The Enemy is Everywhere, and Nowhere

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The UK Guardian reports on the British Home Office official assessment of the London bombings last July. The conclusion?

the attack was planned on a shoestring budget from information on the internet…there was no 'fifth-bomber' and no direct support from al-Qaeda, although two of the bombers had visited Pakistan.
…….
Far from being the work of an international terror network, as originally suspected, the attack was carried out by four men who had scoured terror sites on the internet. Their knapsack bombs cost only a few hundred pounds.

This raises the question that has bothered me ever since a few months after 9/11: if we are so surrounded by sinister enemies of Western freedoms, with borders so porous and intelligence and policing so hobbled, why don't things like this happen monthly, weekly, or daily here? Pop-terror maven David Frum once told me that it was because of the blockbuster mentality–after 9/11, nothing less spectacular would seem to do our enemies' any good. Given my own understanding of Americans, I have no doubt an assault of a thousand smaller cuts would be equally if not more effective in reminding us we are in a jihad–if in fact we are, in any operationally meaningful sense the average American should care about.

I'm well aware that a post like this could seem incredibly foolish within minutes of my typing it if events go a certain way. But is there ever a point where enough time goes by after 9/11 that the wolf-criers, rather than the doubters, start to seem like the nutcases? Or is war footing, and all the rhetorical benefits that gives government in its attempts to spend and surveil and arrest, truly eternal, no matter what?

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  1. I agree with your point. Numerous bar conversations with friends after 9/11/01 involved how to shut down New York City with only 7 genades. While many were unrealistic, some were plausible enough to make me wonder if there really is ANY support for Al Queda in the US.

    If there are supporters, don’t they have any balls for the cause?

  2. Where would these “thousand cuts” come from? I don’t think there are really that many folks who are both suicidally whacko and able to plan their way out of a paper bag.

    And FWIW, I started thinking the wolf-criers were crazier around the time that woman had to drink her own breast milk to get through airport security.

  3. Post 9/11 mentality, dude:it’s now and forever THEM and US.

    THEY are evil, stinking GODLESS FIENDS who will stop at NOTHING- I repeat NOTHING to destroy US and everything WE hold sacred. THEY hate us for our FREEDOM.

    THEREFOR, we must never let go of our fear. FEAR and HATE are what will guide us in the new millenium.

    It’s totally different this time. Freedom is slavery. Submission is patriotism. Don’t take your eye off the ball. Elections? Why even take the CHANCE?

  4. I saw an guy interviewed on the Daily Show, I think the guy was the guy who wrote “the Osama that I know”, but I am not sure.

    Anyhow, if I remember correctly the guy claimed that the reason that we haven’t had terrorist attacks in the US while there have been in Europe, is that Al Q has a hard time with their guys in the US not becoming Americanized. That the Arabs that live in the US don’t want to attack the US, that they come to feel that the US is their home. They become Americans, whereas in Europe they are still Arabs.

  5. “I don’t think there are really that many folks who are both suicidally whacko and able to plan their way out of a paper bag.”
    That was exactly my point, CTD. (And I think even a DOZEN cuts would do to hurt this country VERY badly–remember what the DC snipers man aged?)

  6. “if we are so surrounded by sinister enemies of Western freedoms, with borders so porous and intelligence and policing so hobbled, why don’t things like this happen monthly, weekly, or daily here?”

    A column on exactly this point: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig2/vancleave4.html

  7. There is the story of the two Arabs who come to the US and vow to remain true to their heritage. The agree to meet 10 years later to compare and see which one has managed to maintain truer to their culture.

    10 years later they meet, and one of them starts to talk, he can’t even muster up shame as he drinks his diet Pepsi and explains that his daughter is a cheerleader, his son works at McDonalds, and is applying to Yale. He doesn’t even know where the mosque in his town is.

    The other one looks at him and says “fuck you, you raghead”, and walks away.

  8. I think it’s a fairly water tight argument and I agree with it. Although, in logical terms, it’s not too far from the creationists demanding to ‘see’ the evidence.

    I’d stay clear from the UK Guardian. Horrible, nasty little left wing newspaper. Unless, of course, you’re a power crazed commie in which case buy a subscription.

  9. “I think it’s a fairly water tight argument and I agree with it. Although, in logical terms, it’s not too far from the creationists demanding to ‘see’ the evidence.”

    HUH? Demagouges posit a vast sea of terrorists in out midst and WE can’t ask “prove it” without sounding like some religious nut who cannot be reasoned with regardless of the evidence?

    I’ve wondered about this for years–just a few car bombs (no suicidal tactics necessary) in city centers would cause the great mass of truly chickenshit Americans to crap their pants and run to daddy. This is one reason (of many) I can’t buy into too many 9-11 conspiracy theories–if the Bushies could pull that off, you’d think they could stumble into something this simple to prop the Idiot-in-Chief.

  10. “Pop-terror maven David Frum once told me that it was because of the blockbuster mentality–after 9/11, nothing less spectacular would seem to do our enemies’ any good.”

