Terrorism? What Terrorism?

Another theory advanced by a particularly callous sect of academics involves the so-called “statistical argument.” Events such as 9/11 are dismissed as relatively infrequent and the casualty count, when set against the fatalities contingent upon standard, domestic, or “normal” misfortunes, is regarded as comparatively insignificant. Such a hypothesis, of course, is pure nonsense and is easily deflated. The statistics pertaining not only to traffic accidents but to alcohol-related deaths or even being struck by lightning, which are supposed to put terrorism in context, only reinforce a kind of dream world, a species of farcical irreality. This is the sort of surreal dimension inhabited, for example, by terror pundit and Columbia University professor Phillip Bobbitt, who, in his Terror and Consent, informs us that the number of terror deaths and bathtub drownings is “about the same.” Remember to strap on a scuba diving tank next time you take a bath.

As we can see, there is plainly no shortage of academics and faculty lounge debaters peddling chimeras, striving to minimize the very real danger we are in, and working to narcotize us into a state of political and cultural somnolence. Academic John Mueller, author of the rather fatuous Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them, has recently jumped into the game, appearing on a panel at Ohio State University discussing Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, in which, along with fellow professor John Quigley, he sought to further diminish the reality of the terrorist threat. Osama bin Laden, it turns out, is really a 21st-century anti-colonialist and the attack on the WTC was carried out by the American government. Interestingly, the panel was co-sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Our propitiating academics are the fortunate and voluntary exiles of our time, having left the rigors of real life behind and opted for life in an insular seminary of detached speculation, guaranteed by the tenure system. “It’s a bad situation,” writes Mark Bauerlein in MindingTheCampus.com. “The very system that academics invoke to fend off critics has become part of the problem. Ideological bias has seeped into the standards of professionalism. … Tenured professors enjoy their lifetime paychecks and proceed by professional habits … los[ing] touch with common sense and real-world implications.” I am reminded of those wonderful lines from the 18th-century poet Peter Pindar’s Laughing at the King:

For men (it is reported) dash and vapour

Less in the field of battle, than on paper.

Writing in FrontPage Magazine, Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, maintains that the professoriate must reform itself in order to combat the “continued public perception that the academy is intellectually monolithic” as well as “goofy and out of touch.” But this is far more than merely a “perception”; it is a blunt fact, especially, though not exclusively, in the humanities and the social sciences. And, naturally, the law faculties. Barack Obama, we recall, was once an academic, however obscure and of uncertain achievement. He too suffers the pathos of untested erudition, rebranding the “war on terror” as “overseas contingency operation.” Contingency? Overseas?

This out-of-touchness with the real world explains why law professors like Robert Chesney of Wake Forest University and Peter Margulies of Roger Williams University opposed the conviction of José Padilla (a.k.a. Abdullah al-Mujahir) for conspiring to commit terror, on the grounds that, although he was affiliated with a radical jihadist organization and supported terrorist operations, he had not yet committed an act of terrorism. Andrew Klavan wisely reminds us that “police work -- like soldier work -- doesn’t take place in the mind of a college professor.” Neither does world work.

As a character in the old spy-spoof sitcom Get Smart would exclaim, after witnessing the unbelievable asininities of the protagonist, “Ama-a-a-zing!” And it is indeed amazing. For the Maxwell Smarts of the academic world, it appears we must wait for people to die before we bestir ourselves to respond -- and then, doubtlessly, to fold the casualty count into a statistical compilation that scumbles their significance. If this kind of thinking goes on for too long, the groves of academe will eventually turn into the graves of academe. For the world will not always be so obliging as to stop at the gates of the university.

Renowned Middle East authority Elie Kedourie had a credulous public in mind when he wrote in an article dating back to 1961 that, in the absence of exact and grounded knowledge, “the academic advising or exhorting action will most likely appear a learned fool, babbling of he knows not what.” What academics don’t “babble” about is equally troubling. Scarcely a word can be found in their voluminous tracts concerning the bellicose initiatives of the expanding terror cartel involving Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and North Korea, with America in the cross hairs. Too obvious, no doubt, for those who pride themselves on their subtlety to notice.

For all their supposed little grey cells, our academics are no Hercule Poirots, able to resolve the mysteries they confront. On the contrary, they are, on the whole, quite modestly equipped. It is perhaps not too farfetched an analogy to compare the modern liberal university to a nutrient vat of amphibious brains disconnected from reality and wired to a giant computer, taking the illusions they are fed for a transcript of the actual world. For the effectiveness of campus theories is approximately nil or, if anything, utterly counterproductive.

Let us listen to genuine thinkers, not university virtuosos. “We have entered another world,” writes André Glucksmann in City Journal. “The threat of Ground Zero, small or great, advances behind a mask. The human bomb claims the power to strike anywhere, by any means, at any time, spreading his nocturnal threat over the globe, invisible and unpredictable. … The terrorist without borders makes us think about him always, everywhere. … Each of us waits for the next explosion.” The general run of our academics and intellectual elites, however, lapped in their dolce far niente, wait instead for the next book deal, the next invitation to hold forth at learned conferences, the next promotion, the next CNN appearance, the next citation or award -- and who knows, maybe even a Nobel Peace Prize. These are, for them, the real issues, as they continue, in Glucksmann’s words, “regilding the clocks of Cloud-Cuckoo-Land” and dispensing the bromides that “prove their innocence and comfort their fragile souls.”

“What, me worry?” Mad magazine’s cover mascot Alfred E. Neuman famously asked. The answer to that question today, at least for those who still have their heads on their shoulders and are not given to glib scholarly lucubrations, is: “Yes, worry, be very worried.”