Category Archives: terrorism

Extremism: Alive and Not well in America


Driving through a large part of the United States from the northern State of North Dakota south to Texas and then west to Arizona, as we did this year, it did not take long to realize that extremism is alive and not well in this country. While there is ample extremism on the left and the right, it clear that most extremism lives and thrives in the right wing.

I heard an interesting interview with Cynthia Miller-Idriss an award-winning author and scholar of extremism and radicalization in the US.  She is the founding director of the Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab (PERIL) at the American University in Washington, DC, where she is also Professor in the School of Public Affairs and in the School of Education. She has testified a number of times before the US Congress on issues relating to extremism. She has also been a frequent commentator on these issues for various media outlets. She is a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Tracking Hate and Extremism Advisory Committee and the author of a number of books including recently Hate in the HomelandThe New Global Far Right.

One of the problems that Miller-Idriss alerts us to is the fact that American federal law does not yet have a crime of domestic terrorism. As a result, American law enforcement has to try to squeeze the charges they want to lay against an accused into boxes that really are not the best fit.

The fact that in the new American Congress there were participants in the insurrection on January 6th ,  means that American democracy is still in jeopardy. Michael Fanone who was a police officer engaged in resisting the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill that day said we need political leaders who will clearly denounce political violence.

When the January 6th insurrectionists invaded the  Capitol Hill police officers and 60 Metropolitan police officers were injured resisting the political violence, that was clearly an act of domestic terrorism. They were resisting a violent attempt to impose a political goal, namely, to stop the election of Joseph Biden.  Many of them were chanting “Stop the Steal,” or, even worse, “Hang Mike Pence” while engaged in violence against the police authorities who were defending the Capitol and the elected political representatives. By any definition of “terrorism” these violent acts would qualify as domestic terrorism. They were using violence for a political end. That is what constitutes terrorism. Clearly their political aim was to support the case of Donald Trump with whom the rioters and Trumpsters were aligned. Yet many Republican leaders have not denounced that violence of the far right.

The future of America still seems clouded with violence. And that comes mainly, though not exclusively on the right. All political leaders of all stripes ought to object strongly to any political violence, especially from their own side. If we can’t do that the future is grim.

Resentment Rarely explodes in a rational manner


While we were in Arizona, a man in Utah killed his wife and 5 children because she filed for divorce?  Why?

Just like an economic bubble does not deflate in an orderly fashion., so my theory is that when resentment explodes it does not do so in a rational manner.  This is like the irrational hatred of the Ste. Anne Manitoba dairy farmer who a few years ago burned his farm to the ground including his cattle, after he could not settle his divorce with his wife as he would have liked. If he couldn’t have the farm no one else could either. Isn’t that what the new world disorder is all about?

Like a balloon rarely deflates in an orderly fashion, so resentment rarely explodes in a rational manner. That’s why resentment is so dangerous. This is particularly significant to the most dangerous people on the planet—young men. Jihadis and other extremist groups have learned how important young men are to their cause. That is why they work so hard to radicalize them. Many of the lone wolf killers that are so common are young men filled with resentment. Many of them live in a cauldron of hate.   The jihadis then take advantage of the resentment for their own purposes.

When society is in decline. resentment is amplified.

And they make us pay a hefty price.


Left or Right extremists: who is more dangerous?

Recently some of my friends suggested that Antifa is more dangerous than White Supremacists. Is this true?


To some extent for each of us it depends on whom we fear. If you are a well-to-do white guy, you likely tend to fear those left wing radicals who threaten to take away stuff from you. If you are one of the poor people, especially poor people of colour, you likely fear those white supremacists. Where does the truth lie?

One of my trusted sources of information is The Guardian a newspaper or magazine (The Guardian Weekly) based in England. Most of their revenue comes from a trust fund established many decades ago.  I have been reading it since 1982 and find their journalism stellar. I think it is the best in the world. They are not perfect, but they are very good.

Recently I read a very interesting article in The Guardian Weekly by one of their respected reporters- Ed Pilkington.

