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Somewhere In Between

Posted by Barbara Victor at 14th January, 2011

Originally posted to www.barbaravictor.com on January 13th.

Back in the 1980s, during my first decade living in Paris, France, I remember the constant terror attacks that happened on an almost daily basis. At the time, I wrote that women walked into upscale shoe stores on the Champs Elysees, only to be carried out without legs. These attacks happened in department stores, government buildings, airports, airline offices, museums, restaurants, and every possible place imaginable where French nationals and tourists gathered on any normal day or evening. And, France wasn’t the only targeted country. American civilians and diplomats, as well as citizens of those countries or other visiting tourists were murdered in attacks in Italy, Pakistan, Greece, England, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Tunisia, Lebanon, Austria and many more. International airlines were not exempt as seen by attacks on KLM, TWA, El AL, Alitalia, Pan American, and many more. Back then, in the heyday of terror attacks, the perpetrators were known internationally by almost everyone who watched the news or read every caliber of magazine or newspaper. There was Abu Nidal who traveled the world and was even interviewed by journalists, their meetings immortalized by photographs that appeared with the stories. There was George Habash, Abu Abbas, Yasser Arafat, Abu Iyad, Abu Jihad, and countless others whose names have gone down in terrorist infamy. Believe it or not, all were accessible to the press and I remember spending many days with Abu Iyad and Abu Jihad at their provisional PLO headquarters in Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia.

When I went to Tripoli, Libya to interview Moammar Ghadaffi for US News and World Report, I remember hanging around the lobby of the Grand El Kabir Hotel and chatting with George Habash and many of his cohorts from the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), all of us waiting to be received by the Libyan strongman. Yasser Arafat was yet one more notorious yet available figure who was constantly accessible to the press.

These criminals who masterminded the murder of innocent people throughout the world were not bogeymen. They existed. They were real. The international press had access to them, saw them, talked to them on tape and on video, and wrote about their exploits. Back then, terrorists were called terrorists, though they always committed their heinous acts under the guise of a cause. Eventually, when terrorist attacks morphed into suicide bombings, political assassinations, or simply mass murder, political correctness kicked in and they were suddenly labeled militants.

Flash forward to 9/11. The tragedy and shock were palpable. The outrage was present throughout America and most of the world. Life changed. For the first time, there was a terrorist attack committed by foreign enemies on American soil. The United States lost its cherry. Political correctness went out the door and rage was seen and heard throughout the media. No one called the band of Al Qaeda thugs militants. They were terrorists and murderers, monsters and animals. Their only cause was hatred for America.

Here we are in 2011. Terrorism, though still present in distant lands, has changed dramatically. Al Qaeda has become a generic name for terror groups that export organized mayhem throughout the world. Where once state-sponsored terrorism meant certain countries trained and organized terrorists to kill across borders, that is now not always the case. For example, the evil military junta in Burma keeps costs down by imprisoning and killing only their own civilians with impunity. The brutal dictatorship in Belarus recently incarcerated a failed presidential candidate and his journalist wife because they spoke out against the government. As of today, the government has threatened to take custody of the imprisoned couple’s three year old son away from his grandmother. And the list goes on and on, whether in China or Africa or Venezuela or right here in the United States where there is a new but just as deadly kind of terrorism.

How many random shootings throughout this country have to happen before someone decides to act to prevent them? The most recent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona focuses on Jared Loughner, an obviously disturbed young man whom everyone believed was either mentally ill or on drugs. Classmates wrote of their fears. Teachers discussed his disruptive and irrational outbursts. Friends recount his incoherent ramblings and increasing paranoia. Police knew he was dangerous.

The deadly cocktail in Arizona that led to the tragedy is a perfect example of what is wrong with this country.

Laws dating back to the 1960s are still in effect. Police can not summarily round up people on suspicion of a crime or mental illness and incarcerate them. Added to those laws, is that Arizona and many other states have cut their funding for social workers, and other mental health officials who are trained to evaluate a potential criminal. Lastly, the gun laws in Arizona are the most liberal in the United States. This deadly cocktail resulted in Jared Loughner’s freedom to explode and take the lives of innocent people, injuring countless others.

Let’s dissect that deadly cocktail.

Our budgetary priorities, approach to human rights, and our gun laws are unconscionable.

Respecting human rights, the first part of that cocktail, is similar to the reasons why many are against the death penalty. It is better to spare the lives of the guilty in order to save the innocent from a lethal injection administered by the State.  Yet, how far do we go? This is not about taking an innocent life, unless one counts the innocent lives that were taken because of inaction. Not incarcerating, even temporarily, a person, young or old, who exhibits aberrational behavior, threatens his peers, posts murderous messages on the Internet, menaces his parents and teachers pushes the political correctness envelope too far. It is not unlike the media’s attempt at political correctness when they label terrorists militants. What about restraining the disturbed individual until a diagnosis can be made and he or she can get help?

The second part of the cocktail is shameful under any circumstance. We are currently fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq to rid the world of terrorists. The cost is astronomical. As a result, there isn’t enough money to hire the very people—social workers or other mental health officials—who could prevent the Jared Loughners from committing terrorist attacks at home. It would be a far easier mission to protect our own from our compatriots than to attempt to ferret out terrorists in foreign lands which have unknown and impossible topographies.

The final ingredient in that cocktail is the liberal gun laws. Jared Loughner was able to buy a gun after a ten minute check to ascertain that he did not have a criminal record. In retrospect, it is apparent that he merely slipped through the system. No arrests except for one that was expunged, no criminal record, and presto, Jared Loughner got himself a Glock. Instead of pandering to the politically powerful gun lobby which regulates on a state-by-state basis, why not put gun laws under the aegis of the federal government?

We need to readjust our sensitivities so that the innocent are protected more than the “rights” of the guilty or potentially violent. That does not mean that we should go from one extreme to the other. There is a place somewhere in between.

About Barbara Victor

Barbara Victor has written 7 articles on this blog.

Barbara Victor is co-president of the Board of the Woodhull Institute. She is a journalist who has covered the Middle East for most of her career. Barbara worked for CBS television for fifteen years, and U.S. News and World Report. She is a Pulitzer Prize nominee and is the author of five novels and seven non-fiction books.

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