Last week Ayoub El Khazzani, a 26 year Moslem who was living in Europe after returning from Syria, was about to shoot up a French train car of innocent people but instead got his ass severely kicked by American, British and French passengers. Without these people immediately putting their lives on the line to stop Khazzani, the world would have yet another “terrorist” massacre to worry about and argue over.
I understand the worry, but I am becoming increasingly intolerant of the arguments. With instant access to social media and internet sites, such as this one, anyone can and do broadcast their opinions to millions of other people. Yes, opinions are part of free speech, but that does not preclude many of opinion pieces crowding the social media-verse from being ignorant, ill-informed or purposefully distorted. The two most frequent and equally ignorant opinions – giving the benefit of the doubt that their authors are mis-informed rather than merely stupid or biased – claim that acts of “terrorism” are always the result of societal and political disenfranchisement or maltreatment of oppressed people, and that the real problem is guns.
I want to address both of these opinions, but first, a word about what happened on that train in France. According to the New York Times, “…the authorities in at least two countries already knew quite a lot about Mr. Khazzani before he surged into notoriety on Friday afternoon: He was on a French list as a security threat, and Spanish officials told news media there that he had traveled to Syria — not in itself an offense, unless he went there for jihad. Had he been living in France, a tough new surveillance law, approved at the end of July by France’s constitutional council, would have likely turned up even more on him.
Yet with all that the authorities already knew about him, he managed to board unhindered the heavily traveled Amsterdam-to-Paris high-speed train with a sack of weaponry, probably in Belgium, and was ready to inflict serious damage, with dozens of rounds of ammunition, an AK-47, an automatic pistol and a box cutter.”
There is no doubt that Khazzani intended to kill as many people on that train as possible. Unfortunately for the world, he won’t be the only one to attempt something like this, and France won’t be the only country where these so-called terrorists will strike.
“We are now faced with unpredictable terrorism,” said Jean-Charles Brisard, a French security consultant and terrorism expert.
Unpredictable? Terrorism? Not so much. The confusion inherent in the use of these terms is part of the problem.
These types of attacks are not really “unpredictable”. Much the same as mass shootings in the US, one can predict (supported by the basic statistics relating to those events) that mass shootings will almost invariably occur in places where people are unarmed. In this country, we advertise where those places will be. We call them Gun Free Zones, posted with prominent signs that No Guns Are Allowed. Why? It is not for the education of would be mass-shooters. Or for people bent on criminal acts such as armed robbery. When someone who is determined to shoot as many people as possible with minimum danger to themselves is searching for a target rich, low risk environment, gun-free zones are obvious choices. Gun-free schools. Gun-free movie theaters. Gun-free shopping malls. Any place where law abiding citizens are prohibited from carrying legal firearms will do. And, with historically one exception, that is where the killers go.
A case might be made that the entire country of France is a gun free zone, military and police who make up a minuscule number of the population excepted.
How might we deal with this? Mr. Brissard has an opinion:
“The most plausible scenario is some return to the situation prevailing in France in the mid-1990s after a series of Islamist attacks on trains and train stations. For a brief period, military personnel patrolled inside the trains [my italics] and baggage was checked. Mr. Brisard noted that such patrols have, potentially, a much more dissuasive effect than the mere sight of armed soldiers in train stations.”
Why wouldn’t a Boy Scout patrol, or large, muscular men in black T-Shirts with “Safety Patrol” be just as effective? Guns, that is why. Military patrols pack firearms. Police pack firearms. They do this for solid reasons. People like Khazzani don’t want to deal with armed opponents, they want helpless victims. However, if we were to take Mr. Brissard’s proposal to seriously, it would be necessary to dramatically increase the number of our military personnel, provide training, pay them and care for them in order to run patrols in all of the areas where they would be needed. This is just not possible. Nor, would I want to live in a military-patrolled society.
