Yesterday, a man killed eight people and wounded eleven more in New York City after intentionally driving a truck down a bike path and then smashing into a school bus. It has been called an act of terror by state and federal authorities, and our response has been depressingly predictable. Despite the episode having an incredibly amateurish hue to it (the terrorist was running around with a pellet gun and a paintball gun in his hands), the fact that he left a note in the car pledging the attack to ISIS’s cause was all it took to send the media into a collective freak-out that the attack was designed to cause.
President Trump immediately jumped on the news to advance his political agenda.
The second tweet came before law enforcement had confirmed that the assailant pledged fealty to ISIS. Donald Trump is quite possibly the greatest recruiter in the history of that terrorist organization. He continued his tirade later that night and into the morning.
America is a wildly complex place, yet so many of our solutions to our problems are pathetically simplistic. The story spun by Trump and his ilk is that all we need to do is travel back in time nine years ago—when this terrorist first entered the country—kick him out, and then we're good. We give absolutely zero thought to how our actions and attitudes fuel terrorist attacks like this. We prefer to paint ourselves as heroes in a black and white battle against some amorphous form of evil, instead of facing the ugly truths that actions like our invasion of Iraq sow the seeds for these desperate men to devote their lives to our bloodshed.
It's difficult to envision an American candidate for president saying this kind of stuff and winning:
Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.
Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform. And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week's massacre. But we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.
That was Jeremy Corbyn, speaking after the bombing in Manchester at an Ariana Grande concert. In America, all our politicians offer us in the wake of terror attacks are platitudes about how we will not be deterred by this menace, then we subsequently brand the tragedy with #[insert city name]strong. However, as photos like this demonstrate, Americans don't need our politicians to tell us to be brave. Most of us already are.
What we need is someone to echo Jeremy Corbyn’s words, and force us to reflect on how our society can produce so many “lone wolves” (if they’re white) or “terrorists” (if they’re Muslim) that are almost all disaffected young men. Proposing to ban these people—or all guns—and thinking that this simplistic notion will stop the madness is naïve at best. A failure on this massive a scale requires both cultural and policy missteps.
We could remove every single person on any state or federal watchlist who poses a threat and things like this would still happen. Now, this attacker reportedly has links to Uzbek terrorists, so this specific case may wind up being more directly linked to terrorist organizations than others like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando—but there are some familiar narratives emanating from this story. Per The New York Times:
Mr. Saipov moved to Florida in the summer of 2015, Abdula said. He struggled to find regular work there, sometimes going one or two months without a job. When things went smoothly, he could be a kind person. But he was prone to explosions of anger.
America is failing to fulfill our stated promises, and this has created a wave of desperation that has produced a litany of unintended consequences. Our policy decisions prove that we value the Almighty Dollar more than human lives, and when we combine austerity policies with our history of racism, it creates the ideal conditions for extremism of all colors to flourish. It’s time that every American took a look in the mirror and seriously pondered how we contribute to this madness, since our politicians have proven that they’re too spineless to speak about these matters honestly.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.