Slaughtered For Satire

The Paris offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which has in the past been condemned and firebombed for its satirical depictions of the prophet Muhammad, were ambushed this morning by two gunmen, who killed 12 people before fleeing the scene. A massive manhunt is now underway throughout the French capital:

Visiting the scene of the country’s worst atrocity in decades, the French president, François Hollande, described it as “a terrorist attack, without a doubt”. Hollande said the assault, which happened at about 11.30am on Wednesday after the magazine’s staff had gathered for their weekly editorial meeting, was “an act of exceptional barbarism”. Warning that several other attacks had been foiled in recent weeks, the president called for national unity and convened an emergency cabinet meeting. The French government raised the terror alert level in the greater Paris region to the highest level possible. …

A spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office, Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, confirmed that 12 people had been killed in the attack. Police said three attackers were involved, two who entered the building and a third who drove a car to the scene, in rue Nicolas Appert in the 11th arrondissement in eastern Paris. The gunmen escaped in the car before abandoning it in the 19th arrondissement, where they hijacked another car, ordering the motorist out.

The Guardian is live-blogging. As of this writing, the gunmen have not been identified or apprehended, and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, though ISIS had previously threatened to target France. Katie Zavadski speaks with a terrorism expert on what made this attack unusual:

That the attackers sped away instead of fighting to the death, however, means that Wednesday’s attack is different in style from the suicide attacks often deployed by terror organizations. Mia Bloom, a professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, tells Daily Intelligencer that the highly-trained gunmen may have been too valuable to waste on such a mission — especially given that a suicide attack would have only required one bomber. “This is a far more dangerous kind of attacker because the terrorist group invests heavily in their training and preparation, and will be able to have a second or even a third strike if they want to really spread terror and panic beyond the magazine and the 11th arrondissement,” she said, referring to the area of Paris where the attack occurred.

Max Fisher stands up for Charlie Hebdo’s dedication to pushing Islamists’ buttons:

The magazine was not just criticized by Islamist extremists. At different points, even France’s devoutly secular politicians have questioned whether the magazine went too far; French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius once asked of its cartoons, “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”

It is, actually. Part of Charlie Hebdo’s point was that respecting the taboos strengthens their censorial power. Worse, allowing extremists to set the limits of conversation validates and entrenches the extremists’ premises: that free speech and religion are inherently at odds (they are not), and that there is some civilizational conflict between Islam and the West (there isn’t). These are also arguments, by the way, made by Islamophobes and racists, particularly in France, where hatred of Muslim immigrants from north and west Africa is a serious problem.

Michael Rubin comes to a similar conclusion:

Satire and ridicule are like carnival caricatures. They may exaggerate, but they strike a chord because their basis in fact resonates with a wide audience. Such is the case also with satire. Islamists cannot handle free thinking at the best of times, but ridicule is their kryptonite, for it shows that the would-be caliphs have no clothes.

Free speech can be a powerful tool, and so Western liberals should rally around Charlie Hebdo. To suggest that the satirical outlet brought violence upon itself is to suggest women wearing bikinis invite rape. Do not blame the victims, but rather the perpetrators. Recognize that free speech is under assault, and that it is a value worth protecting. Let us hope that no government or publisher responds to today’s violence with self-censorship, as some commentators and journalists have counseled under similar circumstances. If they do, the Islamists have won and all man’s progress since the Enlightenment is at peril.

But Massie despairs of the aftermath of this attack:

Doubtless some will still, even now, find a way to blame the victims. Doubtless some will do anything they can to avoid looking reality squarely in the face. Doubtless some will pretend that reality can be wished away or that responsibility can be transferred to someone, anyone, other than the perpetrators. Shame on those people. Shame. 

Doubtless, too, there will be the usual calls on all Muslims everywhere to condemn these attacks as though they bear some inchoate communal responsibility for the barbarous actions of their co-religionists. This too will be drearily predictable and familiar and, most of all, desperately unfair. Their Islam has nothing to do with this even if it is also true that other subscribers to the faith do not share their views. The platitudinous suggestion Islam is a religion of peace is evidently, abundantly, true for the vast majority of Muslims while being utterly untrue for some. And so what? Where does that leave us? Only in a state of dread that’s matched only by its inadequacy.

