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.

We know all this and yet we refrain from taking vigorous countermeasures against a determined foe. The war in Afghanistan plods on without resolution. Iran gets a free pass, sanctions notwithstanding -- unless, of course, the Israelis do the job for us. The Saudis are permitted to sow discord unhindered. Somalian brigands have just captured another tanker, bringing the number of hijacked ships in piratical custody to the round number of ten. CAIR, ISNA, and other Islamic organizations are still flourishing. The mosques are allowed to go their incendiary way. Writers, journalists, NGOs, editors, and government leaders bend over backwards, or rather bend low forwards, to those who hold us in contempt and who work diligently against our very survival.

Former Muhajiroun Hassan Butt in a Daily Mail op-ed explains that both Muslims and their Western apologists are trapped in a “defunct model of the world.” We will be unable to liberate ourselves, he suggests, unless we decide to rewrite “the rules of interaction” and step out of the dogmatic paradigm that controls our actions. (But we cannot expect our Islamic adversaries to oblige; it is we, plainly, who must make the effort.) Butt’s analysis has been corroborated by Ed Husain’s newly released memoir, The Islamist, in which the former recruit to the terrorist creed charts his journey into the bowels of Islamic extremism. The real issue is the obsession of “Islamist” domination which grows in the Wahhabi and “Islamist” mind, a kind of tumor which is paradoxically fatal only to us. And this social and mental pathology, he makes clear, is materially abetted by the naivety and weakness of our governing authorities and their collaborators in the press, the constabulary, the universities, and our national institutions.

Time to face facts. We have lost the battle and we will lose the war unless we muster the courage to become proactive and take the fight to the enemy. The “rules of interaction” must be rewritten. At present, they are the Kapton wiring in our defense system. This is an unpleasant prospect but there is no alternative. It means releasing the military from its shackles to perform the task it was created for. It means demolishing the Iranian nuclear infrastructure and its EMP potential -- the latter perhaps the gravest current threat to the security of the United States -- as well as crushing Hamas and Hezbollah, rather than treating with them uselessly in a comedy of diplomatic fatuousness. It means bringing the Saudis to heel, which can be done despite their immense, Western-derived oil wealth. It means shutting down the mosques in which domestic terrorism is fomented, designating CAIR, ISNA, and their clones as criminal or treasonous organizations, and annulling their license to operate. It means rigorous profiling of obvious suspects regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. It means compelling university administrators to prevent their campuses from becoming radical hotbeds of anti-American agitation and anti-Western propaganda. It means refusing to give public and institutional prominence to leftist or pro-Islamic individuals and groups who labor to undermine our security and our way of life.

But I’m afraid we don’t have the stomach for draconian expedients and will pay a prohibitive cost for our pusillanimity. Is it not obvious that our entire world -- our habits, customs, assumptions, expectations, feelings, relationships, and activities -- has been fundamentally altered since 9/11? That a significant portion of the economy has been diverted from truly productive use? That we are constantly looking over our shoulders, waiting for the next disintegrating office tower, the next Little Rock and Fort Hood, the next Flight 253? Even the next fizzled terrorist attempt will have malign reverberations and as such will already have succeeded. Indeed, as National Post columnist George Jonas speculates concerning the Nigerian apprentice-terrorist, “the young fanatic may have been supplied with dud explosives,” for his sponsors might have considered that “dispatching insufficiently trained and equipped saboteurs would still do the trick, because security officials can be counted on to multiply the effects of terrorism by their anti-terrorist measures. … Ironically, few things discourage travel more than the methods we employ to make it safer.”

It is in this overall sense that terrorism has won the battle. As for new airport regulations and the spate of vapid euphemisms that accompany them, which are only a pathetic response to that which we refuse to meaningfully confront, they are like baby powder applied to an amputation. They will not stop the bleeding or pamper up the wound. Abdulmutallab may now be safely tucked away in jail but we, for our part, remain imprisoned in a mindset governed by fear of offending, the dictates of political correctness, abject cowardice, the rituals of bureaucratic stupidity, and failed strategies of appeasement. To quote Kurt Vonnegut from Slaughterhouse-Five, “So it goes.”