Tuesday, September 15, 2009
9-11 reflections: Is terrorism still a threat?
The obvious answer to the question is yes - and that goes for before as well as after 9-11. In many ways, 9-11 distorts the picture because it was the single largest casualty count of any terrorist attack in history (unless you start to factor in acts of state-sponsored terrorism during armed conflicts, but let's accept the conventional though arbitrary definition of terrorism as solely due to non-state actors).
The count of all major terrorist attacks resulting in 100 or more fatalities is an interesting one. There were 33 such attacks prior to 9-11, and a huge fraction of the post-9-11 attacks are in Iraq. I may be mistaken but the only attacks of any significant scale in the West after 9-11 have been in London and Madrid, though there have been numerous arrests of various Western muslims (mostly British) for various plots (mostly inept, like the ricin plot, the shoe bomber, and the liquid bombs).
So, what does that all mean?
If we exclude 9-11, then it looks like terrorism is a problem more relevant to the rest of the world, in response to nationalist and post-colonialist political turmoil. 9-11 seems to have been a major outlier. Hopefully that remains the case, though of course the idea that another 9-11-scale attack could recur is one that drives most of the debate here in the US about security, liberty, torture, etc. Some wll point to the lack of further 9-11 attacks as proof that the previous Administration's policies were justified; others will argue that security could have been bought for far less compromise on our basic principles of freedom, but either argument is essnetially impossible to prove.
I don't have any answers. But one thing is certain, that though 9-11 had a lasting impact on our nation's government and policy, it had much less of an impact on the American spirit. In that sense, at least, the terrorists can be said to have truly and utterly failed.
Related: my thoughts last year on the "silence libel" which still persists. 9-11 created a (gradually decreasing) distrust of Islam in the American psyche that the muslim-American community must simply accept exists, and overcome.