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"Terrorism: The Wrong Conversation"


At the website of the New York Review of Books, Masha Gessen, the author of Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy, a book about the brothers who planted bombs at the Boston Marathon in 2013, decries the official response to the Orlando nightclub attack. President Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Donald Trump all responded with a renewed resolve to defeat ISIS. But as Gessen points out, there’s no evidence that ISIS was involved, and we gravely misunderstand the conditions that give rise to this horrific violence. Here’s an excerpt:

Terrorist attacks are unconscionably frightening—that is the point. We long to believe that something as enormous as our fear stands behind the attacks. ISIS fits that need, as, earlier, did al-Qaeda. We listen to the stories the terrorists tell about themselves, and we mirror them back. We envision giant international groups, well-armed and well-organized, waging well-planned war in which the individual terrorists are soldiers. The vision seems perfectly to match the image ISIS wants to put forward: that of a group with vast reach, capable of wreaking havoc on streets the world over and influencing the course of American politics. But the attacks themselves don’t quite fit this story.

Vowing to fight international terrorism will not prevent future attacks. Even actually destroying ISIS would not prevent them. Banning assault weapons would not prevent future attacks either, but it would probably help reduce the number of potential casualties by making the killing less efficient. Changing the terms of the public conversation is not a solution either. But if we focused on what we know rather than what we imagine—on loss rather than victory—and if we focused on what we feel rather than what we want—grief rather than revenge—it would be a step toward a less grand vision of violence. It would also be more emotionally honest and factually true.

Image: resident Barack Obama speaking with top officials about the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, Washington, DC, June 13, 2016. Via NY Review.