James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Posts Tagged ‘terrorism

Gaza Flotilla Investigator at Iowa College of Law.

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Boyd Law Building

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer was at the University of Iowa College of Law today.  He is the lead investigator for the UN Secretary General ‘s inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident and the Mavi Marmara boarding that left several militant activists dead.  His investigation should not be confused with the recently concluded one conducted by the UN Human Rights Commission that summarily claimed Israel had committed war crimes.  Unlike the UNHRC investigation, Israel is cooperating with Palmer’s investigation and it is done under the more credible auspices of the Secretary General.

When I had Palmer as a professor in Comparative Constitutional Law, he was always very fair.  His views were somewhat more paternalistic than mine, but he was practical and reasonable.  The only major dispute I remember having with him was over the wisdom of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

Today, he maintained his professionalism.  His report will not be released until March.  He made very clear that he would not be commenting on the flotilla and he stuck to his word.  Radical leftist Professor Adrien Wing tried to bait him with a question that assumed his work would cause him to become the target of a campaign to discredit him personally and professionally and might even make him the target of violence (presumably by Jewish perpetrators?).

Palmer refused to take the bait and said simply that a person in the public eye learns to become immune to criticism.  His comments were the kind of steady, calm, and fair comments I would expect of an impartial judge.  I am optimistic that his report will be fairer to Israel than is typical of the UN.  With former Columbian President Alvaro Uribe by his side, I am doubly optimistic.

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Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:43 am

The Atlantic covers Persian Jews in America.

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Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Jews can trace their history in Persia back at least 2,500 years to the time of Cyrus the Great, who restored the Jews to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile.  Sadly, in the last several decades, the Jews in Persia have been reduced to one tenth their previous size.  Most Jews fled Iran because of the rising antisemitism and persecution that accompanied the Islamic Revolution and went to Israel.  A very large number also fled to the United States.

The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Weingarten has an amazing piece discussing the recent history of Persian Jews in the United States.  Here is what she reports on Persian Jewish thought on the possibility of a military strike on Iran:

“Its very difficult for us,” explains Hooshang Nemat, the executive vice president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York. “You dont want to see your nation destroyed, and you dont want to see a conflict between your country of birth and the country that you sympathize with because of religion and because of shared history.” Nemat, a 67-year-old Mashadi Jew an small, ancient group from the Iranian city of Mashad, came to America in 1961 as a student at the University of Miami. He returned to Iran in 1972, and came back to the United States because of the revolution.

Like Nemat, most Iranian American Jews are against a military strike on Iran — whether it is from Israel or from the United States. But while theyd prefer a diplomatic solution, others say they would still support Israel in defending itself against a virulently anti-Semitic, and potentially dangerous, regime. Sam Kermanian, the former secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, believes that an Israeli strike “would be viewed as a justifiable act of defense,” adding that “the reaction of the Iranian American Jewish community wont be much different than the reaction of the majority of the people of Iran, who view the current regime as oppressive, and in conflict with the interests of the people of Iran.”

via Iranian Jews in America: Torn Between Homelands – International – The Atlantic.

This is just a small sample of what Weingarten shares.  The entire piece is worth reading and provides valuable insight on the views of religious minorities from Iran.

cross-posted at The View From Damavand

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 2:23 am

My column in the Press-Citizen: No valid objection to Park 51

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My column on the Park 51 project (the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”) is in today’s Iowa City Press-Citizen.  Here is the opening:

The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is not planned for anywhere on the 16-acre World Trade Center site in Manhattan. It is in the Financial District, but it is at least two blocks from WTC 7 — the nearest part of the massive WTC site.

via No valid objection to Park 51 | press-citizen.com | Iowa City Press Citizen.

Read the whole thing.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 12:08 pm

… and how to mitigate the risk. (2 of 2)

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Please note, this is the second of a two-part post. Read the first part here.

Kinnick Stadium at The University of Iowa (via HawkeyeSports).

So, you are sitting in a packed Kinnick Stadium with 70,000 of your closest friends …  A small single-engine plane flies low overhead and a fine powder begins falling from it.  What do you do?