An obvious answer to this problem is to allow citizens to carry their own firearms for self defense and the defense of innocent people. Do not prohibit the ability of people to defend themselves and fight back effectively against violence that others want to inflict upon them. If Khazzani knew that there would be a number of armed individuals on the train who would not hesitate to fight back, my sense is that he would have searched for a different opportunity. Another gun free zone.
Yes, I can now anticipate the blow-back, the outrage among those who think that all guns are evil and more guns just lead to more violence, a conclusion not supported by objective fact and research. However, I’d like to quote Sam Harris who has what I consider to be one of the best reasoned responses to these objections. Sam is an intellectual, an atheist, a liberal in most senses of the word, with degrees in Philosophy and a doctorate in NeuroPsychology. Sam has a very practical and common sense approach to violence and guns:
“Although I might find a few useful things to say to such readers [of his article on The Riddle of the Gun], let me concede that the bar is probably set too high. Thinking about violence is not everyone’s cup of tea...It is irrational, however, to imagine that such insouciance can pass for an informed opinion on how best to respond to violence in the event that it occurs. I have now heard from many people who have never held a gun in their lives, and are proud to say that they never would, but who appear entirely confident in declaiming upon the limitations of firearms as defensive weapons. Before proceeding, perhaps there is general rule of cognition we might all agree on: It would be surprising, indeed, if avoiding a topic as a matter of principle were the best way to understand it. [my italics]
With respect to guns, I need to make a practical and ethical decision about whether or not to own one, given my specific security concerns and the level of violent crime in the society in which I live. ... The choice to own a gun comes down to this: If I hear a window break in the middle of the night, I want to be armed with more than my idealism.”
Or, in this case, if some whack-job pulls out an AK-47 in the midst of my shopping experience, train ride, or Walmart parking lot, I want to be armed with more than idealism or a can of pepper spray.
Anyone who seriously opposes the right of people to protect themselves from violence have no business trying to impose their paranoia and fear on others. I could go on to argue against all of the themes anti-gun people have put forward, but I will save that for later. I now want to turn to the other term which I think is confusing and misleading: terrorism.
The handy term terrorism has become a general catch-all to explain acts of violence in support of an opposing philosophy, political system or religion. To call people like Khazzani terrorists is to dilute the nature and definition of the threat they pose, and thereby to dilute the appropriate responses to them and the threat the pose to the world. These people are Islamic zealots who are determined to establish a world caliphate in order to rule in obedience with religious laws that date from the middle ages. They believe that God has mandated that they enforce his will, as dictated to an illiterate merchant fifteen hundred years ago, or kill anyone who opposes, disagrees or “insults” these dictates.
This is not a joke. These people are not disaffected, poor minorities who have been driven to violence by injustice and oppression. The 911 hijackers who killed over 3000 American were all well educated, well to do or wealthy and living well in the United States. What they had in common was belief in the fundamentals of Islam, in “holy war”, in the world caliphate that God demands they establish.
These people are religious fanatics. Not “terrorists”. This makes them immune from the frequently proposed solutions their apologists put forward. Better living conditions. Jobs. Relief from “oppression” by a foreign government. Democracy. They really don’t care about that. They care only about what Allah and his representatives tell them they must do or suffer Allah’s consequences.
Which can be severe.
Insult the Prophet. Death. Leave the faith. Death. Speak out for reform. Death. Don't surrender. Death.
Pretty effective it appears.
What can one do in the face of violent fundamentalism? Not much except to educate as many people as possible, especially the children. As long as their societies remain closed to education (remember the young Moslem girl Malia who at 14 was shot because she wanted to go to school? If not, you should learn about her.) that approach is also closed to us.
I don’t have any answers to this terrible world problem, but I do have an answer to what is coming – more religious violence here and in Europe. Stop incidents of violence as soon as they begin. Let the violent people, religious and otherwise, know that they are not safe anywhere from armed citizens willing and able to fight back.
Is this perfect? No. Will innocent people suffer? Yes. Innocent people are and will be suffering anyway. Why let this continue without fighting back?