Second-degree terrorism

Over at Pharyngula, PZ has a nice wrap-up of the debate between Bruce Schneier and Sam Harris on the topic of whether or not we ought to implement a 2-tiered screening system that subjects “Muslims or anyone who looks Muslim” to extra scrutiny at airports. Bruce points out some very good reasons why this is a bad idea, but there’s one somewhat tangential argument that he doesn’t mention. The biggest problem with screening for Muslims at the airport is that some of our biggest terrorists aren’t at the airport. They’re in the media, in Congress, and in the White House.

Of course, I’m not talking about first-degree terrorism, i.e. blowing things up and killing people directly. I’m talking about second-degree terrorism: keeping people in a constant state of fear in order to manipulate them. We’ve had going on 12 years of being told that we need to voluntarily surrender our liberties and constitutional rights because—gasp—there’s bad guys out there. And yes, there are, but there always have been. Our problem isn’t the terrorism that attacks us with bombs and guns, our problem is the terrorism that attacks us with legislation and unwarranted spying and other clandestine, illegal activities hidden behind the autocratic dictum of “state secrets.”

Bruce summed it up well:

But perhaps most importantly, we should refuse to be terrorized. Terrorism isn’t really a crime against people or property; it’s a crime against our minds. If we are terrorized, then the terrorists win even if their plots fail. If we refuse to be terrorized, then the terrorists lose even if their plots succeed.

Unless and until we stand up and refuse to be terrorized, unless and until we stop cowering and bleating like sheep every time a politician or media personality cries “security!”, these abuses of our liberty will continue to get worse. “Maximum security” is a prison, not a Utopia.


  1. christophburschka says

    There’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.

    -Noam Chomsky, on stopping terrorism.

  2. JoeBuddha says

    To this day I fail to understand the complete, mindless, gibbering terror the Right went into after 9-11 and never came out of. It was tragic and scary and stuff, but it’s been ten years! And this “take all my rights away, just don’t let ’em hurt me daddy” attitude has turned my country into something I barely recognize any more.

    • fastlane says

      The cynic in me thinks that most of the behind the scenes power mongers on the right (and a fair number on the political left) saw 9/11 as an opportunity.

      It explains the ‘reaction’. This one singular event, that while tragic, claimed less lives than a few months of driving in the US does, has allowed them to consolidate power and pass draconian legislation in a way only dreamed of by previous administrations.

  3. Randomfactor says

    The main reason why I oppose Harris’ viewpoint is that the loss of civil rights OUGHT to hurt. It OUGHT to make every single citizen and non-citizen resent the long lines, and the intrusion of privacy.

    Harris is arguing ways to make it easier on the rest of us. That’s exactly backwards.

  4. Steve says

    I’ve always maintained that it’s not what a terrorist _does_ that does the real damage, it’s what he can goad the target government into doing.

    In the days after 9/11, there was a report that the conspirators weren’t sure that the fires would be hot enough to collapse the towers, but would render them uninhabitable,leading to a long, expensive, and highly visible demolition project. My question at the time, not yet fully answered, was “Were those fires hot enough to burn up the Bill of Rights?”

  5. sivivolk says

    Er, wouldn’t they be “second-degree” terrorists for attacks on civilian populations to further political goals?

  6. Brian M says

    I would also note that the biggest single promoter of terrorism in the world today is not some Iman but is a smooth talking, expensive suit (or uniform) wearing politician in the West. Look at the death and destruction the United States has leveled over the past ten years. Look at the fact that we are right now funding nutcase fanatics like MEK and ethnioc separatist groups in Iran. That’s not even talking about the drone campaigns and the like.

  7. Suido says

    Is it strange that the situation in the US right now reminds me of the decades long ‘State of Emergency’ that existed in Egypt under Sadat and Mubarak? It’s just wearing different clothes and a tie picked out by PR.

    The ridiculous events of the Louisiana Republican convention is a prime case in point.

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