5 Lessons From Boston

Tuesday, 30 Apr 2013 03:59 PM

By Tawfik Hamid

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While there’s no question that the cold-blooded Islamic extremists who attacked the Boston Marathon showed a callous disregard for human life, any failure of the U.S. government to learn from this act of terror would pose an even greater threat to the American way of life.

The five most important lessons that the U.S. needs to take away from this tragedy include:

First, after revealing that Islamic terrorists were behind the attacks it is conceivable that the perpetuators of future attacks may be hidden under a niqab (veil worn by the most conservative Muslim women, in which, at most, only the eyes show) to conceal their identity from cameras and the police.

This possibility must be taken seriously since it is critical to identify terror suspects as soon as possible after an attack — before they can kill more innocents and further endanger public safety.

Additionally, U.S. government officials who are charged with protecting Americans from such attacks, should consider taking preventive measures — such as banning the niqab in public places — as France has done.

Otherwise these same officials must be held accountable for future attacks if they fail to consider the possibility that the niqab could easily be used to prevent the identification of vicious terrorists, thus resulting in more deaths.

Second, the attacks highlighted an extremely serious problem within law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This is the miserable failure to react correctly after being warned about a specific Islamist threat.

This also happened in 2009 when the Nigerian father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the underwear bomber) warned the U.S. about the desire of his son to commit a terrorist act against the U.S. The son was subsequently allowed to board an aircraft, where he attempted to detonate explosives. It was only dumb luck — or divine providence — that prevented disaster that day when the bomb failed.

We repeated the same mistake again with the Boston terrorists as we failed to take appropriate action after being warned at least twice by Russian intelligence concerning the radicalization of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev (who was killed in a shootout with police).

Luck did not work in our favour this time.

We are likely to face more catastrophes in the future if the U.S. continues to ignore serious warnings about Jihadists, or recognize the need to take proper precautions to protect the public.

It does not take a NASA scientist to realize that we need to do a better job when a father’s warning falls on deaf ears in 2009, or when Russian intelligence on a specific person in 2011 is not pursued with all of the tools available to law enforcement.

Third, the Boston bombings reflect a serious failure of the FBI to detect subtle signs of Islamic radicalism.

Two years ago, the FBI interviewed the now-deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and obviously failed to pick up signs of radicalism. This failure is likely caused by a lack of the essential skills needed to understand the cultural nuances at play in communicating with a possible Jihadi terrorist.

For example, one of the early lessons that I learned through my experience with the radical Islamofascist group, Jamma'a Islameia (JI) from 1997-1980 in Egypt was that my greeting for Muslims would differ from my greeting to Christians or Jews.

If a Muslim greeted me by saying “As-salamu alaykum” (peace be upon you) I was coached to reply, “Wa `alayka-salām,” which means “Peace be upon you.”

On the contrary, if a Jew or a Christian greeted me with the same phrase, my response to them was not to include a reference to “peace.” Thus I would reply, “Wa-alikum” without saying “As-salam” (and upon you be peace).

The more a Muslim becomes radicalized, the more likely he/she will demonstrate peculiar behavior in something that may be as simple as a greeting.

Failure to pick up on such signs may have resulted in the failure of U.S. officials to recognize the threat posed by Tsarnaev, whose 19-year-old brother is facing federal terrorism charges.

Other signs that the FBI could have missed include the speed with which Tsarnaev  responded to certain questions, his way of drinking, using his right or left hands — and even his foot — as well as making certain types of facial expressions.

It is vital to know if the failure to find evidence of Islamic radicalism after interrogating Tsarnaev was due to a real lack of evidence, OR if it was actually the result of a lack of knowledge concerning what to look for.

Fourth, another important lesson that we need to take away from the Boston attack is that the cost of being “reactive” and not “proactive” in fighting terrorism can be huge.

Thus far, the U.S. has taken a reactive approach to Islamic terrorism by employing sophisticated technology to find perpetrators and bring them to justice — once they’ve committed an act of terror.

This approach does little to prevent the murder or maiming of innocent Americans.

U.S. policy makers need to seriously consider a “proactive” strategy to defeat Islamic radicalism through psychological/ideological operations that aim to prevent the transformation of young Muslims into Jihadists in the first place.

The power of the Internet and social media cannot be underestimated. A failure to put resources into an inexpensive proactive approach will result in more serious — and costly disasters in the future.

Fifth, the attack also revealed the threat posed by too much political correctness in our society.

Let’s say a security officer concludes from following the tweets of a young Muslim that this individual is a “Jihadi” or someone who is likely to justify violent conflict as a means of furthering an Islamist agenda.

Should the security guard consider that individual to be a threat for Jihad, or holy war?

Alternatively, should the security guard embrace Washington’s traditional approach of trying to avoid the possibility of offending someone?

Additionally, should we blame this officer if he or she follows his empoyer’s politically adjusted understanding of the word “Jihad” and chooses to ignore the tweets of the likely Jihadi?

These are serious questions that require touch choices to avoid future evil acts of terror by Islamists on American soil.

Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.

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