The natural reaction is to panic and flee.  But why?  What do you accomplish by running?  You breathe more deeply, expose yourself to a wider area, endanger others with your panic, and gain nothing.   Imagine the powder is anthrax – how will this save you?  Anthrax, even in inhalational anthrax infections, does not kill quickly and is treatable.  You should stay still, avoid exposure in place by covering your mouth, and wait to find out what just happened.  You will be no worse off for doing so and you could very well be much better off.  By staying calm and reacting specifically to what you do know, you will help avoid causing harm to yourself and others.

The best solution to mitigating terror is not a top-down government solution.  It is public awareness and education.  Terrorism works because people improperly weigh risks and respond irrationally.  If people respond rationally – even if this were an anthrax attack – few would die at all and none would die because of mass hysteria.

Of course, as I noted in the prior post, a fake attack without any anthrax is easy.  Obtaining many pounds of anthrax spores, however, is many times more difficult.  Most likely, a terrorist making such an attack is relying on the response of people to his actions because he is likely not capable of an attack with the actual thing.  It is wise to remain cautious, but reasonable to presume that the attack is a hoax.

If we all responded to terrorism in the way we respond to auto accidents, terrorism would disappear tomorrow in most places.  Terrorism has a very low death count.  If it is worth your fear, then dozens of ordinary things deserve your fear too.  Never get in a car; in fact, stay at home.  Never meet new people.  Rarely use electricity or gas. Don’t even think of ever getting a pool in your backyard.  Become a recluse.  You should be crippled by fear of every ordinary risk if terrorism scares you.   It is not worthy of your fear because you will almost certainly die of causes other than terrorism.

Even at a small airport, the government should do little more.  Small airplanes are not, in themselves, very lethal.  You can kill as many people with one as you could with an SUV.  It is not worth hardening or securing.  If the government should secure small planes, then it should secure every gasoline semi-trailer, every fertilizer inventory, every gun store … every theater where someone might shout “fire!”  Even in these places, it is the diligence of the local people, and not the government, that will flag people for further examination by the authorities.

Persistence by pilots and staff in a municipal airport – by securing aircraft, noting and responding to suspicious people, raising alertness, … – will probably do far more to thwart my described potential attack than any government action.  This is, in large part, because terrorists adapt and exploit security holes.  The only practical response is to develop a cultural attitude wherein people adapt and change their behavior when they see potential criminal planning.  Remember, America mitigated the harm of one of the attacks on September 11.  Untied 93 was brought down prematurely, saving untold numbers of people, because ordinary people did something that the terrorists did not expect them to do – implement a response directly based on the specific actions of the terrorists.

Only that kind of ordinary vigilance will thwart these sorts of attacks.  More importantly, only this response will thwart attacks in a manner consistent with our nation’s commitment to a liberal, tolerant, and open society.  We need to be reasonably alert, remain in control when we sense heightened danger, respond with appropriate action when we see suspicious activity, and most of all, not respond with the irrational fear upon which terrorists rely for their efficacy.

Written by JamesEJ

Monday, July 19, 2010 at 5:45 pm

How to perpetrate pure terrorism … (1 of 2)

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Please note: this is not a true how-to.  It is an exercise in situational awareness intended to highlight risks and provoke discussion.  Part 2 will address potential solutions to the problem posed here.

Risk awareness is a two-sided thing. In order to protect yourself from harm you need to consider how a criminal or terrorist might see you.

Terrorism is not about killing large numbers of people. If it were, terrorists could be more successful by making and selling inexpensive automobiles. Cars kill many more people than do terrorists and yet we hop into cars all the time with little worry that we might die.

Terrorism is about controlling people through fear and forcing people to do greater self harm than the terrorist can do directly. A terrorist who secretly causes the apparent accidental deaths of dozens is a failure. A terrorist who very publicly attempts to murder innocents and fails to kill even one is a success.

Putting myself in the place of a terrorist, I am aware of many gaps in national security that could be readily exploited in many places, and certainly in Iowa City.  Here is one:

Small airports are completely unsecured. Go to any small non-commercial municipal airport and you will readily make such an assessment. You can walk up to the hangars, enter the tarmac, and approach parked planes with little or no questioning or interference. The planes in such airports are small, easy to fly, and less secured than most cars parked on the street. Of course, if you steal a plane, there is a high probability that you will get caught eventually – planes are difficult to conceal or fence. However, if you just need one for a short period of time, there are few barriers to commandeering one.

Chest x-ray taken 4 mo. after the onset of anthrax in a 46 yr. old male (via CDC).