Due Process For The Devil

Jury selection began yesterday in the trial of the accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Reporting from the courtroom, Seth Stevenson touches on why it is significant that he is being tried in the same city where the bombings took place:

Judge [George A.] O’Toole has refused to move the trial to another location. It’s worth remembering that the most comparable act of domestic terrorism, Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, was not tried within walking distance of the site of the crime. It was shifted to Colorado in search of a less biased jury pool. Some of the circumstances in that case were different, but there’s no doubt there are parallels in how these two attacks cut at the heart of the regions they damaged.

Whatever the final makeup of this jury, the hardest question they face will have little to do with simple guilt or innocence. It’s safe to assume Tsarnaev will have no hope of disproving his involvement in the bombing. There are videotapes. A rumored confession. A revealing, anti-American screed written in the boat cockpit where he lay bleeding.

The gut-wrenching decision for this jury will come later, during the penalty phase, when Tsarnaev faces execution. This is a state where a firm majority opposes the death penalty on principle. But Tsarnaev’s jurors, to be chosen, will need to state that they are willing to impose a death sentence if they determine one is justified.

Noah Feldman can’t see him getting a fair trial in Beantown:

The Boston Marathon bombing poses a new challenge. It’s not just that many and maybe most Bostonians know one or more of the thousands of people who ran in the marathon and were targets of the attack. (I certainly do.) The search for the bombers actually shut down the city and several suburbs after they killed a police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and exchanged fire with Watertown police. Having been in lockdown, with the sound of Black Hawk helicopters overhead and the children barred even from the backyard, was an experience not easily forgotten. And it affected hundreds of thousands of people who might be in the jury pool.

Deepening the problem of a fair trial is the collective response to the bombings. The “Boston Strong” campaign, which featured everyone from then-Mayor Thomas Menino to the redoubtable Red Sox slugger David Ortiz (the latter mere popular even than the former) united greater Boston like no other public outpouring in my lifetime.

Masha Gessen agrees:

[T]he eighteen jurors who are eventually seated will face the difficult, if not impossible, task of separating their duty of representing the community as jurors from the outrage they may feel as members of a community that was attacked, by proxy, when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. The prosecution and, likely, its witnesses will repeatedly stress this sense of collective injury. Tsarnaev is accused of attacking America, and he may believe he did. The government will, in effect, ask the jury over and over again, “Are you with us or against us?”


by Dish Staff


Before Tuesday’s horrific attack on an army school, Carl Bialik grimly notes, Pakistan’s terrorism problem was on a downward trend, from utterly horrifying to just god-awful:

More than 3,000 Pakistani civilians died in terrorist attacks in both 2012 and 2013, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region. This year, through Sunday, 1,595 civilians had died, including 26 this month. Twenty-six is a horrific total for most countries in a year — 20 more than the number killed in all of 2013 in the U.S., which has roughly 75 percent more residents than Pakistan. But it’s also a monthly rate of about 58 civilians, the fewest killed in a month in Pakistan since 56 civilians died in August 2007. Tuesday’s attack reversed that modest progress; December now is the deadliest month since February.

So how did Pakistan become so unmanageably violent? In part, Matthew Green blames the government’s longstanding policy of cultivating ties with some militants in order to fight others:

First, and most important, Pakistan’s security establishment has to make a permanent break with its decades-long romance with jihadi proxies. The distinction that some in the nation’s security apparatus draw between “good Taliban” — shorthand for groups who serve their regional interests — and “bad Taliban” — militants at war with the state — must end. … The upshot is that religious extremists and allied Kalashnikov-toting thugs now wield a far greater degree of influence over Pakistani society than their small constituencies might otherwise project. As long as nobody is quite sure where the military and its feared intelligence agencies stand in relation to jihadis, liberal politicians, community leaders and moderate religious voices rightly assume they will live longer by keeping quiet.