First Pilkington noted that Chad Wolf the acting secretary of Homeland Security in the US released his department’s annual assessment of violent threats to the United States.  It was written before the recent riot at the Capitol. In the introduction Wolf wrote that he is:

 “particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years. [They] seek to force ideological change in the United States through violence, death, and destruction.”


This was also written just before the FBI in Michigan arrested 13 rightwing extremists who allegedly organized a plot to kidnap and try the Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

Earlier in the year in February , the FBI Director Christopher Wray  (not exactly a left-wing radical) told the American Congress

“racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists” have become the “primary source of ideologically motivated lethal incidents” in the US. The danger overshadowed the jihadist threat that has dominated the security debate since 9/11.”

White supremacists in other words.

According to the Guardian, 2018 was the deadliest year on record for domestic extremist violence (it may have been surpassed by 2020) and that year


White supremacists were responsible for most of that bloodshed in 2019 – 39 out of 48 deaths, including 23 people who died at the hands of an anti-Hispanic racist in El Paso, Texas, and a Jewish worshipper murdered at Poway Synagogue in California.”


That means that other terrorists including Muslim Jihadis and Antifa only accounted to 9 out of 48!

 According to Vanda Felbab-Brown, whom The Guardian described as a terrorism and extremism expert from the Brookings Institute in the US, White Supremacy is “by far the most serious domestic danger in the US on many levels – the frequency of attacks, the level of recruitment, the scope of ambition of the groups and the wider political capital they are building.”

The most telling information though comes from FBI data (again not a left wing organization). This is how Pilkington described it after noting that the FBI spent much more money attacking international terrorism where it spent 80% than domestic terrorism where it spent 20%:


“The bureau’s own figures compiled for 2008 to 2018 indicate that the balance of threat is the exact reverse – some 73% of all extremist murders in the US in that period were by far-right terrorists, only 23% by Islamist terrorists.”


In other words 96% of domestic terrorist murders in the US were carried out  by what it called far right terrorists, again leaving Antifa, Islamic fundamentalists and others together being responsible for only 4%!

I think it is fair to say that the left wing terrorists are pretty small beer compared to the rightwing terrorists. And remember all these figures are before the  astounding invasion of the Capitol by Trump supporters who are hardly left-wing radicals.

London has Fallen: the logic of terrorism


This film starts with news that there has been a horrific terrorist attack by Pakistani terrorists. The Americans promptly retaliate in the inexorable logic of terrorists and states—it launches a drone attack a wedding of the daughter of the presumed arms supplier of terrorists. He sternly asserts to his son, “vengeance must always be profound and absolute.” No one questions that logic. The young Americans in Nevada controlling the drone act exactly like young boys with video games and congratulate themselves when the attack is over. The guests of the wedding have been slaughtered.

It matters not that the victims of the American attack are ordinary people, young old, men, women, and children. In fact, this is never questioned through the balance of the film, except of course by the Pakistani’s who vow revenge, extending again the dubious logic of reprisal. Of course it is also presumed that the Pakistanis are evil for attacking the leaders of the free world, including most importantly the bravely heroic young American President. Why is that evil and America revenge “natural”? This is the unanswered question behind this movie.

The Pakistani arms dealer is evil because he supplies arms to terrorists. The leaders of the free world, who supply many times more arms to terrorists around the world, are somehow good and innocent. That’s because they are on “our” side.  We are always the good guys. One side has heroes; the other has villains. What distinguishes them?

The entire film displays one group of killers killing another such group. No one questions this. The film is technically good, and morally bankrupt. A perfect film for a post-ethical world. Watch it if you like.


Our Boys: Judgement


One of the most interesting parts of the television series Our Boys, created by a Palestinian and Israeli team,   was the judgement of the court. It was read by an elderly Justice with stern cadences of belief in its truth. Yet, “the truth” was not endorsed by either side.

The judge noted that the days in Jerusalem after the kidnapping of the 3 Israeli boys had been tense. People gathered in frenzied crowds yelling “Death to Arabs.” 3 Jewish boys took this literally.  They were good boys from fine families. They were deeply religious.  The judge did not say it, but I will, they were “Our boys.” Though so was the young Palestinian victim and the 3 Jewish boys that had been kidnapped.

