From half a world away, I just want to take this brief opportunity to express my deepest condolences and empathy for the friends and family of the victims of the terrorist attack in Norway a few days ago. I hope that they find true strength and peace at the end of this tragedy and that they can rebuild their shattered lives on grounds of forgiveness and humanity and not bitter hatred for the evil that has taken so much. For my Norwegian friends and comrades in the International Security Assistance Force, you have my deepest sympathies and your beautiful country definitely holds a special place in my heart.
It must be noted however, that this recent act of terror bore no connection to the Al Qaeda network or any of its Wahhabi Islamist derivatives. It was, just like Oklahoma City, a pure act of “homegrown terror” by a radical individual acting, as it appears right now, completely alone. At this time, as we spend countless resources and energy to fight terror abroad wherever it may reside, this particular act definitely begs the question : “What the fuck are we missing?” No matter the expense we shed to defeat terror on foreign shores violence can still be brought to our societies by individuals with radical motivation, a little bit of training, and relatively few outside resources. And if such an act of homegrown terror can occur in Norway, a nation which enjoys one of the most satisfied populations on the face of the planet, it can truly happen anywhere.
Under these circumstances it is very understandable for Norway, a nation which has been considerably more open compared to the rest of Europe, free from most of the political, economic, and social instability, to look at its lax security infrastructure and seek ways of improving and expanding it. Indeed, this may not be so bad of an idea and is a logical step in today’s world of uncertainty and relative insecurity. However, I caution the people and government of Norway to be sure that in the midst of their reforms, that they protect all of the basic rights and freedoms that have made their country great in the first place. Security measures are often a double-edged sword as oftentimes the more secure you force yourself to feel, the less secure you truly are. If people live in fear, they are not truly living and this life is definitely too precious, no matter how long it lasts, to give up living to the fullest.
Defeating terror in today’s world requires a true societal transformation and not a military or security transformation. As our societies have grown more stratified and polarized, we are less and less able to protect the losers, the misfits, and the outsiders. Radicalization can happen to anybody, but it is usually the ones who see no other outlet for their ideas who turn to violent extremism. In the long term, if societies want to find themselves more secure in the face of “terror” they should open up rather than shutting down. Plurality, multiculturalism, and a deep respect for humanity no matter the class, creed, color, or ideology is the ultimate answer terror that too many of us have yet to find.
Our adventure in Afghanistan began as a “Global War on Terror” and in this time, I fear we have caused far more terror than we have prevented. We will not end terror by bringing more and more radical Islamists into Allah’s hands. We will not end it by relentlessly propping up despotic regimes all over the world. We will not end it by shipping our arms and military expertise to whoever renounces Wahhabi Islamism and professes to partake in a “moderate interpretation of the Sharia Law.” And we will not end it by building bigger and bigger walls around our shores and borders. Terror is a criminal threat and not a military threat, and just like gang violence, murder, human trafficking, and the illicit drug trade, its sources come more from society than ideology. We will not defeat Al Qaeda here in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world until we can find out how to transform human society to provide our own potential radicals with a non-violent outlet for their causes and beliefs. While it may be a difficult step to take, until we learn to love, we can never teach others not to hate.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to slog it out here in God’s country. Security improves one human being at a time. But in the midst of a real shooting war, I’ll be sure to carry extra bullets…
24 JUL 2011, 2030 AST, Sharana, Paktika, Afghanistan.