Thursday, December 1, 2016

Real Talk About the Radical Islam Threat

Suffice it to say that we're finally going to have a president who will say the words "Radical Islam"--in fact, it's probably going to be hard to stop him from saying it. Of course saying the magic words and doing something about it are two different things. So what exactly is the threat--and what can we do about it?

Real Talk: The Threat Inside America Isn't Islam

The problem with defining Islam as the problem is that the negative case is far too strong: the number of Muslims in America who do not become terrorists is simply way, way too high. If you used Islam as you terror-test, your false-positive rate would be incredibly high. You wouldn't accept that in any other condition so you can't accept it here just because it won't impact anyone you know personally.

On the other hand, Islam does seem to have some contributing factors to terrorism. If you deny that, you probably voted for Sanders in the general election.

Real Talk: Part of the Problem Is Guns

As someone who supports the right to own and use firearms, including AR-15s, The Omnivore is sad to tell you that another contributing factor to the terror-threat is access to these weapons? How can that be? Well, in the past year we have seen:

  1. A mass shooting by Islamists -- San Bernadino
  2. A mass stabbing (and attempted vehicular homicide) by an Islam/ISIS motivated guy - Ohio State
  3. A bombing by an Islam inspired guy - New York
What were the death totals?
  • 16 killed
  • None
  • None
In fact knife attacks are less than 50% as lethal as gun attacks--and that includes the gruesome statistic that world-wide, for some reason, many people who go into knife attacks go against children (who are more fragile). If you don't believe the stats, call The Omnivore out. He's got 'em.

The Problem is Scripts

In these cases the problem isn't ISIS--which apparently had next to no contact with any of the attackers (if any). It isn't even Islam per-se (the Columbine shooters did virtually identical things without needing even one Allahu Ackbar).

No--the problem is Scripts. Scripts are the psychological term for roles and actions that people take in a cultural context. For example, the script of the lone shooter is now fully understood. There's a uniform (black tactical dress), there's a tool (the AR-15: accept no substitutes). There's a method: Manifesto, YouTube video, go shooting.

If you find their computers, this stuff is all over them.

For Islamists it's there too--knife and car attacks have been pioneered in Israel by Palestinian terrorists. A knife attack earlier this year at a Minnesota mall was also carried out by a Somali refugee.

So here's the deal: when a Muslim gets angry and alienated enough, unlike the Sanders voter who posts an angry Twitter Rant, they have this script where they go and kill people. Other folks have this script too--white, All American High School outcasts with a little bit of sociopathic bent can try to "beat" Adam Lanza's "High Score."

Islam is a contributing factor in Islamic attacks the same way that social "elevation" of white mass shooters is a contributing factor in white-people attacks. It isn't the active ingredient--that's murderous rage and unjustified feelings of victimization--it's just an ingredient we can recognize.

What Do You Do About Scripts?

You can do three things:
  1. Make the script less attractive. That means (a) aggressively calling these people losers. (b) Taking them alive (far less sexy) as a "solution to your problems." Treating traditional ideological terrorists as common criminals breaks them. It broke the IRA badly. That may be less successful vs. ISIS but it's still useful as an approach.
  2. Provide better scripts. Make sure people who have the attention and/or respect of potential attackers provide other alternatives. This, paradoxically, means being less suspicious of, for example, Somali immigrants--yes, two out of thousands have gone terribly bad--but providing a script where they can be accepted by American society is an antidote to the shooting. If you think that's "already happening" you aren't paying attention.
  3. Make scripts harder to execute. This means making it harder to get guns. It means better and smarter monitoring of social media. Americans hate both of these options--but they are the most likely "solutions" to the problem.
Of course accepting immigrants for Jihad-rich areas (Syria, Somalia) is also, yes, a risk factor. We have to decide which of our principles are held highest--helping endangered people? Constitutional easy-access to guns? A society that treats everyone as equals (no racial profiling!)? A right to privacy? Freedom of speech (I can say Jihadi Stuff without getting a visit from the FBI)? And so on. How much attrition of these is stopping one attack worth (or blunting its kill-numbers?). Are all these principles equal? Or are some more "equal" than others?

That's the question we need to be asking.

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