What Is the Narrative?

To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. ~ Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Debating lifeboat scenarios is just stupid. Yet, sometimes one cannot help but fall into the trap. That happened to this author in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings. After posting the status below on Facebook, a somewhat contentious debate broke out among several posters and me.

Armored police vehicles. Tactical teams. Everyone under house arrest. Soldiers and/or other armed enforcers roaming the streets. House-to-house searches. We call it, “Terror in Boston!” In any one of the several places the U.S. has invaded and/or is currently deploying drones, they’d call it, “Tuesday.” Perspective. Stated differently, maybe the “terrorists” won a while back?

The debate, which was instructive on several levels, centered around such issues as whether or not the overall response to the attack was excessive, whether or not armored personnel carriers (APCs) should be typical on U.S. streets, whether or not these vehicles serve a valid and useful purpose for policemen going about their jobs, whether or not the “house-to-house” searches were conducted in a professional way, and whether or not people were really under house arrest or simply voluntarily cooperating with the police. In short, the debate covered exactly the types of things that people on Facebook discuss when they have too much time to kill and, typically and expectedly, exactly the wrong things to be debating in the wake of such an event.

And yet, we all – this author included – debated these items vigorously! And, it was all for nothing. (That this is the typical result of a Facebook debate is not lost on me.) Not only did very little of the debate address the issue underlying the initial posting, very little of the discussion even hinted at the larger issue of the likely effect of U.S. presence in other countries. It was, in effect, debating if the passengers on a cruise line known for sinking should have to wear life vests all the time versus only some of the time. Maybe the debate should have been focused on why the cruise line’s ships seem to sink so much?

A fundamental question is: Why do terrorists attack the U.S.? The Narrative implies, rather overtly, that terrorists attack America because Allah told them to. (If this reminds you of Flip Wilson’s “The Devil Made Me Do It” you’re on target.) Stated differently, according to The Narrative, terrorists attack the U.S. because they are driven to do so by allegiance to a religion of violence. They are, as one reporter stated on CNN or MSNBC or wherever, “followers of Radical Islam.” Ergo, spending almost any time trying to reconcile their behavior with that of a person making a strategic choice is time wasted. And, conveniently, putting that behavior in context with U.S. foreign policy is also left off the table. Certainly, if these people are attacking America because Allah told them to, we don’t need to worry that U.S. drone strikes have killed an estimated 2,600 to 4,700 people over the past decade, or anything like that. Revenge? That simply could not be it.

The Narrative is wrong. Tragically wrong. Conveniently wrong. Robert A. Pape at the University of Chicago researched terrorist attacks, looking for clues to the question of, “Why?” He was, in fact, trying to figure out if some corrupted version of Islam was at root, driving “true believers” to attack the west. The short answer he found is, “No.” As far back as 2005, Scott Horton, writing on, noted, “for his book [Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism], Pape started with the bombings themselves – every documented case between 1980 and 2004 – and noticed some suggestive common threads. Foreign occupation, it seems – not religion – is the core motivating factor behind suicide terrorism. From Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank to Sikhs in India, from the jihadists of 9/11 to the secular Marxist Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka – for all of these, it is ‘a nationalistic response.’”

Those people resorted to terrorism – suicide terrorism specifically, but terrorism generally, this author would argue – when they had been backed into a corner by a superior power and saw no better alternative. Before one writes this off as an insulting excuse and/or “blaming the victim,” consider that people such as Jeremy Scahill routinely report that innocent people – often women and children – have been killed by drone strikes. It is a matter of fact that President Obama’s first strike authorized in Yemen killed 21 women and 14 children, and killed few, if any, “high-profile” targets.

One can safely assume that none of these women and children was a so-called senior operational leader of Al Qaeda. These types of killings, murder by almost any rubric, are not unusual. They are typical. (They are even bi-partisan!) In fact, if one examines the standard for deciding to deploy a drone strike, he finds that it is, shall we say, low, remarkably, embarrassingly, disgustingly so. Said one government official about that standard, “the definition [of who can be targeted for elimination] is a male between the ages of 20 and 40. My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s – well, a chump who went to a meeting.”

The Narrative seeks to write off these facts by convincing us that U.S. foreign policy has not caused these feelings; that an irrational belief in “Radical Islam” is the cause; that “blowback” does not exist. This is a lie. The Narrative is a lie. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if everyone this author loved had been killed, while they simply went about their normal business, by missiles raining from the sky sent by a foreign invader, he might be a little pissed off too. To be very clear, this does notexcuse, in any way, the behavior of terrorists. Instead, it places the action of U.S. leaders in its proper light. Murder conducted by the U.S. government is morally no different than murder conducted by a crazed, desperate relative of “a chump who went to a meeting.” It’s far past time that the people of America stood up and told its ostensible leaders that enough is enough. We respond in horror when a single child in the U.S. dies at the hands of a lunatic. I reckon human beings in the Middle East feel the same way.