As the judge did say, “This was the shaft through which the 3 plunged into the dark tunnel of hatred and racism from which they emerged that night, yet the troubling thought persists from what well did the 3 drink such quantities of hatred and racism that blinded them so terribly that bashing and suffocating the head, and burning a human being created in God’s image, seemed to make sense? What did the defendants learn and internalize  at the various stages of their education and upbringing that enabled the unbearable lightness with which they took the life of a young Arab boy?” These are profound thoughts. But there is little evidence anyone paid attention. They were too consumed by hatred. Not long afterwards the country was plunged  into war—again.

At the end of the film we do not see justice. We do not see revenge? We don’t see the majesty of the law. Guilt is not important. The sentence is not significant. The mathematics of crime and punishment is false. All we see is a mother’s pain. Her son is dead and he was killed horribly. Nothing else matters. The mother’s pain is real and it endures. Nothing else endures. Nothing at all.

Liberalism: A response to Extremism


I recently commented about the recent uncomfortable rise of violence inspired by religious fervor. This is not a new phenomenon. Our history is soaked in the blood.

The people of Europe have paid a hefty price in lives for disputes over religion. It is estimated that 1 million were killed in the Arian schism, another 1 million  during the Carthaginian struggle, 7 million during the Saracen slaughters in Spain, 5 million during the Crusades, 2 million Saxons and Scandinavians were killed resisting conversion to Christianity, and yet another 1 million  killed in Holy Wars against the Dutch, Albigenses, Waldenses, and Huguenots.  The cost of religion is high.

Of course in the Americas estimated again vary but some have suggested that 30 million indigenous people were slaughtered resisting the benefits of Christianity and perhaps 9 million burned as witches. Of cou8rse religion was usually not the sole cause for slaughter, but often it helped.

Much of Europe was devastated by the Religious wars of the 17thcentury. The conflicts culminated in the Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648. These were often religious wars at least nominally, but not entirely of religion. Of course we have to remember that these wars were fought by Christian countries and Christian princes. They were not wars against he infidels.  After the Reformation the various Protestant   Christian sects and the former universal Church—i.e. the Roman Catholic Church—were all eager for a fight. These were wars of Christians against Christians.

By the time the major wars of the 17thcentury were over, Germany which was the scene of much of the fighting, was ravaged and one-third of its people were killed. In some areas more than half the population were killed. For example the Swedish army alone destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages, and 1,500 towns during its 17 years in Germany. For decades mercenary armies and armed bandits roamed Germany like a packs of vicious wolves slaughtering people like sheep.

Most of Europe participated in the wars. It began as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, but ended as a political fight over who would control Europe. Huge swaths of Europe had been scavenged bare and much of Europe by foraging armies. Massive damage was inflicted on churches, monasteries and other religious institutions. By the time the war was ending Catholic France joined the Protestant side because it feared the rise of Catholic Hapsburg power. Many of the European powers involved were bankrupted and famine and disease were rampant.

Although calculations vary, some counted the dead this way:  France and Austria lost 80,000 each, Spain 300,000, Sweden and Finland 110,000, German principalities 400,000. Other countries lost lesser people.

When the wars were over, or at least had subsided, most of Europe was understandably sick of religious wars. Nearly everyone agreed a better way was needed. After that with only minor exceptions, Christianity ceased to be an important motivator for mass scale murder. Someone should be thanked for that, but I am not sure it is God.

I would suggest that as a response to all of this slaughter an important philosophy arose: Liberalism. It is not supported enthusiastically in many places these days. That is a pity, because it is the anti-dote to extremism of all stripes.  And by liberalism I do not mean its bastard offspring such as the Liberal Party or even worse, neoliberalism.  But liberalism was a better way. British philosopher John Locke is often considered the father of Liberalism. He advocated for tolerance, which really means respect for others even if you disagree with them. The world at the end of the 17thcentury and then again at the end of the 20thcentury was in short supply of tolerance. It still is.

