The New York Attack, Trump’s Outbursts, and Misconceptions About Terrorism

    Terrorism, United States

    Donald Trump’s tweets in response to the terrorist attack along a bike path in Manhattan demonstrated some of what we already knew all too well about Trump, but they also reflected more widely shared and counterproductive American ways of thinking about counterterrorism.  Among the Trumpian habits exhibited is the inclination to use any occasion, no matter how solemn or tragic, to excoriate or smear political opponents.  In this case, instead of expressing solidarity with all citizens of his native New York City, Trump assailed Senator Chuck Schumer for sponsorship of a 27-year-old visa program that had bipartisan support and under which the Uzbek perpetrator of this week’s attack had entered the United States.

    Whatever “extreme vetting” Trump may have in mind for governing legal immigration, it is unlikely it would have eliminated the offender in the Manhattan incident, Sayfullo Saipov.  When he came to the United States in 2010, Saipov was a hotel accountant showing no radical or violent streak.  The terrorist group, ISIS, in whose name Saipov said he was acting this week did not even exist in 2010.  It evidently was only after living in the United States and experiencing disappointment in finding desired employment that Saipov evolved into an extremist who, according to those who knew him, became heated when he discussed American policies toward Israel.

    Saipov’s Uzbek origin also highlights how disconnected from actual patterns of terrorist threat have been the various versions of the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban.  The arbitrary list of countries has never included Uzbekistan.  Perhaps Central Asia is just too far removed, compared to the Middle East, from the preoccupations and prejudices that underlay the devising of the ban for it to have made the cut.

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