“When a government coddles and finances terrorist groups for this long,” Omer Aziz argues, ” it is only a matter of time before the jihadists start attacking their masters and eventually their fellow citizens”:

It was not always so. In the 1970s, Pakistan was a fairly liberal society. When Paul McCartney landed in Pakistan in 1964, he was swarmed. That there was once a vibrant Jewish community in Karachi has all been forgotten. The same Peshawar where militants roam freely was even once part of the famous ‘Hippie Trail’ that brought adventurous Westerners to South Asia. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a barrister trained in England who founded what was then named the Dominion of Pakistan, told his newly independent nation: “You are free to go to your temples. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed.” This imagined community of liberal Muslims has been extirpated in favor of a conservatively Islamic state.

While successive Pakistani governments supported terrorist groups, so they also embarked on the politically expedient but morally criminal mission of Islamizing the country, transforming Pakistan from a state for Muslims into a Muslim state. … An entire generation was born into a society coarsened by years of religious fundamentalism where it remains a widely-held opinion that Malala Yousefzai is a CIA spy.

It’s also high time, in Juan Cole’s opinion, for Pakistan to take real responsibility for governing and developing its dirt-poor, lawless northwest:

[T]he Federally Administered Tribal areas or FATA need to be made a province and integrated into the Pakistani state. The standard of living of people in Waziristan is extremely low. Maybe some of the investment of China in Pakistan could be slotted for FATA. This is an area where some 800,000 people have been displaced by the Pakistani military campaign against militants in North Waziristan. There are torture facilities and bomb-making workshops. These need to be rolled up and FATA needs to be developed.

In response to the massacre, Pakistan will step up its anti-terror operations:

“We cannot take a step back from this war against terrorism,” Nawaz Sharif said, addressing a hastily called meeting of political parties in Peshawar, where Tuesday’s horrific school attack occurred. The fight would spill over “on the Afghan side of the border,” he added, after speaking with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. It was not clear what actions that might entail. But such a cross-border offensive would mark a significant shift in Pakistan’s tactics against Taliban militants, whose strongholds and supply lines straddle the frontier.

Rogin and Lake expect the US to deepen its involvement:

Inside the Obama administration, officials have been divided between those who believe that the TTP represents primarily a threat to Pakistan and those who believe the U.S. has a real national-security interest in helping the Pakistani military destroy the group. But due to the seriousness of this attack, the Obama administration will now feel compelled to more heavily support the Pakistani military as the war against the TTP escalates and the implications for the entire country’s future become more pronounced.

That may be especially true now that the TTP, as Sami Yousafzai and Christopher Dickey report, claims to be coming for us next:

In fact, the terror networks to which the TTP is linked have grown more complex and treacherous than ever, with some factions connecting not only to al Qaeda but to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) that now controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq. And while analysts think it is unlikely the TTP can mount an attack against American targets inside America again soon, the TTP said it butchered the children in Peshawar specifically because of the U.S.-backed campaign against it.

Amanda Taub, meanwhile, offers another possible explanation for Tuesday’s carnage, namely internal power struggles within the Taliban:

The TTP has split into multiple factions in recent months. A number of moderate factions have made peace with the government, Staniland explained, so that what is left behind is an increasingly radical core that is splintering into different groups. That process was accelerated when Maulana Fazlullah, an outsider who formerly headed a group of militants in Pakistan’s Swat district, took command last year. He has been a divisive leader, causing the powerful Messud family to leave and form its own organization. Competition for power within an armed group or between different splintering factions often leads to increased violence, as leaders jockey to prove their authority and improve their reputations by carrying out ever more audacious or brutal attacks.

