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Lane: Malls and terrorism

BY JOE LANE | FEBRUARY 25, 2015 5:00 AM

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I am conflicted. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Al-Shabab, a terrorist organization in Somalia with ties to Al Qaeda, posted a lengthy video taking responsibility for a 2013 mall attack in Kenya that killed more than 60 people.

The video also served as a call-to-action for terrorists. Referring to the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi as “just the beginning,” the masked individual in the film went on to point out several malls, including Minnesota’s Mall of America, as targets. Other targets included Oxford Street in London and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, the largest in North America.

As a Minnesotan, this news struck home for me, literally and figuratively. My mind flashed to the dozens of friends and family members who spend weekends roaming the mall. I thought about how the mall was, fortunately or unfortunately, a cornerstone of the Twin Cities. And while I’ve never liked to spend more than an hour at a time there, I know just how important that monstrous testament to American consumerism is.

When this news first broke, however, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were filled with people begging their friends to forgo the mall for just the next few weeks.

According to the Times, the Homeland Security Department acknowledged the video but later said, “We are not aware of any specific, credible plot against the Mall of America or any other domestic commercial shopping center.”

The natural reaction of the American public to this video is to avoid malls at all costs. And believe me, on any other occasion, I’m 100 percent in favor of that plan. But cowering in fear of terrorist threats (credible or not) is not the response Americans ought to have.

This is the root of my confliction.

On the one hand, succumbing to the fear-inducing tactics of terrorist organizations is not a practice that the United States should engage in. On the other, I cannot fathom sitting safely in Iowa City encouraging others to continue to visit the Mall of America with the potential that even one threat be deemed credible, or worse, is acted upon.

Following the release of the video, the mall tightened its security measures and allowed video-access into their training in an effort to reassure shoppers, the Minneapolis StarTribune reported.

In a video accompanying the StarTribune article, mall security officers said the mall operates at an extreme level of security, given that it caters to 40 million annual guests.

I want to be cautious about the Mall of America, because it was listed specifically in this video. But the truth remains, however, that malls have always been possible terrorist targets, and mall security has always been aware of that.

Allowing threats such as these to consume and prevent us from going about our daily lives is not an appropriate response. Frightening though they may be, its important to remember that, as implied by the name, terrorist organizations thrive on the fear of others.

When tragedy arises as a result of terrorist attacks, those under attack — especially Americans — are brought together in a display of confidence and unity. How can we come together as a nation and proclaim our bravery following terrorist attacks if we don’t have the courage to show them they can’t control us before the fact?


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