This past Sunday 22 American embassies and consulates across the Muslim parts of the world were closed down due to fears of terrorist attacks. At the time of writing it had not been revealed how long they are expected to be closed, but at least until Saturday.
British, French and German embassies in Yemen were also closed.
The embassies are closed because of “chatter.” In intelligence terminology this means a surge in intercepted communications, transfers of funds and movement of suspicious individuals combined with on-the-ground intelligence.
Add to this the recent well-coordinated jail breaks in nine countries of hundreds of prisoners linked to Al-Queda.
The problem with taking action based on chatter is, we may suspect very strongly that something is going to happen soon but have no idea what or where.
So we are presented with a choice of going on heightened alert, super-heightened alert, or doing nothing.
That would seem to be a no-brainer. Trouble is if we go to full-tilt-batten-down-the-hatches alert and nothing happens – well you know about the boy who cried “Wolf!”
The action is said to have been taken at the urging of National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who is still stinging from the utter failure of the administration to take the Benghazi assault seriously until Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were dead.
Coincidentally on Saturday I had a conversation with an acquaintance who is a consultant on personal security and court certified witness on violence issues.
The conversation was among other things, about anthropology. He has a degree in psychology but had taken a cultural anthropology class. I have a master’s degree in the discipline.
What we talked about was, as much as we’d learned from our studies of social science, social scientists can be unbelievably obtuse. They all too frequently become so wedded to a pet theory they become blind and deaf to anything that contradicts their conviction of how the world works.
I’ve never worked as an academic social scientist, though I don’t regret my studies. After graduation I took off for odd parts of the world for the next 13 years.
This was an eye-opener to be sure. Intellectually we know that other parts of the world are different from America, but until you spend significant time away from this fat, happy country you don’t really comprehend how different.
My friend… has seen a lot of the seamy side of life from an early age. He does applied social science outside of academia and makes a living at it. (That’s the frustrating thing for social scientists – much of the best work is done by amateurs.)
So I asked him if when trying to tell people what he’d learned from experience if it didn’t often seem like he was speaking a foreign language to people without the same kind of experience.
He answered with a hearty “Amen!”
If I had to boil down the insight gained from experience we were talking about to one principle, it might be: the world is a dangerous place.
That’s another thing we may realize intellectually without really comprehending how different.
Could you imagine growing up with the idea that you have a “hereditary enemy”? That the people over there are your enemies from birth and always will be?
Do you believe we can share a world in peace with people who commonly murder their sisters and daughters for the crime of being seen with a man not a male relative, or refusing to marry a man their father has picked for them?
Can you imagine what it would be like for a boy to grow up assuming he had at least an even chance of dying by violence? Could you imagine being his mother?
There’s a lot of scary people in the world who don’t like us much for whatever reason. That I can live with.
There’s also a lot of people in our country who believe we can fix that with our overflowing good will. Some of them hold high office.
And that really scares me.