But Saim Saeed can’t imagine how the TTP will score PR points by butchering innocent kids:

the Taliban have just taken on the unenviable task of explaining how murdering scores of innocent children is a good thing for Islam. No one, no one, will support the Taliban after this. The attack was even condemned by Hafiz Saeed, whose Jama’at-ud-Da’wah  is the subject of United Nation’s sanctions. Hardline mullahs may have twisted and contorted Islam to endorse blasphemy laws, child marriages and jihad against America and India, but even they will have a tough time arguing that this attack somehow fulfills their purpose. They could perhaps argue this was an Indian or American conspiracy, but that argument is also slowly losing credibility, not least by the Taliban’s own desperate attempts to claim this attack.

The depressing situation leaves Pankaj Mishra at a loss:

Something more than just economic and political distress must explain the worldwide proliferation of men who espouse spine-chilling convictions and fantasies of mass murder. We cannot afford to renounce the possibility of achieving a more democratic, free and just society through political change. Yet we can no longer believe that the enabling conditions of nihilistic violence or the apocalyptic mind-set can be removed by reform or modification of public policy alone, let alone by military retaliation.

The blood of innocent children rouses us to drastic action. But it is not cowardly to acknowledge problems to which there are no stock sociopolitical remedies, and to grasp the unprecedented nature of the threats in our time to human life, freedom and dignity. Certainly, however deep our revulsion to atrocities perpetrated by all sides — sectarian or secular, governments or terrorists — it won’t help to blame religion for a phenomenon that is so clearly rooted in a catastrophic loss of the religious sense.

What The Hell Just Happened In Sydney?

by Dish Staff

Monday morning (Sunday night in the US), a man wielding a gun and a black flag similar to that used by ISIS walked into the Lindt Chocolat Café in the Australian city’s central business district and proceeded to hold the customers and staff hostage for 16 hours before police stormed the shop around 2 am Tuesday, ending the standoff. According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s ongoing live coverage, the gunman and at least one other person are dead, with several others injured.

The gunman, an Iranian immigrant and self-styled “cleric” by the name of Man Haron Monis, tried to portray himself as an agent of ISIS but came off as more of a delusional, attention-seeking psychopath (though to be fair, those often go hand in hand):

Monis, also known as Sheik Haron, was convicted of sending offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers who died serving in Afghanistan. He is out on bail as an alleged accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, as well as a string of 40 indecent and sexual-assault charges in connection to his time as a self-proclaimed spiritual leader. Monis used a YouTube account to post a series of three videos of hostages reciting his demands, which included the delivery of the black flag of ISIS. He asked “to please broadcast on all media that this is an attack on Australia by the Islamic State,” and to speak to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The demands would be met with the release of more hostages, according to the videos. YouTube has since removed the videos from the account.

Juan Cole wishes the press would stop playing into the hands of such criminals by hyping them as terrorists, implicitly tarring innocent Muslims in the process:

Sydney had another hostage crisis, in 1984, in a bank. A formerly wealthy (secular) Turkish-Australian became unhinged at losing his fortune. Today’s incident is not more important than that one, which few now remember. Both of these hostage-takers were common criminals. Neither is a “terrorist.” Today’s Sydney hostage-taker is not representative of a new activity. He isn’t important, and ordering a black flag won’t make him so. The only one who can bestow recognition on this criminal is the mass media and the press. They shouldn’t do it. … Criminals and gangsters should not be fetishized as “terrorists.” It is just a way for them to inflate their egos.

Peter Hartcher excoriates the Australian media for doing just that, by rushing “to cheerlead the hype and to provide a ready platform to any politician who wanted to insert himself into the event”:

Terrorism is a tool of the weak against the strong. It is designed to turn the enemy’s strength against itself. One man showed how to get extraordinary attention and inflict serious disruption using only a gun and a Muslim prayer banner. Successful terrorism is so rare in Australia that the overreaction is perhaps understandable. The police response seemed exactly right. But our political and media systems need to get better at measured reaction.

Abbott said on Monday evening that the incident had been “profoundly shocking”. He added: “I think I can also commend the people of Sydney for the calmness with which they have reacted”. With no help from the politicians.