Flour is completely unregulated and probably never could be regulated. It is widely available, widely used, and cheap. Even if it were not, there are a huge number of similar look-alike substances – chalk, talc, plaster, powdered sugar … But, for a terrorist, these substances, when applied in the right context might as well be anthrax. They are, of course, non-toxic, but since the 2001 anthrax attacks the American public has been conditioned to associate unusual dispersion of fine powder with anthrax.

If a person receives an envelope with white powder in it, it will cause that person to panic, trigger a significant police/security response, and make people cautious about receiving and opening their mail.

But, if someone aerially distributed a large volume of powder over a crowd, it would cause immediate and widespread panic. If done over an area where there are few known exits, such as an open air stadium or arena, that panic would cause people to run towards those exits at such a rate and with such force that many people would be crushed to death – either by asphyxiation or blunt force trauma. Many more would be injured and fear of large gatherings would suppress interest in a huge variety of entertainment and other mass public events.

Specifically, in Iowa City, stealing a plane, carrying a dozen bags of flour on board, and dumping them at low altitude over Kinnick Stadium during an Iowa football game would cause such panic. People would presume it was a terror attack, attempt to flee the stadium, and kill many by falling, trampling, and crushing asphyxiation as the exits became overwhelmed.

It would be the ultimate terror attack. The acts of the terrorist alone are not particularly murderous. Only because of the resulting terror would people be killed and injured.

It does not have to be this way. My next post will address what to do about this …

Update: Part 2.

Written by JamesEJ

Monday, July 19, 2010 at 7:00 am

Posted in terrorism

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AMIA massacre 16 years later …

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Z-Word over at the AJC comes through in reminding us of the AMIA massacre of Jews in Buenos Aires by Hezbollah 16 years ago today, and giving us an update on the current situation:

Though the AMIA massacre occurred on July 18th, 1994 the official commemoration of its sixteenth anniversary took place on the 16th. In these two stories covering the events that took place you’ll find Guillermo Borger, head of the AMIA community organization. the one directly affected by the attack, praising the “good performance” of the present administration with regard to the investigation into the attack and lauding Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s “bravery” in calling for the extradition of the Iranian fugitives in her speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

via Two Theses On The AMIA Massacre at Z-Word Blog.

Here in Iowa City, I have heard several people refer to Hezbollah as “brave”, “freedom fighters”, and other such nonsense.  Such people need to read about the AMIA bombing (that killed 85 and wounded hundreds) and learn that groups like Hezbollah are not simply enemies of Israel.  They are enemies of the Jews and all tolerant people everywhere.

Read the full post at Z-Word.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Check yourself.

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Here in Iowa, many of us feel no need to worry about our personal security.  Generally we don’t need to worry, but it is not an excuse to completely let down your guard.

A good friend of mine who works in counter-terrorism recently shared with me two articles that can be useful to ordinary people.  They do not encourage paranoia, but they do call for a person to consciously consider their level of alertness.  Even in Iowa bad things happen.  Most Iowans leave the state from time-to-time and at those times have even more reason to remain alert to potential threats.

The first link is to a resource that will simply get you thinking about what it means to be alert to potential threats:

Regardless of the threat, it is very important to recognize that criminal and terrorist attacks do not materialize out of thin air. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Criminals and terrorists follow a process when planning their actions, and this process has several distinct steps. This process has traditionally been referred to as the “terrorist attack cycle,” but if one looks at the issue thoughtfully, it becomes apparent that the same steps apply to nearly all crimes.

Read more: A Primer on Situational Awareness | STRATFOR

The second link is particularly useful to anyone who is worried about a stalker, but can also be useful to anyone who fears that they are being observed in advance of a criminal act:

It is important to make one fundamental point clear up front. The operational behavior that most commonly exposes a person planning a criminal or terrorist act to scrutiny by the intended target is surveillance. Other portions of the planning process can be conducted elsewhere, especially in the age of the Internet, when so much information is available online. From an operational standpoint, however, there simply is no substitute for having eyes on the potential target.

Read more: Watching for Watchers | STRATFOR

If enough people start thinking about these issues, we will be safer as both individuals and as a community.  If you want to stop terrorism without the heavy hand of government surveillance, you must read these, remain appropriately alert, and encourage your friends to do the same.

Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 8:14 am