Steve S. Sin: "Homegrown Terrorism: South Korea's Next Challenge against Terrorism"
Islamist terrorism has been in the news lately here in South Korea due to a couple of suicide bombings aimed at Korean tourists in Yemen. The first attack killed four Korean citizens, but the second attack failed to cause any Korean fatalities. In both cases, Al-Qaida has been cited by Yemen and Korean authorities as responsible for the attacks.
Robert Koehler, who writes for The Marmot's Hole, reports in a recent blog entry, "Inadequate Understanding Leads to Muslim Hostility: Expert," that a South Korean expert on the Middle East, Lee In-seop (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies), has suggested to the Chosun Ilbo "that because Koreans have an insufficient basic understanding of Muslim religious culture, they frequently earn unintentionally the enmity of Muslims."
One often hears variations on this sort of 'root-cause' argument as explanation for the thousands of Islamist attacks that have occurred throughout the world over the past decade, though such an explanation apparently would not account for Islamist attacks on other Muslims, which have not been infrequent.
Whatever the root causes of Islamist enmity, the Korean government is alarmed and taking measures against the threat of Islamist terrorism here in Korea itself. According to a recent article in The Korea Times, "105 Foreigners on 'Terrorist' Watch List" (March 21, 2009), "the nation's intelligence agency is watching closely 105 foreign passport holders for possible terrorist-related activities." The Times reports that "[a]mong the 105 foreign nationals, those from the Middle East topped with 87, followed by 10 from Africa and the rest from Asia and the Pacific regions," and adds that the intelligence agency "is particularly paying attention to those foreign individuals with suspected ties with al-Qaida and is checking their entry to and exit from the country."
In a blog entry of last September, I posted on this sort of Islamist problem faced by South Korea: "Korea Herald: 'Foreign terrorists active in Korea: NIS report'" (September 23, 2008). In response to that post, I was contacted by Steve S. Sin, who blogs at A Fencer's Musings and is a specialist on terrorism and related issues in Northeast Asia. He asked me if I would be willing to proofread an article of his on the potential for Islamist terrorism in Korea, for he intended to publish it. I accepted because I wanted to learn more, not because I consider myself an expert.
I did, in fact, proofread Sin's article, from which I learned a great deal. It has since been published as "Homegrown Terrorism: South Korea's Next Challenge against Terrorism" in Asian Affairs (Number 29, January 2009) and can be read online. Basically, Sin notes that experts have no doubt that Islamist terrorists are here in South Korea, so the big question is why these terrorists have not acted. Sin suggests that the terrorists might prefer to use South Korea as a 'safe' place where they can plan operations elsewhere throughout Asia and transfer money via hawala networks that allow for the informal transfer of funds. Terrorist attacks here would put a severe damper on those activities.
However, Steve Sin emphasizes that he is speculating on this point, and I have my own concerns, for Islamist terrorists don't do cost-benefit analysis in the same way as secular thinkers, and the 'benefit' of a successful suicide bombing is an eternity spent in sexual ecstasy by repeatedly deflowering celestial virgins, so even if major Islamist groups like Al-Qaida are not intending any major 'martyrdom operations' on the Korean peninsula, we can't be certain that 'freelance' Islamists won't take matters into their own hands.
The recent attacks on Koreans in Yemen might be a harbinger of attacks in Korea itself.