The Reformation and the problem of religious minorities were central to Locke’s political philosophy because those were the burning issues (literally burning issues) of his times. Until then this was not an issue at all because values were shared. Everyone in Europe was a Roman Catholic. Until then the issue of minority rights did not arise for there were no minorities.

But after the Reformation and the bloody wars that followed in its wake political theorists had to figure out how can we live together in a society when we don’t all share the same values? That is a problem that continues to haunt us today, as can be seen by the recent spate of religiously inspired murders in the last year.

According to University of Manitoba Professor, Steve Lecce, the key question of modern and contemporary political theory is “How should we live together in society when we don’t all share the same values?[1]Where values diverge, as they now inevitably do in any post Reformation society, and in particular in modern societies that include immigrants from around the world, how can we live together in peace and harmony without resorting to might is right or without resorting to the ability of the majority to crush the minority? Liberals say that there are some things the majority or the powerful should notbe able to do. First we need a method of settling disputes fairly. Fair tribunals such as courts of law. The state has to be like a referee or umpire.

This was very important in the Reformation when religious freedom was the critical issue of the time. It is still important. Until the Reformation a common religion bound us all so that this was not an important issue. Religion until then was the social glue that kept us together. After the Reformation, religion became an explosive issue that could blast society apart. And it often did and continues to do. Before the Reformation religion was the basis of societal trust.  After the Reformation religion became an instrument of distrust. We still live in this post-Reformation world.

There were 2 possible solutions to this problem of religion after the Reformation:


  • A religion can be imposed by force to achieve religious unity. This was tried with great vigor in the religious wars of the 17th The result was great misery and abject failure.
  • The second possible solution is the radical idea proposed by Liberals like John Locke–toleration. That had never been tried before. It was truly deeply revolutionary. It is important to remember this when modern liberals are often seen as dull and boring theoreticians. They are considered bloodless. Now we should realize that is a good thing. In the 18thcentury this idea was profoundly revolutionary. Many hated the idea of tolerance because they saw it as capitulation to evil.  Liberals said we had to accept differences.


Nowadays toleration, a value that was revolutionary in its day, and I would submit, is revolutionary today, can seem like very thin gruel compared to the spicy virtues reflected by much more aggressive and powerful groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, the alt-right, Antifa, Donald Trump, and their ilk. It can seem wishy-washy just like–well—liberals. It can seem humble. I think that is a good thing. The classic liberals like John Locke stand for permitting others to have their say. This is much less sexy than threatening to ban them, or build a wall to keep them out, or kill them. However, in a world charged with the most vicious of religious hatreds like that of Europe in the 17thcentury or our current world in the 21stcentury, tolerance is not wishy-washy at all. After all the 17thand 20thcenturies were the two most violent centuries in the past 500 years according to Steven Pinker. [2]Tolerance is the most vital of all the virtues! Liberals have to step to the plate with vigor and confidence. I would suggest that liberals actually represent our only chance for civilization to endure.  At least so liberals believe. And I tend to agree (in a wishy-washy way of course).

In the 17thcentury there were those who feared the worst from this revolutionary new idea of tolerance.  Would this not lead to the destruction of public morality?  Personal morality should never be permitted to undermine public morality, it was widely believed. This in fact is the essence of Conservatism! It is stillthe essence of Conservatism.

Liberals challenge this view. Liberals hold that we can each freely have our own personal opinions and morality without challenging the social order or value of society. Let people disagree. We can all get along provided each of us accepts limits. This will not destroy society. In fact modern liberals believe that the diversity of modern society will strengthen not weaken society. That means that we must put reasonable limits on our religious values too. We can hold them personally as much as we want, as vigorously as we want, but we cannot imposethose values on others. Even the majority should not do that. Real democracy is not rule by the majority. It is the rule of the majority within limits. That’s what liberal democracy is all about. The goal of imposing religious values was rightly discredited after the religious wars of the 17thcentury. We don’t want to go back there.

[1]Steven Lecce, “Right Wing, Left Wing, and In between,” April 14, 2016 at University of Manitoba

[2]Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, (2012) Penguin Books, p. 51

Slaughter by Divine Right

Things have been getting strange. Nearly every day it seems like the crazies are winning.

