Letter from Europe: Terror, Trump & the Question of Civil Liberties

 

One of those days that fuel despair: two ISIS martyrs assault a rural church in Normandy and slit the throat of an 84-year-old priest in the name of Allah before the French cops kill them. Half an hour after the news broke, I found myself in dubious conversation about it with a 60-year-old American visitor to Italy -- a Trump man through and through, who claims he's personally seen "Hillary Clinton's plans to impose Communism on America. "

     

When you discuss Trump, close-up, with someone who supports him, it's immediately evident that rational discussion of such a choice is irrelevant. The Trumpian universe is above all else an irrational universe, in which facts, reasoned debate and potential consequences play absolutely no role. Trump supporters are inextricably mired in a swamp of lies and contradictions. It's not simply that they cannot be pulled out of the muck; they don't want to be pulled out of it. They wallow in his lurid assertions and empty promises to "solve the problem" epitomized by what happened today in Normandy. The Trumpian "solution," of course, has little or no bearing on such an event, and in any case, Trump has announced that attacks on NATO countries don't much bother him. After all, most NATO countries are run by Commies like Hillary.     

 

Yet something has to be done about the spiral of mindless terrorism here, beyond drone-bombing in Iraq and Syria, and it needs to begin with the fundamentalist sites that recruit martyrs. If impressionable, troubled kids can find the sites in question and interact with them, it's impossible to believe that western intelligence agencies are incapable of identifying and sabotaging them, notwithstanding encryption.  It's equally the case, I'm sure, that for years to come this sabotage campaign will go on and on, unless some way is found to prevent the recruiting sites from entering cyberspace in the first place. Every site that goes down is likely to be replaced overnight.

 

That brings us to a core problem, with its principal battleground in the Bay Area. The Internet corporate mammoths and their vast armies of clever attorneys will fight any such effort on civil libertarian grounds, especially if it appears to legitimize censorship. Yet I doubt that the war can be won without their close involvement. 

 

Nor, it seems to me, can it be waged exclusively against sites that indoctrinate. It also has to take deadly aim at the NRA and the constellation of on-line sites that peddle weapons. They are, by any assessment, the de facto partners and facilitators of Islamic violence when it is exported beyond the territorial boundaries of Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East, South and Central Asia and Africa. Contrary to what many people think, this is not strictly a American dilemma, although access to weapons is catastrophically easier in the United States than elsewhere. The weapons used in many of the recent European mass-killings were purchased at overseas online sites anyone can shop at. 

 

That's the challenge, and it's monumental: A coordinated cyber assault with the active engagement of every Democracy worldwide, strong enough to take on not only the profoundly evil and casually suicidal likes of ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and their imitators -- everywhere on the planet -- but also the entrenched wealth and power of the Information giants and the political juggernaut of the NRA. 

 

I refrain from saying "there's not a fucking chance" for one reason. If we don't take on this challenge, everything we believe in will eventually be at fatal risk. If not from ISIS, then from Trump. 

 

 

Frank Viviano © 2016

 

Frank Viviano is a Sicilian-American journalist and foreign correspondent.

 

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