Can we ever catch up with al-Quaeda? They turn out to be such tech wizards. It’s such a contradiction to the images we see on TV whenever the coiffed suits are talking about our global enemies: bearded guys walking through mountain passes with guns slung over their shoulders and wearing robes and those cool Afghan hats.
Now we learn that a group of five young Muslim Americans from the Washington, DC area (including a Howard University dental student) who were arrested in Pakistan were recruited via Facebook, You Tube and an Internet chat room. (Chat room? Didn’t those go out of style with CompuServe.) And you thought the U.S. Army was on the cutting edge with a video game that showed kids how easily you could kill people. Where’s that IT guy when you need him?
It seems that we need a technological upgrade in our war against world terrorism. It’s not like the NSA can monitor everything that goes on in Facebook. Not unless we start emulating the Great Firewall of China. The paranoids in Beijing do their best to ferret out dissent and by some estimates it takes as many as 100,000 people to keep track. Another big government-run program? We’d never be get that off the ground. Think about how happy we are with government-run airport security. We can hear Mitch McConnell now.
Poor would-be militants. It turns out they weren’t defeated by high-tech but by culture. After trekking from northern Virginia all the way to Karachi to sign up for Jihad, they were turned down, it seems, because they were, well, too American and, according to the papers today, they didn’t speak Urdu. Guess that the ads for Rosetta Stone haven’t made it to Pakistani TV yet.
But seriously folks, this surge of home-grown militants is worrisome, not in the least for the danger it might pose, but for the added scrutiny it will bring to ethnic communities. The men arrested were Pakistani, Egyptian, Ethiopian and Eritrean. After 9/11, the U.S. government looked hard at South Asian communities; no doubt, other groups of Americans of color have joined the list of those under suspicion.
There’s an irony in the fact that the home to the world’s greatest democracy has to fight for every inch of self-determination. Washington, DC’s battle for home rule is legendary. For a century, the nation’s capital was run like a fief by southern legislators who appointed the mayor and decided everything from who ran the schools to when the garbage was collected.
The Civil Rights movement made the arrangement a little awkward for a predominantly black city. So, in the 1970s, DC won the right to elect a mayor and city council. But Congress has always laid a heavy hand on Washington. Because it is not a state, Congress has to approve the city’s budget and that allows for plenty of interference. In 1998, Congress overrode a city referendum and barred DC from legalizing medical marijuana. Another override prevented the city from implementing a needle exchange program for drug users.