Saturday, December 26, 2009

Revisiting the 'Terrorist Threat Debate'

I'm thinking about the circumstances surrounding the attack on Northwest Flight 253. I always do whenever there's another terrorist attack. I'm especially intrigued -- no bothered, actually -- by the response of the leftists. I've commented already on folks like Spencer Ackerman and Matthew Yglesias, inveterate America-bashers, so no need to rehash it. No, my sense is that even level-headed folks fail to appreciate the transformation in circumstances of American and international life since September 11, 2001 -- a transformation that had been building for sometime, as in the nature of global conflict and the increasingly catastrophic incidence of attacks on citizens of the United States and elsewhere. We don't think too often about this, since the possibility of personal danger seems so far removed for most people -- but also because it's been almost ten years since the attacks on New York and Washington. Time heals all wounds, so in that sense our healing has also made us increasingly impervious to the continuing threat of diabolical terrorism.

Northwest Flight 253 (Northwest is the parent company of Delta) sits on the runway in Detroit, having landed safely after an alleged attempted terrorist attack. Credit: J.P. Karas / Associated Press (Source).

I read some portions this afternoon from Brigitte L. Nacos' textbook, Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding Threats and Responses in the Post 9/11 World. One passage from the introduction was quite moving, regarding the perception of danger in the age of postmodern terrorism. Nacos writes of the consensus perceptions of terrorism in 2001 and earlier:
Even before the dust had settled around the totally destroyed World Trade Center and the partially demolished Pentagon, people in the United States and abroad began to recognize that this terrorist assault pushed the United States and much of the world into a crisis that seemed equally dangerous as, or perhaps more explosive than, the Cold War conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies in the decades following the end of World War II. In some quarters, the end of the Cold War had fueled expectations for an even greater international understanding and cooperation and a "peace dividend" that would better the economic conditions in the underdeveloped world along with improvements in the industrialized nations. But during the 1990s, such dreams did not come true. Instead, there was a troubling wave of conflicts in many parts of the world.

Instant commentary in the media compared 9/11 with the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor sixty years earlier, claiming that both incidents had been as unexpected as bolts of lightening from a blue sky. Indeed, two months before the kamikaze flights into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a former counterterrorism specialist in the U.S. Department of State wrote in an op-ed article in the New York Times, "Judging from news reports and the portrayals of villains in our popular entertainment, Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal.... Nothing of these beliefs are based on facts" But others warned for years that the United States and other Western countries should brace for catastrophic terrorism that would result in mass disruption and mass destruction. Walter Laqueur, a leading terrorism expert, for example, who had characterized terrorism in the past as an irritant rather than a major threat, came to a different judgment at the end of the 1990s, when he concluded,
Terrorism has been with us for centuries, and it has always attracted inordinate attention because of its dramatic character and its sudden, often wholly unexepected occurrence. It has been a tragedy for the victims, but seen in historical perspective it seldom has been more than a nuisance.... This is no longer true today, and may even be less so in the future. Yesterday's nuisance has become one of the gravest dangers facing mankind.
Several horrific incidents in the 1990s and certainly the events of 9/11 proved the pessimists right and ended the threat debate. One could argue that the new age of terrorism began in December 1988 with the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, caused by a terrorist bomb that killed a total of 270 civilians on board (most of them Americans) and on the ground (all of them Scots). This was, at the time, the single most devastating act of terrorism in terms of number of victims. Actually, nearly as many Americans were killed when extremists of the Lebanese Hezbollah drove an explosive-laden truck into the U.S. Marine barracks near the Beirut airport in 1983. But while the victims were deployed as peacekeepers and thus were not combatants in the sense of fighting a war, they nevertheless were not civilians like the passengers and crew aboard Pan Am flight 103 and the people who died on the ground in Lockerbie ... whether civilians or members of the military are targets or victims figures prominently into the discussions of what kinds of violent acts constitute terrorism. The fate of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, along with the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that caused the death of 168 persons, represented turning points in the lethality of terror. Until these events, the widely held supposition was that "terrorists want a lot of people watching and a lot of people listening and not a lot of people dead." But after Pan Am flight 103 and the terror of Oklahoma City, this assumption is no longer valid.
The remainder of the introduction is equally fascinating. A key point mentioned is that while there has in fact been a declining trend in the number of terrorist attacks since the 1980s, there has been a concommitant tendency for increasingly spectacular incidents -- and importantly, this increase has been marked by the dramatic rise of religious terrorism, "the use of violence for political ends by groups whose motivations and justifications are couched in religious convictions, terms, and symbols."

On that point, and especially Islamist jihad, see Robert Fulford's essay today, "
The West Has Work to Do" (via Blazing Cat Fur):

Of all the lessons learned in this painful decade, the most terrifying by far is that the West faces a long-term challenge from radical Islam. Crucial ideas about the future of democracy will increasingly focus on the passionate, articulate jihadist movement that is now making war on the West and everything the West cherishes.

There’s small comfort to be found in the fact that most Muslims deplore violence. Even if Islamists and their sympathizers are only a tiny minority, the vehemence and dedication of their movement can exert great influence in many countries. One Islamist dream, to begin by introducing shariah law, is not crazy. There are politicians who think of it as an interesting compromise.

What should worry us, at this stage, is our response to Islamists. Are we strong enough to fight them off? They assume we are not. They consider us lazy, decadent and complacent — and they have plenty of evidence to support their argument.
More food for thought here, "Officials: Only A Failed Detonator Saved Northwest Flight: Screening Machines May Need to Be Replaced; Al Qaeda Aware of 'Achilles heel'." (Via Memeorandum.)

And here, "Qur’an 8:12 ‘I will terrorize the unbelievers. Therefore smite them on their necks and every joint and incapacitate them. Strike off their heads and cut off each of their fingers and toes’":


Bloviating Zeppelin said...

From my reading it sounds as if the terrorist had PETN in his possession. PETN is very unstable, even less stable than TNT. It is a clear crystal-like substance that is shipped and stored in water. It is very EASILY detonated.

This was no idiot or, as one ignorant person commented on my blog, simply "fireworks." PETN is serious stuff and seriously temperamental. The terrorist obviously chose PETN due to its colorless and light nature; it likely came on board in a container with water, perhaps as a small personal commercial application.

America, you need to Wake Up. AGAIN.


Dave said...

What debate?

Janet "Reno II" Napolitano has already said the GWOT is over.

It's just that somebody forgot to tell the Jihadists.


UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 12/28/2009, at The Unreligious Right