a grave danger to the lives of Americans.
Terrorism denial created a space in which the Tsarnaev brothers were free to plot and kill. Terrorism denial cost the lives of three Americans and the bodily integrity of hundreds of others. Denying the Islamic motive for terror, makes it harder for law enforcement officer to do their job and easier for Muslim terrorists to do theirs.
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