Where Do Terrorists in the US Come From?: Background information when reading A Good Country

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A Good Country

by Laleh Khadivi

A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi X
A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Where Do Terrorists in the US Come From?

This article relates to A Good Country

Print Review

As detailed in Lalehi Kadivi's novel, A Good Country, the Boston Marathon Bombing took place on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and over 260 others were injured including at least 16 who lost limbs. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tzarnaev, two brothers aged 24 and 19, had manufactured home made bombs contained in pressure cookers which exploded near the marathon finish line. Tamerlan died in the subsequent manhunt, but his younger brother Dzhokhar was tried for his part in the atrocity and has been sentenced to death by lethal injection. Both brothers originate from the Chechnian region of Russia and immigrated to the United States as children in 2002. Their family claimed political asylum.

Along with this very real terrorist attack, Kadivi's novel also includes a fictional gunman opening fire in the South Coast Plaza, a large shopping mall in Costa Mesa, California. The incident is recorded partly in chilling statistics: "Eighty-three dead. Twelve children. Six attackers. Two Yemeni men, two Iraqi women, a brother and sister from Saudi Arabia. Three of them asylum seekers. Three American born."

Both of these incidents - true and fictional - reflect a key concern in modern America. Where do terrorists come from? Have they entered the country legally or illegally? Are they asylum seekers? Or are these "home-grown" terrorists radicalized by Islamic extremists operating within mosques or praying on vulnerable people via the internet? Talk of Muslim bans and extreme vetting procedures have dominated the headlines in the last year and the travel ban introduced by the new Trump Administration in January 2017 prompted many articles offering statistical analysis of the threat of terrorism on US soil.

In January 2017, Business Insider published a table of the odds on a wide-range of causes of death for Americans. Among its findings, it noted that compared to the likelihood of being killed by a terrorist posing as a refugee, Americans are, in fact, 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning, and 407,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident.

Also in January 2017, The Atlantic reported on the research of Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute. Nowrasteh's focus is on the then seven countries identified in the first version of the travel ban: Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq (although Iraq was removed in later iterations of the ban). He found that the number of people killed in terrorist attacks in the US, carried out by nationals of those seven countries between 1975 and 2015, was zero.

For many though, the prospect of home-grown terrorists is more alarming; people like Omar Matteen, who killed 19 people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016. Matten was born in New York and was an American citizen, the son of Afgan immigrants. In April 2017, the Director of Homeland Security, Secretary Kelly, said that there have been 36 cases of homegrown terrorism in the last year, taking place in 18 different states.

A home-grown terrorist act is an atrocity committed by a person in his or her country of birth, against his fellow citizens. It is important to note, therefore, that home-grown or domestic terror is not confined to individuals radicalized either directly or indirectly by groups like the Islamic State. Additionally, the vast majority of the many thousands of hate crimes each year are conducted by citizens. There is a fine line between hate crimes and terrorism with the latter defined by the US Code of Federal Regulations as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives," whereas in a hate crime a victim is targeted because of his or her characteristics. An April 2017 article on CNN offers interesting statistics on the topic.

This "beyond the book article" relates to A Good Country. It originally ran in May 2017 and has been updated for the September 2018 paperback edition.

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