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A Review of "Seven Shots"

On July 31, 1997 the NYPD averted a terrorist attack by Islamic extremists that could have killed hundreds of people. Never heard of it? Neither had I.

Enter Seven Shots: An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Call and Its Aftermath, a non-fiction account of this event written by longtime On Violence reader “Jaylo” (actual name Jennifer Hunt). Jaylo blogs about police, TV, the NYPD and the military, in addition to other subjects at http://www.seven-shots.com/blog/.

Instead of my summary, I’ll let Hunt’s introduction take it away. “A six-man Emergency Service Unit (ESU) team raided the apartment of two Middle Eastern terrorists who were in possession of bombs that they planned to detonate in the New York subway that morning,” Hunt writes at the opening of Seven Shots. “In less than seven hours, one Muslim informant, six New York Police Department (NYPD) Emergency Service officers, two Bomb Squad detectives, supporting units, teams and commanders narrowly averted the nation’s first suicide bombing.” Hunt tells this story, and continues on to the contentious aftermath of the raid as the police officers deal with fame, awards, anger and NYPD politics.

Seven Shots opens with a very academic twenty page history of Hunt’s background with the NYPD, and then a thirty page introduction detailing NYPD cultural norms and history. Hunt is a sociologist and college professor, so this makes sense. That said, as I wrote in my notes, “for an academic book, it is crazy novelistic”, especially during the first 100 pages or so. This is a big compliment. Some of the character descriptions, like police officer Keith  Ryan’s bird racing hobby, are just fascinating.

The academic slant makes for an ironclad approach though. Hunt includes a nine page explanation of her method which--if you’ve read my series on memoirs--you’ll know I appreciated. She explains who she interviewed and how; every book should.

Some takeaways from Seven Shots:

Terrorism has always been with us. This may seem obvious. I mean, since the 1800’s, some group or another, from nihilists and anarchists to Muslim or right-wing extremists have used terrorism as a means of intimidating larger society. But the conventional--and accepted--narrative is that something changed on 9/11. But Seven Shots is basically a long, convincing anecdote proving the opposite.

I wonder what would have happened if 9/11 had been averted. Who doesn’t? But Seven Shots forces the realization. The threat of international terrorism lurked around America and abroad throughout the 90’s, but America didn’t change the way it lived. It took a successful attack to change the way we live.

Seven Shots could be considered one long argument for human intelligence. The NYPD stopped the attacks because Mohammad Chindluri alerted them to the attack. This is a classic example of “good ol’ fashioned police work”--read Human Intelligence--saving the day. Watch or read “Top Secret America”, and realize that we waste billions on fancy tech, when all we need is good detectives/human intelligence.

Anti-Muslim bigotry and racism actively endangers Americans. Watch this video from last week. Think about the Muslim community center protests from last August. Think about people who mistakenly describe Islam as not a religion but a political system. These anti-Muslim actions endanger American lives, by discouraging Islamic informants (Read my above point). Racism isn’t just offensive; it is actually dangerous.

Anti-Muslim bigotry also includes falsely detaining people based on race or religion. Which happens in Seven Shots. On page 87, Hunt describes how the police detained five Pakistani people from the apartment building where the raid took place.

Is the NYPD the most crazy political organization in the world? After reading Seven Shots, I’d say yes. The department needs severe fixing. This problem, though, seems to exist in the Army as well.

This story is really cinematic. And it’s odd it hasn’t been made into a movie yet, or incorporated into a larger film.

(Full disclosure: On Violence received a copy of “Seven Shots” from The University of Chicago Press. We thank them for the book and the opportunity to review it.)

thirteen comments

Love the idea that terrorism or “the world” didn’t change after 9/11. I mean, terrorism was around, our reaction just wasn’t huge after previous incidents.

Retired Chief Bill Morange was emphatic about this – our long history of terrorism in the NYPD. He also had high regard for members of the Muslim community. When he was a precinct commander in an area in which there were many Muslim and black residents, he was affectionately nicknamed, “the white prince of Harlem.”

Currently the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is working hard to develop good relationships with members of the Muslim community as has been in the New York Times. It sounds like Afghanistan – with cops sitting around with various persons and drinking tea.

Thanks Eric for a lively, insightful review. jch

The video link to last week’s protest isn’t active. Nice review; I didn’t realize it was based on a true story. I’ll have to give it a look.

The first thing that jumped out at me in this review was the phrase “muslim informant”.

Worth noting in the light of Rep King’s current crusade.

I didn’t know about this incident but it has been clear to me for quite some time (since first traveling on the subway) that a well-timed attack on that system has the potential to be far more devastating (in terms of loss of life) than the immediate effects of 9/11.

Prevented by a “muslim informant”.

Yeah, Steve, more on that next week.

And the link is fixed.

Islam, like Judaism, is a “living religion” which, actually, is a way to live one’s life (a de facto political system if you will). Orthodox Jews exhibit this in their communities including one in New York where virtually everyone living in that area are Orthodox Jews and things are run according to the Torah.

In Israel, which has both Orthodox and Reform Jews, it can be virtually impossible to seperate religion from politics there. Don’t see how Islamic countries are any different really. Turkey might be the only somewhat notable exception.

According to the DOJ:

“Though Muslims represent about 1 percent of the American population, they constitute defendants in 186 of the 228 cases DOJ lists…”

Are all Muslims “terrorist” then? No, but we do need to be mindful of the facts in any debate.

Harrison? This was a book review. What are you talking about?

Uh… the article? Specifically:

Think about people who mistakenly describe Islam as not a religion but a political system.

Seven Shots follow five major characters from the 1997 raid through the purgatory of department politics and into the arms of the World Trade Center disaster when they were involved in the rescue and recovery attempts, lost many friends, and one almost died.

Top members of the brass are also depicted in the chapter on 9/11 and how they handled policing during the disaster.

One of the questions that one character, Keith Ryan, asks is if they (the Department) had taken the incident in 1997, would they have been better prepared for 9/11?

It’s a good question in view of the intelligence that was missed at the federal level.

Another question the book raises is that if we keep putting the interests of the top brass and their political agendas ahead of those of the “troops,” will the troops abandon us when we need them most? This happened in New Orleans, a very different Department than in New York. Still, the question remains.

whoops, that should read above “taken the incident in 1997 more seriously,…”

Great overview. The follow-up discussion is interesting too.

Harrison, with regard to the number of DOJ cases involving Muslim defendants, where those including or excluding prisoners of war interned on American soil?

Would Christianity have been considered a “living religion” in the post-Roman world? I mean, the Holy Roman Empire was led by the Pope. Further, Kings ruled many countries with the blessing of the church. Further, isn’t a central tenet of Christianity that it influences how you lead your life?

So I would say that it isn’t the religion, it is the thinkers who choose to say that the religion forces a theocracy. Whether Christian theocracy or Muslim theocracy, it is the people who make it a theocracy, not the religion itself.