The ringing tones that echoed from Manchester last month were all too familiar: another concert bombed, another group of innocents killed by an aspiring martyr, another round of prayers, condemnations, and public mourning. It was like something out of a nightmare, and that was before survivors and observers learned how this guided missile eluded security by attacking as concertgoers were leaving the arena. His timing couldn’t have been better — the Manchester bomber struck while his ideological brethren were making headlines in the Philippines and Egypt. The army that wears no uniform and does not represent a nation seems to be on the march all over the world, but something else echoed from the blast that doesn’t involve TNT or homemade shrapnel.
There is no denying the success jihadi fighters have had weaponizing everyday items like freight trucks and pressure cookers or the defensive posture Western society is assuming in response. Everything from passenger-frisking and mosque surveillance to bulk collection of phone and Internet data has been implemented to fight the ever-present threat. The next frontier? Consider how the Manchester bomber hit his target; preventing a copycat would mean installing a wider perimeter of scanners and bomb-sniffing dogs. At Los Angeles’ Staples Center that would mean searching every purse or bag carried into the area, scanning fans going to a concert or Lakers game, and doing the same thing to everyone checking into the Marriott hotel or visiting LA Live for dinner. The resulting bottlenecks could challenge security by luring a suicidal bomber or shooter and allowing them to kill more people with less effort.
The problem with trying to conclusively defeat an ideology that has gone viral is what winning this war by relying on a tough, publicly-run defense would require. Islamic State has moved beyond posting propaganda on YouTube or sharing scratchy, old videos of Anwar al Awlaki — they’ve invaded social media. Facebook has fought back by deleting posts and blocking accounts. According to Middle East Media Research director Steve Salinsky they’ve had a measure of success keeping jihadi groups from using Facebook to glamorize terrorism with photos and videos that praise or advocate it. San Francisco-based Twitter was initially panned by critics for moving too slowly to shutter accounts and sued by several plaintiffs for aiding terrorists by allowing what one called “unfettered” access. They scrubbed nearly 400,000 accounts last year with little assistance from law enforcement.
The first temptation would be to nod approvingly if Manchester leads to new barricades, surveillance, lawsuits, and profiling. A cursory review of attacks reveals where their perpetrators were from and what God they worship; if instinct is the guide anything goes. Essentially this is what UK Prime Minister May and President Trump offered after the London Bridge assault, an international treaty to “regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of…terrorist planning,” a “travel ban,” and more “extreme vetting.” Aside from the obvious questions about how many nations would be included and who will define “extremism,” the most basic concerns how effective the new programs would be. Presumably “extreme vetting” would cover for the gaps in Trump’s infamous “travel ban,” but Theresa May’s proposal does not cover for the limited ability of snooping and regulating to disrupt networks and prevent attacks.
Yet the broad-based, wall-building approach remains popular among GOP stalwarts and groups like ACT for America. There are legitimate reasons for concern at the White House and in the cities where anti-terrorism marches were held, but their way of confronting it could be helping ISIS achieve its mission. The group’s leaders realize they cannot win a straight fight; they don’t have the necessary muscle or firepower, but do have the element of surprise and a way to exploit it. Abu Bakr Naji’s manifesto, The Management of Savagery/Chaos, teaches followers to hit soft targets, sow fear, damage economies, and prepare youth for “self sacrifice.” Why? To spread chaos and destroy the “grey zone” of coexistence much of the Western world lives in. The Savagery manifesto could be a ruse, but it’s more likely a guide on how to take advantage of the fear attacks create to lead Western society where men like Naji want it to go. That’s a win for terrorist bombers and the ideologues who inspire them.
photos courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com, thetrentonline.com, & thelibertyeagle.com