All of us deplore the recent act of violence against cyclists and pedestrians on the streets of New York. How does a society prevent a lone wolf terrorist determined to use a rental truck or even a car as a lethal weapon? And how do we prevent people from becoming so radicalized that they commit acts of terrorist violence? There are no easy answers.
The latest lone wolf attacker is an Uzbek national who has lived in the US for several years with his family. He is a licensed truck driver and a former Uber driver. It seems obvious that there should be social service programs available to help recent immigrants from totalitarian states like Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic now ruled by a corrupt despot, make the cultural and psychological adjustment to life in an open society like the US and a difficult place like New York. But there aren’t any. One can readily understand how significant economic and financial stress, which this attacker may have experienced, generates emotional, psychological and even religious/spiritual turmoil. The ensuing vulnerability, involving a search for easy answers, that the world is black and white, and a way to imbue life with meaning and importance, provides fertile soil for extremist propaganda. Does this explain why someone would commit murder? Of course not. But It does indicate the enormity of the problem we face. The issue is not merely preventing would be terrorists from entering the country, but preventing people who are here from becoming terrorists.
Predictably, our president focuses on closing borders and attacking his political opponents. This response is not only a disgrace, it is narrow-minded and misguided. All of his empty rhetoric about keeping the country safe and moving beyond political correctness is cynical. If he meant what he said, he would acknowledge the war being waged on the streets of our towns and cities, the cold-blooded acts of terror being committed each and every day in our country. Americans are killing other Americans at an alarming rate. The number of gun related homicides from 2011 to 2015, the last year of reliable statistics, nearly equaled the total number of American soldiers killed during the Vietnam war.
If the president were serious about forsaking expediency to take effective measures to keep us safe, he would confront and defy the powerful gun lobby and support anti-gun legislation. Even if one concedes the right to own a handgun to promote the illusion of safety in one’s home or the right of hunters and sportsmen to purchase rifles, what is the rationale for anyone to have a semi-automatic rifle or hardware that converts such guns into fully automatic weapons? It is beyond shameful that we remain hostage to a powerful political lobby determined to undermine any meaningful anti-gun legislation.
Our president’s words are designed to score political points and fulfill campaign promises because he remains committed, no matter what the circumstance, to secure a personal advantage. That is who he is. He imagines that talking tough on immigration is going to solve the problem of terrorist violence, when the reality is far more complex. Meanwhile, the war on our streets continues unabated. All of us are vulnerable to acts of gun related violence while our president and the Republican party refuse to take, or even consider, any action to address the other source of terrorist violcence that claims the lives of so many Americans.
Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano