Sunday, August 07, 2005

We Must Adapt 

Two recent stories.

First in Israel, the authorities failed to heed warnings of a potential terrorist on the loose:

The IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) have much explaining to do. They knew about this particular deserter from basic training. His family desperately pleaded that he be taken into custody. They warned that he was armed and living in Kfar Tapuah, a well-known center of the politically-banned Kahane Chai fringe group. The family even involved radio correspondents in their vain efforts to pressure the authorities into detaining him. The killer himself even recently tried to turn himself in at the Kfar Maimon rally. On the day he took his dreadful bus ride, the IDF belatedly messaged the mother that 'the case is being dealt with.'
At the same time, we are learning of a similar story in Great Britain:

A leader at a mosque visited by one of the London July 21 bombing suspects says he warned police that Hamdi Issac was dangerous more than two years ago.

An elder at the Stockwell Mosque in south west London says he wrote to a senior police officer urging him to help deal with a group of young people who had been "harassing" and intimidating the moderate Muslims.

Toaha Qureshi, one of the mosque's Trustees, told CNN that Issac -- the alleged Shepherds Bush attempted bomber currently fighting extradition from Italy -- was a prominent member of the group.

Qureshi told CNN that mosque officers had made it clear they regarded 27-year-old Issac as a threat and a destabilizing force.
Two cases, two warnings, both unheeded, with tragedy and near-tragedy to follow. It's tempting to dismiss the ignored warnings based on the fact that they preceded the recent ground-breaking attacks that so clarified our hindsight.

But at the same time, if our foresight is to catch up, we have to recognize it is time for a new mindset. Clearly this is needed in Great Britain, but also in Israel, and presumably in the U.S. and elsewhere. We have an attitude problem. Try to imagine the reactions of those who received these urgent warnings:

"Sure, sure, I'll get right on that. If there's one thing I love about my job, it's tracking down each and every last nutty lead just so I can restrict someone's civil liberties based on a wild accusation and then enjoy all the resulting abuse that's heaped me. And thank you so much for calling."

I can understand that. After all, the warning in Great Britain was two years ago. Even if they'd put "Bambi" under surveillance immediately after receiving the warning, does anyone really believe they could have maintained it for two uneventful years? And if the response to every warning must be the incarceration or detention of a supposedly dangerous individual, can you imagine the societal cost of working through the abuses that would invite?

Yet it is clear we cannot ignore the warnings any longer. It is time for us to adapt. We need new solutions for new problems. I'd love to close with the perfect answer and then reap the ensuing adulation from a grateful world, but I can't. I just don't think we can mass produce enough Martha Stewart designer ankle bracelets fast enough to slap one on every volatile young man that's out there.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: