Watching the spectacular horror continuing in Mumbai, my thoughts turn to American cities. Could this happen here and what elements would have to be in place for it to happen?
1. Terrorists like drama and dense populations. So, that would favor a city. Some cities are more suitable–Chicago, DC and New York come to mind. Los Angeles and Houston are spread out. So is Miami. Tight quarters are target rich.
2. So let’s a assume a city. Terrorists like unarmed inhabitants. Well, criminals everywhere are armed, of course. But New York, DC and Chicago all have unfriendly gun laws. Perfect! I was thinking about this sort of thing happening in Houston. It wouldn’t last long. I don’t know the number of people with CHLs (concealed carry handgun licenses), but the number is high. That tends to make the populace less willing to comply.
3. Terrorists like symbolism. The Twin Towers were symbolic of our economic and infrastructure strength. Like two ugly (to design gurus eyes) beacons, they represented towering power. The Taj, likewise, symbolizes wealth and the new India:
To have pictures of burning Taj Hotel broadcast around the world will have a deeper impact than even perhaps the terrorists intended, striking a blow against a symbol of Indian wealth and progress and sending shivers down the spine of some of the richest and most powerful people on the planet.
When I watch the police response in Mumbai, it’s wholly inadequate. This is not to cast aspersions. I remember being outraged at the impotence of the police during the Virginia Tech attack and in Columbine. In both cases, there were just one or two culprits, and by the Mumbai standards, they weren’t heavily armed, but the police were held at bay. Their rules of engagement would not allow them to burst in to rescue anyone–booby-traps and whatnot. But saving police officer’s lives superseded saving unarmed civilians and that seemed wrong to me. Watching the police surrounding a building while hearing people being executed: not acceptable.
The terrorist operations are more like guerrilla combat. High school kids weaned on video games and armed to the teeth might have a better chance against such a well-trained enemy. I mention this because American police forces simply aren’t prepared to deal with street warfare, unless there have been massive training exercises I’m not aware of. (A very good possibility, and I welcome any and all input, since I’m neither a soldier nor a law enforcement officer.) One thing that is heartening: Hopefully Iraq and Afghanistan vets are taking jobs within police forces. They’d have the sort of combat training needed.
And the thing is, with the element of surprise and the energy of fear, terrorists can do significant damage even if law enforcement is prompt and perfectly competent. The only chance people have is to be armed.
But who is armed? Even in Texas there are laws against bringing guns into hospitals. So hospitals make very soft targets. The security guards don’t exactly inspire confidence. I’ve spent plenty of time at hospitals, too much, and during my stay a woman was raped in the hallways. Not exactly a safe environment.
In Mumbai, people were attacked in a hospital, hotel, a synagogue, and by a marauding hi-jacked police van. How could this attack be stopped here? Armed individuals. That’s it. That’s all I can come up with. Anything less and intervention is too delayed, too impotent.
An armed populace trained to fight back would go a long way to increasing security. The old fashioned notion of militias sprang to my mind just now. Maybe that’s the answer: civilians who band together and train for these situations.
P.S. The power of individuals defines this new age. Twitter has (unconfirmed) non-stop information streaming from Mumbai. Since the new organizations have been slow on the uptake and confusion has reigned, Google Maps, Flickr and Twitter have become the vehicles to carry data–including naming terror suspects. This is a new world. Law enforcement will need to adjust and use the cutting-edge technology to their advantage. Currently, they are asking for a stop to Tweets–a potential rumor, still unsubstantiated (depends on the news source you believe). Can they use them beneficially, instead?
Also, from Pajamas, Bridget Johnson explains the threat Pakistan poses to the world. She brings up an excellent point: Americans, Brits and Jews were specially sought out. That is Islamic terrorism and an act of war–not a criminal act. One of the commenters, CoolCzech over at Right Wing News said:
I wonder if the Daily Koz tells the Indians that this is “just the politics of fear,” and insist that no matter, the armed assault teams must be tried in civil court?
I wonder what their reaction will be if such teams come ashore in lower Manhattan one of these days??
More here on whodunnit.