Last night as I walked through Chelsea Market’s narrow strip of shops, past a bakery, a charcuterie, and a clothing pop-up, a disconcerting question grabbed my mind. Where is the nearest exit? Twin bolts of urgency and paranoia thundered from the deep recesses of my subconscious. To my left, down a ramp, a door to 15th Street stood a 20-yard dash away. The thought of a situation where I would need to dash to the door seemed absurd, and yet somehow it didn’t. People walked past me, talking, observing the art on the walls. Others sat eating. No one made any sudden or loud movements. I continued on my mission to find my parents an anniversary card. The thought of sprinting, while under attack, disappeared all together as I stared at books I wished to buy.
The threat of terrorism in NYC lurks unseen like a canvas of blood and gore waiting to be placed on the wall of a beautiful art museum. Unless you’re police, military or intelligence, such a scenario is probably best ignored – for sanity’s sake and because there are innumerable wonders to experience around every corner. To focus on the exits, so to speak, robs one of a thousand other priceless splendors they could focus on. And yet, in the wake of ISIS-perpetrated slaughters in Paris and Beirut, and remarks by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton (pictured above) that the city is “the most likely target” for the next ISIS target, terrorism’s reach has, at the very least, pervaded the fear space in my bayou brain normally reserved for other fears: failure to pay rent -> homelessness -> starvation -> dying in a heap of failed potential. I don’t recall terrorism cracking this hierarchy of fear and self-loathing before tonight. That can’t be good.
As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, “An Act of War in Paris,” Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side about the Bush Administration’s road to torture and mass surveillance in the aftermath of 9/11 captured my imagination the past week. Mayer’s reporting inspires thought about how much of our values, freedom, etc., we should trade in the name of security and why, in the end, it’s almost assuredly a fool’s bargain because no society will stop every terrorist plot as long as human error and pissing contests between agencies like the FBI and CIA exist. I mention this because Bratton, on his current publicity campaign, has declared secretive communication via apps/encryption is putting the modern world in great danger. His pitch, simplified, is we must give up more freedom because bad actors (read: Islamic radicals) will hurt us if we don’t. This, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, is nonsense because it takes the onus off the intelligence community when they fail to prevent these atrocities despite unchecked bank accounts and spying powers.
I am also skeptical of those who would say we must rush to war in Syria (i.e., Jeb! Bush). Wars in Aghanistan and Iraq caused disastrous repercussions in the Middle East – destabilized the region, resulted in thousands of dead American troops and Iraqi and Afghani civilians, served as a defacto terrorist recruiting campaign for al-Qaeda and later ISIS, etc. Those wars also saddled us with untold amounts of debt and tarnished our human rights reputation vis a vis Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Jeb! Bush and others who would have us rush into war seem thirsty to replay the mistakes of our recent past. That is unacceptable. This conflict should not be viewed as a blank check for our military industrial complex nor should it be a signal to roll back more freedoms on the domestic front in the name of fear. A coalition and a concrete end goal should be prerequisites for any extended boots-on-ground military intervention in Syria or any other Middle Eastern country (i.e., Iran) we invade. That’s IF you think we should invade another Middle Eastern country at all.
Speaking of Jeb!, I am reminded of the college student who confronted him at a campaign stop earlier this year with the assertion his brother, George W., created ISIS. W. either didn’t understand the warring Islamic sects in Iraq or didn’t care. His administration’s attempts to curry favor by throwing piles of money never changed Iraqis view of us as occupiers; it only put piles of money into people who hated us for invading their country. Oh, and the torture thing … yeah, we are HATED for that. While I don’t believe W. literally “created” ISIS his aforementioned actions in the Middle East should at least warrant pause if not reflection, and a vow to devise a plan in our national best interest, at a time like this. I have serious doubt lessons will be learned. In the meantime, I would like Bratton, his NYPD anti-terrorism unit, the CIA and FBI to do their jobs and stop any and all ISIS plots on NYC this holiday season rather than making excuses in advance about so-called difficulties they face. That’s my Christmas wish.
Photo of Bill Bratton by Chad Rachman.