Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism.’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

During the last week, America has been paying an inordinate amount of attention to world events. On Friday night, terrorist attacks in Paris killed over 100 people. After the attacks, Americans started to (finally) pay some attention to Syria, where a Civil War has ripped the nation apart, giving Syria_areas_of_control_March_2014opportunities to groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) to find a territorial foothold.  Unfortunately, most US citizens ignored Syria and the instability of the region until the day ISIS began targeting areas outside the immediate region. Hence, a bomb going off in a marketplace in Beirut on Thursday passed through the 24 hour news cycle with nary a whisper, while the attack in Paris was front-page news with fully invested in-depth reporting.

For the most part, Americans have no idea what ISIS is, or what they want. Their story is too complex for most Americans to follow, and, to be quite frank, most US citizens just don’t care to follow foreign affairs.  The majority of the nation concern themselves with sports, video games and the lives of celebrities, and don’t worry about the world outside their immediate selfie-bubble.  The one thing Americans do seem to know though, is that ISIS is made up of some pretty bad guys.  Whether it be beheading those identified as heathen apostates in Syria, or shooting civilians randomly with automatic weapons in Paris, ISIS fulfills the Hollywood villain role quite nicely.  Of course, for most Americans, when this is happening ‘over there’, we can simply shake our heads and declare such actions monstrous, evil or devilish, and turn the channel. ISIS is not sticking ‘over there’ though. As Americans feel it hitting closer to home, our rhetoric of fear and aggression has intensified .

Evil. I never like to use that term.  Strangely enough, it is too comforting of a word. Labeling something or someone evil simplifies complexities.  It glosses over reality. If our enemies are evil, then we are good.  If they are


Jim Acosta


evil, then they easily explained.  If they are evil, all we need to do is kill’em and the world will all go back to normal.  In President Obama’s press conference the other day, a CNN reporter spoke for all those who want to live in such a simplistic Manichean world. Jim Acosta stood up and asked the President, why can’t we  ‘just take out these bastards’?  It is a simple question, and it is begging for a simple answer. The problem is, the situation at hand is not simple. Hard problems often call for difficult, ugly, complex, time consuming and unpopular solutions.

With this in mind, I would hope Jim Acosta, and all those he speaks for would take 10 minutes and read an analysis of the problem by one of the world’s experts on the psychology of terrorists.   Anthropologist Scott


Scott Atran


Atran has written numerous books on how we should understand terrorists, and how we can hope to defeat the social challenges that give rise to terrorist movements. A couple days after the Paris attacks, he published an important article in the New York Review of Books that should be required reading for all American policymakers.   To me, this is the most clear explanation of what ISIS is, what they  want, and why they seem to be so popular with young people around the world.  I highly recommend you read it.  I will attach it below.

Paris: The War ISIS Wants by Scott Atran and Nafees Hamid.

If you are interested in more, here is Atran speaking to the United Nations earlier this year.
Atran at the UN


By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Moments after the explosions in Boston, the rumors and fear-mongering began.  It took law enforcement a couple days to identify the culprits, but the media immediately clamped onto any whisper they heard that held promise.  Not revealing its source, the New York Post reported hours after the bombs went off that a young Saudi man was being held in custody. Internet sites picked this up, and major outlets, most notably Fox News, ran with the story.  Though the story was disavowed by authorities, the media erroneously reported it because it fit a paradigm of Islamic extremism that many within the country hold as gospel truth.

Erik Rush

Erik Rush

The New York Post is known for sensationalism; the truth will often take a backseat to a juicy headline.  But with this ‘breaking news’, the Post opened a Pandora’s Box.  Political talking heads were thrown their red-meat, and they let an inevitable spew of conjecture and invective fly.  Erik Rush, a Fox News contributor, political pundit, internet personality and sometime author quickly took to Twitter, throwing gasoline unto the fire.  After the Post reported about the Saudi man, Rush ‘tweeted’, Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them! C’mon! In response, one young man complained, You are already blaming Muslims?  Rush tweeted back, Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.

