Amine El Khalif, a Moroccan citizen living illegally in the United States, was arrested by the FBI on Friday 17 February, on his way to execute a suicide bombing attack at the U.S. Capitol. FBI Director Robert Mueller reports El Khalifi was “radicalized online.” The FBI has been investigating him for over a year, after finding him on the internet expressing his interest in planning an attack in the U.S. His case, and his terrorism charges, are only one of twenty in the past year, demonstrating the vastness of the problem.
Instead of devoting all our resources, however, to capturing the man planning the attack, why do we not attempt to also investigate his motivations? Certainly, if the FBI is comfortable explaining El Khalifi’s downward spiral as radicalization via the internet, then ought whomever or whatever radicalized him also be prosecuted? Why are we treating the symptoms but ignoring the cause? If more than twenty people have been independently radicalized, acted and been charged with terrorist acts, the source must be identified and investigated.
Censorship is out of the question, as it is unconstitutional, but at what point do our rights and freedoms allow for dangerous opinions to circulate in cyberspace? What is the tradeoff? It is confusing and difficult to admit that rights, pivotal and inherent as they may be to our country and its history, enable and even contribute to the radicalization of persons like El Khalifi, and potentially to the death of Americans.