For a number of years Myanmar has been wracked by murderous attacks against a Muslim minority group of Rohingya people. Myanmar is a Buddhist majority country with a significant Muslim minority. The UN states that the Rohingya people of Myanmar are among the most persecuted people in the world at this time. Myanmar security forces have driven the Rohingya people  off their land, burned down their mosques and committed widespread looting, arson and rape of Rohingya women.

There have been a lot of mass shootings recently involving religious groups from around the world.   We read about a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 where 6 worshippers were shot and killed while 19 more were injured. The lone gunman opened fire just after evening prayers.

In October 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg Pennsylvania 11 people were murdered and 6 more injured by a gunman. This was the deadliest attack against the American Jewish community in U.S. history. The massacre was an unprecedented act of violence against American Jews—but it is by no means the first time that anti-Semitism has manifested itself in deadly violence against Jews in the United States.

In March 2019 there were 2 consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch New Zealand during Friday Prayer. The gunman who came all the way from Australia, launched two consecutive attacks that began at one mosque and continued at an Islamic Centre.  This case was also distinguished by the fact that the gunman live-streamed his first attack on Facebook. 50 people were killed and another 50 injured. These were the deadliest mass shootings in the history of New Zealand. The 28 year old gunman was described as a white supremacist and part of the alt-right movement that many Christians in America support. Just before the shooting he played “Serbia Strong” a nationalist song celebrating Radovan Karadžić who was found guilty of genocide against Bosnian Muslims.

In April 2019, on Easter Sunday, 3 Christian churches across Sri Lanka and 3 luxury hotels were targeted by  suicide bombers in series of coordinated suicide bombings. Approximately 253 people were killed and another 500 people injured. This attack was believed to be in retaliation to the shootings in New Zealand. This is the fact caught my eye. Sri Lankan government officials said the attacks were carried out by Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheeth Jama’ath a local militant Islamist group with suspected foreign ties. The group was  previously known for attacks against Buddhists. The direct linkage between the two attacks was questioned by some experts. Yet these were clearly coordinated slaughters by a group of extremist Muslims apparently in retaliation for the recent attacks of the mosque in Christchurch New Zealand.

Then a couple of days ago, 6 months to the day after the slaughter at the synagogue in Pittsburg, there was another attack near a synagogue in California  where a man shot 4 people and killing one of them.  The suspect who turned himself in posted an 8-page manifesto online in which he boasted about being from “European ancestry” and expressed hatred of Jews.  He even said he had taken inspiration from the New Zealand mosque shooter in March of this year.

What do all of these events have in common? Violence? For sure. But violence of a particular sort. Violence in favor of or against a particular religion.  This is deeply disturbing. Have we entered the era of religious world wars?  They are happening everywhere.  What is happening here?

One of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, seemed to understand it best. As he said in his great poem “The Second Coming” which he wrote nearly exactly 100 years ago:


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity. 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.


The Second Coming!

Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Although this poem presages a “Second Coming” in the poem it is a nightmare. Just like the Roman World was shocked by the arrival of Christ, Yeats suggests, our world will be shocked and rocked by the new arrival. It will happen he suggest, about 2,000 years after Chris was born. About now in other words. It will be a “rough beast” that slouches toward Bethlehem waiting “to be born.” It will “trouble our sight”.  It will loose another “blood-dimmed tide” and may drown “the ceremony of innocence” once again. As the narrator of the poem seems to fear, it will no doubt wreak havoc and terror.

Is this the terror that is approaching? Is the beast moving its horrifying  “slow thighs?” Things are falling apart and the centre no longer holds. “Mere anarchy” is loosed upon the world. Why “mere” anarchy? The Extremists are taking over. The religious wars are back again. The rest of us are doomed.So it seems.

As I have said elsewhere, when religion leads to hate it is no longer religion. What we have is actually a toxic brew of hate and racism. All of these are inimical to genuine religion, but find fertile ground in the soil of pseudo-religion.

Some people (too many people) seem to believe that they have the divinely granted right to slaughter other people as a result of having been issued a licence to kill by their personal revengeful god. How can this be? Where do we go from here?