Carnage In Paris

Reports are still coming in, but the world has been shocked by another deadly terrorist attack.  This time it happened in Paris, where more than 100 people were killed in a coordinated series of shootings that targeted a sporting event, concert, and restaurant.

We’ll have to see what the investigation shows as to who planned the attacks — ISIS already is claiming responsibility — and what their motivation was, but the attacks show, once again, that the citizens of the western world must always be on guard.  Those of us who have enjoyed a trip to Paris can easily imagine that we might have been at the restaurant, or the concert, where the masked men armed with machine guns started indiscriminately shooting innocent people.  We think such horrors can’t happen again . . . and then they do.  We shake our heads at what seems to be senseless violence, but to the perpetrators such attacks obviously are not senseless.  They are carefully planned and designed to sow panic and give the terrorists the advantage.

At this point, with the identity of the assailants still not released and details sketchy, we don’t know the backgrounds of the shooters.  If they do, in fact, turn out to be Islamic extremists affiliated with ISIS, that fact will only feed into the anti-immigrant backlash that seems to be building in Europe in the wake of the decision by the EU to have member states accept large numbers of Syrian refugees.

The repercussions of such a finding are likely to be felt in America, too, and probably will mean that immigration will remain a huge political issue and that security will once again become a focus of discussion.  I think part of the mystifying, apparently enduring appeal of Donald Trump is that he talked about immigration when other candidates really weren’t — and although many people want to dismiss all of the voters concerned about immigration issues as racist xenophobes, I think that many are simply worried about the potential risks of an apparently porous southern border.  If we can’t stop the flood of people crossing into the country, what’s to prevent ISIS or al Qaeda militants from joining the tide?

In the meantime, our hearts will ache for the people of France and the awful loss and horror they have experienced.

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Avoiding Egypt

Going to Egypt to see the sights in the Valley of the Kings has always been a “bucket list” item for me. The beauty and awesome antiquity of the remnants of the Egypt of the Pharaohs exerts an irresistible attraction.

Sadly, I now question whether I’ll ever scratch off that bucket list item — and apparently I’m not alone. Since Egypt has fallen into a crisis involving the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, with leaders being deposed and jailed and street clashes and deaths at demonstrations often in the news, governments have warned about travel to Egypt and tourists have avoided it. In September, tourism was down almost 70% from 2012, and in October — the most recent month for which statistics seem to be available — tourism was down 52% over the prior year.

Tourism is one of the largest segments of the Egyptian economy and one of the largest producers of foreign currency. I am sure that there are many people in Egypt — cab drivers, tour guides, street peddlers, and others — who are suffering due to the sharp drop in tourism. So why would prominent Egyptians be making public statements that simply exacerbate tourist concerns about safety and security? Recently, for example, an Egyptian editor speculated that the United States government might try to assassinate General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the general who ousted the Mohamed Morsi government last summer, and helpfully added that if such an attempt were made, Egyptians would rise up in a “revolution to kill the Americans in the streets.” Not surprisingly, the editor later tried to backtrack from his inflammatory statements and said that his remarks were about terrorism and that he bears no hostility to Americans.

American tourists aren’t idiots, and a half-hearted explanation isn’t going to cure the fact that such bloody rhetoric was used in the first place. If you like to travel, your bucket list of destinations probably is a long one. There are plenty of interesting faraway places to visit where you don’t need to worry that your visit might put your life in danger. Right now, the prevailing sense is that Egypt isn’t one of them.

(Not) Secure Beneath The Watchful Eyes

Recently the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of 63 authorized sites at which the military, government agencies, towns, universities, and other entities can launch unmanned drones within American borders.  These domestic launch sites are located in 20 states — including one for a small college in Steubenville, Ohio.

Our inability to police our borders is cited as justification for use of drone aircraft by the Border and Customs Patrol and the military; the advocates argue that we need the monitoring to enhance our security.  Then, as those initial uses become rationalized and accepted, “drone creep” occurs, and more agencies and entities discover a purported need for the devices and the ability to monitor the population from the skies.

The reality is that we are an increasingly monitored society, whether it is through the use of unmanned drones or security cameras mounted on the corners of buildings or cameras attached to traffic lights that are supposed to catch scofflaws who run red lights.  The monitoring is always justified on grounds of safety and security, as in the classic British poster touting the presence of closed-circuit TV cameras on British buses.

We are supposed to be trading our freedom and liberty for security — but that notion presupposes that the people who are doing the monitoring are truly motivated by security concerns and are capable of doing something about what they see.  The recent performance of our government raises, I think, legitimate questions about the accuracy of both assumptions.  Is the primary motivation for traffic light cameras security, or finding a cheap way to collect fines and add much-needed revenue to the coffers of hard-pressed local governments?  How much of this monitoring is really to protect us from terrorists and invading criminals, and how much is to give a government that increasingly wants to control how we live our lives a platform to insure that we are complying with their edicts?