By comparison, this response from Sydney residents was spot-on:

A young Sydney woman, Rachael Jacobs, appears to have inspired the campaign after posting a moving Facebook status about her encounter with a Muslim woman earlier in the day. “…and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab,” Ms Jacobs wrote. “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.” The inspiring status quickly circulated on social media before inspiring the #illridewithyou hashtag.

Uber, meanwhile, came under fire yet again for turning on surge pricing during the crisis, charging users in downtown Sydney a minimum of $100 for a ride (they later backtracked, offering refunds to customers who had paid the extortionate rates and making all rides in the area free). That sounds pretty despicable, but Danny Vinik offers a qualified defense of the rideshare company:

I’m one of the few people here who doesn’t think Uber is actually doing anything wrong. A terrorist attack will understandably cause many people to try to get home at the same time and make many drivers fearful to go on the road. Raising rates will deter some people from using the service while incentivizing more drivers to get on the road. That’s simple supply and demand. Uber almost certainly earns higher profits as well.

Critics are right that this isn’t a fair systemthe rich will be able to get home easily in the case of a terrorist attack and the poor won’t. But you also have to look at the alternative. If rates stayed the same, fewer drivers would go on the road and wait times would increase. It would be harder for everyone to get home. People will differ on which they value more: economic efficiency or fairness. But there is an economic rationale behind Uber’s moves.

Update from a reader:

That’s some unqualified horseshit; Uber isn’t up front about it’s price-gouging. Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty hard to get an accurate estimate of just how much you’re getting screwed by them until after the fact. Passengers generally don’t realize they’ve had their pockets picked until well after they’ve arrived at their destination or checked their credit-card statements. The driver doesn’t tell you beforehand that you’ll be charged 3x, 4x, or 50x the standard rate. Most people treat hailing an Uber as one would hail a cab. Except, unlike with a normal cab, there’s a hidden danger of spending triple-digits on a short ride and not even knowing it, since no physical currency is handed over.

Another counters that reader:

That’s simply not true. Uber tells you when surge pricing is in effect. If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo of the type of message Uber provides its customers when surge pricing is in effect.

Another backs him up:

On two counts your “reader” is grossly misinformed. I suspect willfully so – for people of a certain politics its pretty fun to hate on Uber. But Uber actually does notify users when price surging is in effect. The app uses a surge confirmation screen. The user has to physically type in the surge pricing in effect. (This policy is on Uber’s page.) Pretty hard for people to claim afterwards “they didn’t know”.

And Uber also makes it easy to get an estimate of the fare you’re getting. You see when you get ready to order a car, there is a screen with a button called “Fare Estimate.” And yes, this is also clearly stated on Uber’s page.) After using Uber for several years, I’ve never had a fare be unreasonably outside the fare estimate. It’s probably about as reliable as a yellow cab driver estimating what my fare will be.

I’d give your reader a pass on surge pricing if he’s never used Uber in a New York snowstorm. But when he/she claims Uber doesnt make it easy to get a fare estimate? I’m thinking they’ve never used Uber in their life.

Terror, Terror Everywhere

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Ingraham introduces the Institute for Economics and Peace’s latest Global Terrorism Index, which counted 10,000 terrorist incidents worldwide in 2013, most of them in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. As his chart illustrates, that compares to just 1,500 incidents in 2000. Why the dramatic increase? Well, you know:

The report suggests that U.S. foreign policy has played a big role in making the problem worse: “The rise in terrorist activity coincided with the US invasion of Iraq,” it concludes. “This created large power vacuums in the country allowing different factions to surface and become violent.” Indeed, among the five countries accounting for the bulk of attacks, the U.S. has prosecuted lengthy ground wars in two (Iraq and Afghanistan), a drone campaign in one (Pakistan), and airstrikes in a fourth (Syria).

The same five countries account for a full 80 percent of deaths from terrorism last year. Adam Taylor expects the report to generate some controversy because of how it distinguishes “deaths from terrorism” from other deaths in conflict zones:

The report explains that it is not including deaths in Syria caused by conventional warfare, for example. However, in a complicated civil war such as Syria’s, the line between conventional and nonconventional warfare often gets blurred.

