Last night the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, a non-partisan group cosponsored by the local chapter of the Pacific Green Party — my party — held its usual Friday night peace demonstration in Pioneer Courthouse Square, in the center of the downtown area of our city. My two young (aged 12 and 10) boys and I were there, with party banner and anti-Afghan-War poster, from 5 to 6 pm. The demo coincided with the Day After Thanksgiving lighting of the municipal Christmas tree, a celebration of shopping that brought several thousand onlookers to the Square.
This morning’s newspaper announced on the front page that the FBI arrested a 19-year-old Somali-American for attempting to bomb the Square with enough explosives to kill everyone there. Federal authorities were not above using the occasion to spread fear of Islamic fanatics among our citizenry.
“This defendant’s chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people — even here in Oregon — who are determined to kill Americans,” said Oregon U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton.
At first sight this news puts the efforts of our half dozen of sign-wavers even more into the margin of public discourse. After all, while we deplore the attacks on Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani soil, our own national police force has just foiled an attempt to kill thousands of innocent shoppers; we appear to be dupes, even foolish. It was certainly the case that few of the thousands who saw us evinced any sympathy, if they paid any attention to us at all.
Late this morning I walked down to a pleasant Italian espresso cafe in my neighborhood, CaffÃ© d’Arte, which counts a large group of local Somali men among its regular customers (I don’t think they come for the authentic Italian coffee, since they were patrons before the place improved its coffee; I think it’s the sidewalk-friendly architecture of the cafe). Half an hour after my arrival the first of the group came in, followed by others. They were all aware of the arrest, and in answer to my question, whether they knew the guy, told me several things that were not in the Oregonian article. These are well-known among local fellow nationals.
1.) The suspect’s father two years ago notified federal authorities that his son was in sympathy with Islamicist terrorists, and even turned over to them his passport, so that he was unable to leave the country.
2.) The young man entered the United States at 3 years of age and had been at odds with his parents for quite some time, since they appreciated the opportunities here much more than he did.
3.) So assimilated are his parents that his mother was present among the crowd celebrating the beginning of the Christmas shopping season while he was engaged in attempting to kill everyone in it.
I have every reason to believe these assertions to be valid. One man after another started to tell them to me, right after joining the conversation at the table, without having spoken to the others about it. Taking them as credible, then, means that the effort to characterize this case as one of entrapment is both weak and superficial.
The real reason for the safe outcome of this incident of a disaffected Islamic man has little to do with the vigilance of our national police. We are no safer today as a result of the efforts of the National Security State. Rather, the potential for violence was averted, fundamentally, due to the unusual openness of American society, which made the parents of the young terrorist wannabee feel welcome enough in the U.S. to sacrifice their own child to the protection of the community of which they felt themselves to be a part.
The lesson we can draw from this has little to do either with increasing the suspicion in which we already hold East Africans or with restraining the willingness of prosecutors to maximize the charges against mentally unstable individuals. We ought to learn from this to have the same attitude on an international scene that we have, as citizens of the United States, towards our new arrivals, that they are our valued neighbors. Once we in the United States decide to behave as one country among a community of nations instead of a world policeman, the dangers of continued terrorist activities will decline. Other countries will join our country in an international effort to protect the peaceful world community, since they will no longer have to handle the dangers of an aggressive, murderous United States military.