Terrorism Works, Even When It Doesn't

In dealing with the phenomenon of modern terrorism and trying to figure out how to come to terms with it, we should get one thing straight at the start. Every terrorist attack is a success -- even one that fails, that flops as a result of amateur ineptitude, that gutters on dumb luck, and that causes little or no harm. For it continues to resonate, to present us with the spectral possibility that it may well have come off and that we may not be so fortunate the next time around. It provokes renewed nervousness and constant vigilance. It makes us anxious and suspicious. Every terrorist act creates havoc, the only difference being one of degree.

September 11, of course, was the most successful and devastating such attack in the history of modern terrorism, but the casualties it inflicted went beyond thousands of dead and physical destruction, as they were calculated to do. The economic repercussions were also massive. The airline industry, the tourist trade, the Nasdaq, oil prices, and the export and import enterprise were all profoundly affected. If the “London three” had succeeded in their plot to bring down a veritable fleet of airliners over the Atlantic within minutes of one another, the death toll would have been horrendous. At the same time, important sectors of the market would have imploded and the livelihoods of numberless people around the world would have been ruinously impacted. Losing one’s job is a lot better than losing one’s life, but such theoretical consolation eventually wears thin for those struggling to make ends meet.

Nevertheless, a terrorist attack that doesn’t come off will still have an explosive effect. Nigerian terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab may have been as incompetent (or unlucky) as Richard Reid the shoe bomber in failing to detonate Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day, though not for lack of trying. But he also initiated a ripple effect throughout the world as security measures at airports everywhere were instantly beefed up, causing long delays, canceled flights, the installation of embarrassing screening techniques, and the increasing reluctance of travelers to fly in the first place. Scumbags like Reid and Abdulmutallab did not succeed in bringing down an airliner, yet they or their imitators may ultimately succeed in bringing down an airline.

In a very real sense, terrorism has already won the battle, and the only question that lingers is whether it will win the war. An Air Force One lookalike skims across the skyline of New York on a photo-op and the city panics. Someone places a backpack beside his seat on a subway train and is immediately suspected of murderous intentions. Homeland Security spends billions of dollars in an effort to improve security but the money is largely wasted, its most conspicuous result being the depletion of the treasury and the inconveniencing of passengers. People are thinking of staying home rather than boarding that flight to Paris or London, or anywhere else for that matter. Hotels are underbooked and travel agencies are going out of business. (There were two such agencies in the town I live in -- now there is only one and it is near bankruptcy.) Publishers are wary of printing books that may offend Muslims and will often go to obscene lengths of expurgation when they publish anything they fear may be borderline precarious. Authors go into hiding to avoid assassination -- witness Steven Emerson, Robert Redeker, and of course Salman Rushdie. Others, like Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, need round-the-clock protection to avoid the fate of Theo van Gogh. The list of social evils grows longer by the year.

So what is to be done? During the Bush administration many terror plots against American targets were foiled, which did not, unfortunately, preclude their ongoing incidence. Under Obama, the situation has obviously deteriorated, with the ludicrous re-badging of terror as “man-caused disasters” and Gitmo inmates repatriated to their home countries, where they are free to pursue their deadly agenda. Meanwhile we have seen the mayhem wrought on the international stage. The measures and resolutions adopted thus far have proven to be inadequate and will continue to falter miserably for the foreseeable future.

Here at home, we know that local mosques are breeding grounds of Islamic jihad -- Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan is only one of many who were radicalized at the seditious behest of their imams and mentors, as were the so-called “Toronto 18” who planned to bomb RCMP headquarters and nuclear power plants, attack the parliament buildings, and behead the prime minister. We know that various Islamic organizations such as CAIR continue to promote religiously ordained violence and the gradual insinuation of Sharia law into public life. We know that the marching orders of many terrorists emanate from countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, where a Detroit-like attempt was recently thwarted. We know that Saudi Arabia lavishly funds mosques and schools in which the demoralization and subversion of the West are preached and practiced. We know that Iran is engaged in exporting turbulence wherever it can and, through its militant franchises Hamas and especially Hezbollah, reaching into the vitals of Western democracies. We know, too, that there are legions of fellow travelers among us who are busy conceding to the enemy, justifying his purposes, blaming our own actions for the bloodshed visited upon us, and generally making life easy for our sworn antagonists.