As the report itself notes, “Terrorism has been deployed as a tactic by some of the rebel forces to bring about a political, economic, religious, or social goal rather than purely military objectives.” Perhaps even more controversially, the IEP finds that only four terrorist organizations — the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qaeda — had asserted responsibility for more than 66 percent of the deaths. The United States has been involved in the military battle against all of these groups.

Juan Cole criticizes the study for how it decides which incidents are “terrorism” and which are not:

Let’s just take Mexico. Between 2006 and 2013, roughly 10,000 people a year were killed in drug gang violence (substantially more than have died annually in terrorism in Iraq in recent years). The IEP report counts those as homicides, not terrorism. But many of these killings are committed for political reasons– to control a city like Ciudad Juarez, e.g. Moving drugs on a large scale cannot be an enterprise divorced from politics. … Let’s face it, if Mexico were a Middle Eastern country its drug war would be depicted as terrorism and it would join the five countries listed above at the head of the class, with a third more deaths than Iraq every year.

Keating wonders if the index is blurring the line between “terrorism” and civil war:

While these five countries dominate global terrorism, the report also notes that there were nine additional countries last year that had more than 50 terrorism deaths, bringing the total number to 24—the highest in 14 years. These were: Algeria, Central African Republic, China, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Sudan, and South Sudan. Algeria is on that list largely because of one horrific incident. Lebanon’s terrorism is closely tied to Syria’s. CAR, Libya, Mali, Sudan, and South Sudan are all experiencing various states of intrastate warfare. So the issue here may be less a global increase in terrorism than a set of worsening civil wars (one war in particular) in which the traditional tactics of terrorism—kidnappings, suicide bombings, etc.—are employed by the combatants.

And Kathy Gilsinan highlights another important finding from the report, about how to stop terrorism:

[A]s the U.S. winds up its war in Afghanistan—a country that saw a 13-percent increase in terrorism-related fatalities last year—and considers the extent to which it wants to intervene militarily to halt the spread of ISIS, it’s worth asking: How does terrorism actually end? The question is one that the Rand Corporation addressed in a 2008 study that the Global Terrorism Index authors cite. That report examined 268 terrorist groups that halted their attacks between 1968 and 2006. In only 7 percent of those cases, the report found, military intervention brought about the end of a terrorist group.

Suspected Of Being Muslim

Back in September, the Justice Department announced “a new series of pilot programs in cities across the country to bring together community representatives, public safety officials and religious leaders to counter violent extremism”. While the DOJ avoided using the words “Muslim” and “Islam” in its press release, the targets of these programs are obviously American Muslim communities. Naureen Shah, who grew up in such a community, decries the initiative as way too broad:

There is tremendous risk of abuse and mistake in any program that tries to predict future criminals, including terrorists. Empirical studies show that violent threats cannot be predicted by any religious, ideological, ethnic, or racial profiling.’

The evidence suggests that there is no direct link among religious observance, radical ideas, and violent acts. Some of the theories underlying the government’s approach caution just that, but they nevertheless advise law enforcement—and now, American Muslim community “partners”—to connect the dots linking an individuals’ noncriminal behavior, his ideas, and his attitudes. That kind of monitoring shrinks the space for free expression by creating an atmosphere where people fear they must watch what they say and how they act, lest it be reported.

It also denies what it is to grow up. As a teenager, I became angry and difficult. I disappeared on weekends. I chatted online for hours as my family ate dinner downstairs. I wasn’t a violent terrorist in the making. But under the government’s program, community members will be encouraged to monitor these behaviors and intervene with teens who engage in them.

