Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Rest assured. Terrorist threats will not deter the United States from its military occupation of Muslim lands, and we will never allow profiling of Muslims in our airports.

Some among us take considerable pride in each assertion and find no conflict between them. Public opinion is less enthusiastic, but the two cover most of the regnant status quo demanded by elite consensus.

The good news is the caliber of high-profile arrestees suggest a still shallow pool of talent from which to recruit “home-grown”—or transplanted—terrorists. The class of more capable terrorists we reasonably expected after 9-11 hasn’t shown up, even now, two occupations and three wars later. Qaeda shot their wad that day, but the blow still resonates through our actions and collective psyche.
The hapless prospects the feds have helped along their way to high-profile arrests impress far more for their malice than imagination. This late in the game and we’re pursuing sting operations that draw lone foot-soldiers into crude conspiracies. Arguably a manageable problem that would be improved by withdrawing from our Middle East entanglements, the ostensible purpose of which is defense against this domestic threat.

This is predicated on a charitable reception of the FBI’s account. In truth, when we are introduced to Mohamed Osman Mohamud and his sexually ambiguous war-face, we should first ask if we needed to make his odious acquaintance at all. We can assume the prospect of a long, probably fruitless surveillance pales next to the “plot thwarted” for law enforcement, and it’s always just a whisker’s breadth to justification when you’ve got such as the sneer of Osman. Officials pimping the “very real” threat of a “spectacular” attack sounded a bit like a band imploring their audience to dance on the strength of a few notes. But Fox will pick it up from here, I imagine.

If Osman is not the face of domestic terrorism we are compelled to make him the face of constitutional rights. Thanks a lot, government. And what a perfectly predictable, unreasoning face to intrude on the TSA/profiling meta-scandal, calling attention to our future reliance on diverse new Americans remaining indifferent to diverse new imperial adventures.

Sensing just such tensions, one local rag went beyond the “end of the world hits women and minorities hardest” gag:

That might explain why no Portland group is quite as shaken by the arrest and arraignment of Mohamed Mohamud than the city’s Somali community, several thousand strong.

“As a Somali, it’s, ‘Oh, my God, one more thing we’ll be remembered for,'” said Muna Abshir Mohamud, who works for the city of Portland’s Office of Human Relations. “It’s one of those images that’s hard to unstick.”

Since the eastern African country collapsed in civil war in 1991, the most memorable images out of Somali have featured pirates and burning helicopters.

In the first two years of that civil war, an estimated 300,000 Somalis died of starvation, but most Americans remember only that the ensuing United Nations humanitarian mission ended with the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers in the chaotic streets of Mogadishu.

“To this day, if you say, ‘Somalia,’ it’s” — Muna Mohamud snaps her fingers — ” ‘Black Hawk Down.'”

More recently, Somali pirates have dominated the news in the waters of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, attacking cargo ships, hijacking supertankers and British yachts, and stealing off with millions in ransom.

Both Musse Olol and Muna Mohamud attended a Somali peace and unity rally outside Portland’s City Hall on Sunday, and both spoke movingly about what they abandoned in Africa and discovered in America.

Olol, who left Somalia in 1981, remembers a country caught in the grip of the Cold War, so ruled by weapons that he was schooled — literally — in the use of an AK-47 assault rifle.
For the next — and younger — generation of Somalis, however, there is more restlessness, fewer jobs and harder feelings.

“All teenagers rebel,” Muna Mohamud said. “For kids who aren’t occupied, there are all kinds of activities out there. Sometimes it’s running with the wrong crowd. Sometimes it’s ending up at the wrong mosque.”

“I don’t think Portland is equipped to help the youth,” Olol said. “The sense of family breaking down. It’s like when you join a gang. They go after the kids who don’t have the good support.

[“Portland-area Somalis shaken by brush with disaster at Pioneer Courthouse Square” The Oregonian, 11/29/10]

Civil war, pirates, burning helicopters, Olol’s arms training; Portland’s not “equipped” to counter their effects? Imagine that! Outrageous! In all seriousness, how “shaken” can they be? But now that we’ve demonstrated our concern by asking, can we gently ask how well equipped are the Somalis for America? Alas, no. The tiger that attacked his trainer didn’t go “crazy”, as goes one of many Chris Rock jokes he’s going to want to take back some day, that tiger went tiger.

Somehow obscured by all this is the real threat to American lives in Afghanistan, Iraq and who knows where else. Six more were sacrificed to the impossible mission of training Afghans how to defend Afghanistan against other, more determined Afghans. We’ve absently blown right past the cautionary Vietnam analogy, which at this point is an insult to the ARVN and a compliment to the Viet Cong. There are more fundamental differences too; the above-mentioned assassination might have been a scandal of historic import in that previous folly. Monday it was an inconsequential wisp in the electronic torrent. Tomorrow’s street executions will be so much internet snuff at this rate.

Among the present casualties should be the customary belief in a fundamental link between colonialism and racism. Its promise remains the guiding light of the elect and the Burden is endured by fewer than ever, but if you look past the re-branding and the garish new Benneton-ad frontispiece, you’ll see it’s brought to us by the dissolute ideological heirs of the same old make. They glory in its death under the old name, while championing it under the new. In twinning the triumphalist narrative of the civil rights movement with American exceptionalism, the sins of the past are justification for the sins of the present. They’re hard to distinguish side by side; the only difference I see is the current dishonesty.

No; today Oregon teens die abroad to protect us from the “Oregon Teen”. God forbid you should suggest keeping the teens in their respective national homes. Might we send the ideologues packing at least?

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