Terrorism: Learning the Dutch Approach

And now we have the proverbial bomb going off in the middle of a crowded Times Square in New York City – a rather crude explosive device, we’re told, but one that could certainly have taken many lives and caused who-knows-what other damage to the markets, to American Constitutional liberties, etc. had it not been for an alert sidewalk T-shirt seller who noticed something strange and notified the police in time.

Notice something? That tragedy (almost) happened, not in Baghdad or some exotic place like that, but in one of the most American of American places. And don’t forget Major Hasan and his homicidal rage at another bastion of the red-white-and-blue, Fort Hood, TX. What ever happened to President George W. Bush’s 2003 promise: “We are fighting that enemy [i.e. terrorists] in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities”? I guess American soldiers are not fighting so much anymore in Iraq, at least; could that be the reason?

Get real. The potential for “home-grown” terrorists operating on US soil since the 9/11 attacks – and even before – should have been evident at least from the time that the “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh, found his way into the US criminal justice system. Nonetheless, as discussed in this interesting article by Janny Groen from De Volkskrant, for a long while the American authorities proceeded as if the terrorist threat was indeed something located only outside the country, to be fought with military methods.

Now they’re starting to know better and devote more attention to addressing that “home-grown” terrorism, and the article’s main message is how they seem to be desirous to learn more about the Dutch approach, namely a hyper-local methodology relying upon police work but also that of social workers and other community personnel, all of whom know a neighborhood and its key Muslim authority figures well. How do we know they’re interested in what the Dutch have to say here? Well, how about from the time the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, took off recently from a very busy week (featuring a gigantic oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico) to meet with visiting Dutch Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, Ernst Hirsch Ballin? Oh, and as another example the New York City police have already been in contact – well before the Times Square car-bomb, then – with the Dutch National Coordinator for Combating Terrorism (Dutch initials “NCTb”) about arranging for some trainng programs.

Yes, American police and justice officials seem to have woken up (finallly) to the need to address terrorism of the “home-grown” variety, and so are increasingly interested in learning about “best practice” from other countries, not only Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but also other places that are more culturally-similar yet which have also succeeded in keeping the lid on internal terrorist threats: the Netherlands, but also the UK and Denmark.

Then again, Groen asks: Has the Netherlands really “succeeded”? Relative to what? Her article cites the viewpoints of plenty of terrorism academics, some of whom note the growth of a substantial “anti-radicalisation industry” of security firms, counselors, etc. in many of these countries but who doubt that that necessarily means that they are “succeeding” against terrorism. Anyway, even if the US would want to adopt Dutch methods, there is a big obstacle in the way: there is no equivalent in the Netherlands to the FBI, which in the US tends to be antagonistic towards local police but also to take over terrorist-incident investigations, despite its personnel’s lack of local knowledge. The Americans will have to do something about this jurisdictional dispute first.

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