In a public forum, a media personality labelled 2.2 billion people as evil.  He called for the murder of these people, which would include 2.5 million Americans.  After this tweet gained unsurprising notoriety, and Rush faced harsh criticism, he responded with the defense that his ‘tweets’ were obviously “sarcastic”.  Whew!  That’s good. He was only being sarcastic in his call for the murder of millions of people.  I feel so much better now. (Note the sarcasm.)

You know, on second thought, let’s not allow Mr. Rush to get away with this that easily. First of all, Rush’s ‘sarcasm’ defense needs scrutiny.  Not that I necessarily think he was being serious about killing a worldwide religious community, but he should understand something about sarcasm: It only works if it is clear that the sarcasm is the antithesis of your thoughts and feelings. If it seems to fit your past rhetoric, then sarcasm can fall a wee bit short.  This is what happened in Mr. Rush’s case, and why his obvious sarcasm was not so obvious. You see, Rush is an outspoken proponent of what I have labelled in a previous post, our “Age of Hyperbole.”  Here is just a taste of the claims Rush has made during the last year (I could give many more examples, but there is only so much I can take):

– Rush has claimed that gay rights will lead to governmental tyranny.

– Rush suspects President Obama will classify Christians as mentally ill, and ship them off to asylums.

– Rush hints that President Obama is a sign of the coming  Apocalypse.

– Rush wrote an 2012 article titled “Yes, Islam is the enemy.”

Mr. Rush doesn’t shy away from radical invective, including a serious distrust of Muslims.  It is no wonder that his ‘sarcasm’ was missed. But, Rush’s invective, and excuse of sarcasm is a microcosm of a much larger issue facing today’s 17lede_greece-blog480culture. Though offensive, disturbing, or violent language is thoroughly frowned upon, it is increasingly justified or rationalized by what I am terming the ‘ISI’ stance: Ignorance, Sarcasm, Irony.  Rush’s defense of his statement as sarcasm is by no means the only instance of the ‘ISI’ excuse being used recently, with varying degrees of success.  A month ago, Geogios Katidos, a 20 year old Greek soccer player, celebrated a goal by giving the ‘Hitler Salute’ to the crowd.  In a sport where racism and fascism are often simmering under the surface, Katidos was banned for life from playing for his national team.  Katidos’ explanation for why he gave this horrendous sign?  He was ignorant.  He supposedly had no idea what the salute meant (which raises the question of why he was doing it in the first place).  In America, Katidos’ story was overshadowed by a different controversy, but one also intertwined to the ISI method. Country singing star Brad Paisley’s song  ‘Accidental Racist’ made ripples in the blogosphere a couple weeks ago for its depiction of race relations, and Southern American history.  In the first lines of the song, Paisley informs his listeners that his Confederate flag t-shirt does not mean he is a racist; only a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.  Paisley’s song is about irony; the irony that others see the flag on his shirt as a sign of hatred, when he intends for it only as symbol of his bad music taste. He is innocent.

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley

Paisley, Rush and Katidos share the same important benefit from the ISI defense that makes it so useful for public figures: It converts them into innocent victims. In the case of Mr. Rush, this is wonderfully ironic, since he hates our culture’s “Cult of Victimization.” Oh sure, he made a malicious and violent statement filled with hate, but he is not to blame; those who misunderstood him are to blame. Rush has been misconstrued by a mean, bad world of those who hope to destroy him. Thus, Mr. Rush’s sad excuse for an apology deflected any personal blame onto the ‘idiots’ who did not recognize his rhetorical gifts. It is our fault we took him serious about murder, not his for saying it.

