Terrorists Still Hate Us
Bernard Finel believes that recent optimism that we’re making progress against terrorists in general and al Qaeda in particular is undue.
First, there has been some decline in casualties from Islamist terror attacks both inside and outside of Iraq. But as I have argued elsewhere, casualty figures have a largely random element to them. In the meantime, the number of incidents of Islamist violence around the world remains at an all-time high.
Second, there is some promising debate and discussion within jihadist circles about the efficacy and legitimacy of terror. This may, over time, promote some moderation. But as a practical matter, terrorists are not motivated by sophisticated theological arguments; they are motivated more commonly by a visceral belief that Islam is under attack from the West and that violence is the only mode of resistance. Jailhouse conversions are significant, but not as significant as the still-popular belief in many Muslim communities that America is a hostile power bent on domination and exploitation.
Third, we have seen a significant decline in state support for terrorism. The problem, of course, is that the current threat has never really been a problem of states, but rather of transnational networks empowered by the tools of globalization — ease of travel and communication, access to financial networks, and the internationalization of local grievances.
Absent an extended decline in attacks, I’m inclined to agree that this is a “generational struggle” that won’t conveniently end in time for the next election. Indeed, I’m not even sure that it’s truly winnable in the sense that a war against a state enemy is since there’s no one with whom to negotiate terms. Terrorism is simply too powerful a tool to think that it will ever completely go away.
Still, the fact that the most ardent critics of the administration’s war on terror are pointing to a “jihadist revolt against bin Laden” is mighty encouraging. If we can avoid stepping on our progress with counterproductive policies that the terrorists can use as evidence that we hate Islam, not just those who murder civilians — even other Muslims — in its name, we can at least drain the swamp.