Writing from the UK, where authorities have taken a similarly community-based approach to addressing radicalization, Arshad Isakjee objects to the assumption that there is such a thing as a “Muslim community” in the first place:

It is tempting to readily accept the warm notion that Muslims collectively behave like characters in Eastenders, buzzing around Asian Albert Squares across the country, their families constantly interacting at the local mosque – their version of the Queen Vic. We would never accept similar notions of Christian communities or white communities – but when applied to minorities, the idea sounds authentic and credible. …

Look closer though, and the Muslim community is far more elusive. Until the Salman Rushdie fatwa affair, Muslims in the UK were not conceptualised by religious identity. Ethnic groups such as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians were the more legitimate conceptions of migrant communities. Even today, in most British towns and cities with Muslim populations, different ethnic groups will have their own mosques and religious institutions, and in some instances membership of those establishments remains exclusive to those specific ethnic groups.

A Terrorized Foreign Policy

Arguing that the Middle East is not nearly as important to US interests as we’re led to believe, Justin Logan deconstructs the notion that we focus so heavily on the region because of terrorism:

This explanation for why the Middle East supposedly matters is peculiar, in that the basic contours of U.S. policy in the region predate 9/11. It is tough to think that a concern that emerged after a policy began explains the policy. But there is no evidence that terrorism is a threat that warrants an effort to micromanage the Middle East. The chance of an American being killed by terrorism outside a war zone from 1970-2012 was roughly one in 4,000,000. By any conventional risk analysis, this is an extraordinarily low risk. Perhaps this is why, as early as 2002, smart risk analysts were asking questions about counterterrorism policy such as “How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are already extremely low?”

The amount we’re paying now to fight terrorism—roughly $100 billion per year—is simply crazy.

If someone ran a hedge fund assessing risk the way the U.S. government has responded to terrorism, it would not be long for the world. Indeed, it is difficult to identify how U.S. policy across the region—with the possible exception of some drone strikes and special operations raids—have reduced the extremely low probability of another major terrorist attack. If anything, our policies may have increased them.

But terrorism, as Shana Gadarian’s research confirms, drives Americans toward more hawkish policy positions, particularly when we see images of it on TV:

Political and media observers, particularly on the left, worry that media coverage of the Islamic State is terrifying Americans and persuading them to support foreign policies and candidates that they would otherwise not support. Political science suggests that their fears are warranted. My own research – conducted in the wake of 9/11 – provides strong evidence that both the amount and tone of media coverage of terrorism can significantly influence foreign policy attitudes. Americans who were already worried about future terrorism after 9/11, were more likely to support the use of military force abroad and increased spending on security at home after seeing news stories about terrorism with images like the World Trade Center on fire.

Did Vice “Support” Terrorism?

Andrew March suggests that the gutsy journalist Medyan Dairieh, who embedded with ISIS militants in Syria to get an inside look at the group’s operations and produced this stunning documentary (trailer above), may have violated the law against providing material support to terrorists, given how nebulously that support is defined:

In the test case that came before the Supreme Court in 2010, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Court held that it was constitutional to prohibit a group of humanitarian legal professionals (including a retired U.S. judge) “from engaging in certain specified activities, including training PKK members to use international law to resolve disputes peacefully; teaching PKK members to petition the United Nations and other representative bodies for relief; and engaging in political advocacy on behalf of Kurds living in Turkey and Tamils living in Sri Lanka.” The Court rejected the claim that the statute “should be interpreted to require proof that a defendant intended to further a foreign terrorist organization’s illegal activities.” Instead it affirmed that the statute prohibits “‘knowingly’ providing material support” and that Congress was within its rights to choose “knowledge about the organization’s connection to terrorism, not specific intent to further its terrorist activities, as the necessary mental state for a violation.” In short, according to the Court: expert advice + coordination with a terrorist group = federal crime.

That decision means, for example, that Jimmy Carter and his Carter Center could be in violation of federal law for giving peacemaking advice to groups on the State Department’s FTO list. Any private individual who coordinates with a group on that list, or a group that the individual ought to know engages in terrorism, with the purposes of providing it advice or assistance—even on how to pursue an end to its campaign of violence—is guilty of a crime by the logic of the Roberts Court.