Friday, October 26, 2007

Home-grown terrorism?

No one is using that word yet, but it will be interesting to watch the reaction to this over the next few days.
Though more than two years apart, the pair of attacks were strikingly similar: Each involved two small explosive devices fashioned from novelty grenades, a Manhattan consulate targeted in the wee hours, and a mystery cyclist as the possible culprit.

The latest attack came early Friday when someone threw the grenades over the fence of the Mexican Consulate [in New York City] , shattering three windows, police said.

Like a near-identical attack that blew out a front window at the British Consulate in 2005, there were no injuries. There also was no obvious motive, though investigators were looking at evidence that suggested the two attacks were connected.

"It looks like two very similar instruments were used," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

In both cases, the devices were fake grenades sometimes sold as novelty items. They were packed with black powder and detonated with fuses but incapable of causing serious harm, police said.

To my mind, the timing and targets of the two events make native American right-wing extremists the top suspects though, as I'll explain below, there is at least one reason to be cautious about jumping to conclusions.

My case against native American right-wingers is this: since 2003, the far right has been fanning the flames of anti-European xenophobia because of the non-support of Germany and France for Bush's war in Iraq. It doesn't matter that Britain has been the biggest supporter of the war, the language of the xenophobes has usually been indiscriminately aimed at "old Europe" in general. Furthermore, the bombs in 2005 were thrown on the eve of a British election when continuation of their participation in the war was being very vocally debated. Bombing the British consulate could be viewed by a dim-witted right-winger as punishing them for going weak on our war, or by a more Machiavellian right-winger, by expecting Islamic radicals to get the blame for the bomb, as renewing British motivation to "stay the course."

This morning's bombing is easier to understand. With CNN's Lou Dobbs dedicating the last two years of his show to warning us about the illegal immigrant threat to take our jobs, sell drugs to our kids, and give us all leprosy; with right-wing talk radio hopping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon; and with Republican candidates for offices high and low competing to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-immigrant violence has been on the rise. It's no surprise that someone would escalate the violence to explosives. Although legal and illegal immigrants come to the United States from every part of the world, anti-immigrant sentiment for the last half century always has ended up focused on Mexicans and other Central Americans.

My case so far has been that the timing and targets of the two bombings make it probable that the terrorist is a right wing nut going after the enemy du jour. However, both of these events need to be considered against the larger background of the post-9/11 paranoia that the administration has so shamelessly encouraged for political gain. While this mood has been particularly hard on Arabs, Muslims, and anyone who looks like they might be Arab or Muslim, it has encouraged a more general insularity and anti-foreigner feeling among those who consider themselves to be the besieged "real" Americans. There is also a possibility that the specific targets were more of a coincidence and that the bomber was merely aiming at any foreigners.

Somewhat related to that possibility is the possibility that the two might be unrelated or that they might be related in the mind of a person who defies simple categorization into conventional Left and Right. As the Reuters' article on the bombings points out, it is not entirely clear that the British consulate was the target of the 2005 bombs.
In May 2005, two home-made grenades exploded outside an office building whose tenants include the British Consulate and an executive linked to a company [Caterpillar Inc.] that has attracted protests for selling Israel bulldozers used to raze Palestinian homes.

If the target of that bombing was Caterpillar out of some kind of pro-Palestinian solidarity and if the two bombings were carried out by the same individual, then we might be dealing with someone who hates Israel and Mexico due to some kind of racial ideology (a Nazi would fit the bill). This is still right wing, but different than a talk-radio listener going after the current obsession of his favorite talker.

Finally, the bomber might just be a nut whose hatreds change from week to week according to a logic not accessible to anyone except himself and the voices.

In any case, this is terrorism and we should not be afraid to call it that. The FBI has no problem calling an environmentalist who vandalizes a construction site or car dealership a terrorist, why the timidity over someone who sets off bombs at foreign diplomatic missions?

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