Hopefully, Mr. Rush will disappear from the public scene after this media din. But unfortunately, I fear his ‘Ignorance, Sarcasm, Irony’ has no bounds.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Well, that’s over.  As I write this, I am watching NBC News coverage of the capture of “Suspect 2” in the Boston Marathon bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  This has been one of those events when you feel like history is being made, so I want to write a couple blogs in the coming weeks in response.  This blog is the first of those.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

One of the disturbingly enthralling aspects of today’s media coverage has been the interviews and reactions of those that knew “suspect #2” before his apparent conversion to violence.  Over and over today, I have heard 19 and 20 year kids, high school teachers, and parents of friends describe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a extremely normal kid.  Most interviewees have been calling him quiet, athletic, friendly, helpful and kind.  The shock of those who knew him is telling.  No one foresaw this.

It seems the older Tsarnaev was more militant. Reports have depicted him as a loner; as ideological.  But, his younger brother doesn’t seem to fit that mold.  Now, this may be completely wrong.  Perhaps law enforcement will find loads of documents, and writings that prove that the younger Tsarnaev was the ring leader in this attack. I can’t say, though it seems unlikely at this point. We are left asking then, why would this seemingly normal kid commit this horrendous act?

Unfortunately, I know what many political figures, religious leaders, media spokespeople, and persons on the street will say.  It is Islam; violent, malicious Islam. I know this because such rhetoric has been making the rounds since hours after the attack.  But, even those who are not so inflammatory, or so prejudiced feel the need to simplify this situation for an angry, frightened viewing public.  As I heard Brian Williams, NBC head anchor say tonight, everything will be okay in the future “as long as we have more good guys, than bad guys.”

If the younger Tsarnaev had been killed tonight, such simplistic bombast and platitudes would most likely control all discourse. With him in custody, perhaps we can find out the truth of his motivations, and as the atrananthropologist Scott Atran has found, the motivations of terrorists can be surprisingly recognizable.   An incredibly brave scholar, Atran has spent the last decade interviewing members of terrorists groups, their families and their friends, compiling his conclusions in his 2008 book, Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.   His interviews  of young terrorists most often found that they “were campmates, school buddies, soccer pals, and the like, who became die hard bands of brothers in a tragic and misbegotten quest to save their imagined tribal community from…morally deformed” enemies. These youths join cells and organizations because they are intrigued by “the camaraderie of a cause, however admirable or abhorrent, and the courage and commitment that come from belonging to something larger.”  In other words, it is not necessarily ideology that makes these young men kill. They kill for their community. They kill to protect and strengthen their biological or social family.

Is this what happened here?  Is this how a ‘nice, kind kid’ became a murderer? Maybe.  Maybe not.  We should know soon enough. My one hope is that people pay attention to this young man’s motives, and don’t simply label him an Islamo-fascist, or a nut-job, or a bad-guy. Doing so only simplifies, and thus clouds, a complex phenomenon.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Like millions of Americans, I was saddened and shocked by what happened in Boston on Monday.  Three people, including an 8 year old boy, were killed, and over 170 were injured in the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  As we have seen so many times, American national bonds after such tragic events always seem to be strengthened.  Whether Democrat or Republican, the President inevitably leads the people in mourning. Public officials reassure citizens that justice will be served.  Psychologists remind us that we need to go on with our lives, and not be overtaken by fear. As with Oklahoma City, the Atlanta Olympics, and even 9-11, we will mourn, we will find justice, and we will keep living.  We hope that this will not happen again in America, but, unfortunately, we assume it will.

In other parts of the world, there is no assumption of a future bombing; only assurance. Two days removed from Boston, and I can’t stop thinking about the ubiquity of crude terrorism in other nations.  In Syria, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan, explosions in public places are a weekly, sometimes daily occurrence.  Of course, I realized that before Boston.  But, how many times have you (and I know you have, because I do it to) simply shaken your head when you hear of 50 women and children killed by a car bomb in Kabul?  When such news comes across the wire, the radio, or the internet, most Americans turn the page, decrease the volume, or navigate to another site.  I accuse Americans of this because I am an American, and I am guilty.  Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian children being killed by pressure cooker bombs doesn’t shock Americans any longer; but, it should.  After Monday, we need to appreciate that Boston and Kabul are not that far apart.