It’s very good news that the CIA apparently foiled a recent plot, hatched in Yemen, to blow up a U.S. airliiner.
But it’s also bad news. Some people, lulled into a false state of security, have concluded that we’re living in a post-9-11 world, and that serious concern about terrorist attacks is largely, now, a matter of irrational hysteria.
They’re wrong. There are many out there who still want to do serious harm to America and Americans, and we’ve been spared, thus far, by a combination of effective intelligence work (including, whatever one may think of their moral status, those controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques”) and sheer good luck.
Eventually, our good luck will run out. Another airliner will be brought down. A large building will be destroyed, and those in it killed and maimed. A dirty bomb will explode in the downtown area of one of our cities. A chemical or biological weapon will be released in an urban zone.
Our good luck will likely expire before our enemies’ malice does.
I don’t dispute for even a second that certain bad actors need to be captured or killed.
But I also think that, in order for us to achieve ultimate success, the swamp out of which such bad actors emerge needs to be drained. Otherwise, they will simply continue to arise, one after another.
That swamp is not poverty. Ayman al-Zawahiri isn’t poor. He was for many years a physician in Ma‘adi, Egypt, where I used to live. (There is a chance that my wife once went to him for treatment; we can’t quite recall.) ‘Usama b. Ladin wasn’t poor. He was an engineer and the heir to a very large fortune. The 9-11 hijackers weren’t poor; they were from the upper middle class.
The swamp is radical jihadi Islam. And it must be combated in a war of ideas. And Muslims themselves must be on the forefront of that war. Christian and Jewish and secular and other outsiders are ill-positioned to have significant influence in this struggle, though there are some things that they can do.
There is no war on “terror,” as such. “Terror” is merely a technique, a method. World War II wasn’t a “war on Mauser rifes” or a “war on Panzer tactics.” The war is against militant extremist Islam and its adherents. We have to be honest about this.
But we also have to be extremely careful never to make it, or to seem to make it, a war against Islam as such. That would be a disastrous error, and a moral injustice.