    That would make sense if these guys were acting with any kind of long-range strategic vision in mind. A few of them might be indeed, to their own way of thinking, but mostly it seems to be an ad hoc “Kill the enemies of Islam and go directly to heaven” kind of thing.

    I agree, the reason that we haven’t had more attacks here is that immigrants (not just Muslims) have a better shot at integrating into U.S. society than they do in Europe and radical clerics don’t find the ground here that fertile for recruiting.

  11. Or is war footing, and all the rhetorical benefits that gives government in its attempts to spend and surveil and arrest, truly eternal, no matter what?

    It is more about government spending. I may be surveilled. Don’t care. I don’t think I will be arrested. Fingers crossed. They do keep charging me tax money for ineffectual anti-terrorism measures. That is what I see as the problem. The incursion on my freedom I actually care about. It always surprises me that HnR’ers don’t seem to share these prioriteez.

  12. immigrants (not just Muslims) have a better shot at integrating into U.S. society than they do in Europe

    I’d like to know what the source is for this bit of conventional wisdom, and what facts there are to back it up. I’ve never seen anything more substantial than someone just saying it as if it were self-evident truth.

    I’m not saying it isn’t true — I don’t really know — but having some experience in both the US and Europe I’m a bit suspicious of the claim. I’d like to see some evidence.

  13. Brian, you nailed it with the DC snipers. Something low-level and random that goes on for several weeks will do more to hurt the US than another 9/11, which only made us mad. My suspicion has been since about May of 2002 that this wasn’t about our actual security so much as about funding certain areas of the federal government.

  14. “but having some experience in both the US and Europe I’m a bit suspicious of the claim.”

    Really? The one thing the Brits say they like about America is that we are all Americans, where in their country they are not all Brits. They say the Kurds, Arabs and others maintain their identity.

    I don’t know how much time these dudes have spent in the US to have that opinion, if they have been to predominantly Mexican neighborhoods.

  15. ” is there ever a point where enough time goes by after 9/11 ?”

    Yes,Brian, and some started saying why in 2004:

    http://www.amconmag.com/2004_12_06/article.html

  16. Mr. Seitz–I remember your excellent article. However, its argument has alas not won the day in terms of either adminstration policy or general man-in-the-street attitudes, at least not in the world I live in. I was on a local cable access talk show in LA between two years ago and now, and all agreed that I was completely insane to suggest that we were NOT going to anyminutenow suffer another horrible terrorist attack. Alas, that attitude seems to have continued. Any anecdotal evidence otherwise appreciated.

  17. Let me get this straight: You want proof, hard evidence, that we in America are under threat of terrorist attacks–big, small, low-level, spectacular, whatever.

    I’m gonna stick my neck out here and say you’ll get your proof. See, I read. Voraciously. And I tend to take seriously exterminationist rhetoric and seething hatred and rioting from foaming-at-the-mouth jihadists. I don’t think jihadism will confine itself to the streets of Europe. Or to Bali. Or Yemen. Or Istanbul. Or Jordan.

    Of course I could be wrong. I guess we’ll both find out.

    Meanwhile, has it ever occurred to anyone here that perhaps–and I suggest this knowing exactly how inept our government is–counterterrorism measures (you know: that stuff we hate–like wiretapping, for example, or various PATRIOT Act measures) are, you know, working?

    Sheesh.

  18. I think one of the big differences between the US and Europe in terms of homegrown radical Islamists is the lack of a comprehensive welfare system here, and the habit Europeans have of creating immigrant enclaves (ghettos, really). In Europe, there is a decent percentage of Muslim immigrants who live together on the dole in government-owned shitholes. It breeds resentment. In the US, immigrants of all stripes work, generally speaking. People with jobs and bills to pay have very little time to plot and carry out terrorist attacks. As they become more and more prosperous and integrated, they have less and less reason to feel the need to strike out. It is a simplistic analysis, obviously, but I do think that the European Muslim population is much more radicalized than what we see here.

    But more generally, I have been amazed that we have not seen more low-level attacks. We had that one dude who shot up the El Al ticket counter in LA a few years ago, and the DC snipers, but that’s about it. Random grenades in malls, one or two truck bombs in the middle of residential suburbs, and similar low-budget enterprises would not have a body-count like 9/11, but it would sure as hell freak out a bunch of Americans. One wonders if, in the same way the government has overplayed the role of Zarqawi in Iraq, they haven’t also falsely turned al-Qaeda into some sort of Legion of Doom.

  19. Well, my tiger repelling device is working flawlessly. There have been absolutely no tiger sightings in my Florida neighborhood fo the longest time.

    Cause and effect. I’m sure of it!

  20. And hepzeeba, no, I don’t think any of that shit is the reason we don’t see attacks. How is the PATRIOT act going to stop a random Islamist wacko from going off? How is spying on goddam vegetarian activists stopping terrorism?

    Besides, we went from, what, the 1994 World Trade Center bombing to 9/11/2001 without a foreign terrorist attack, too. What was stopping them then? Fear of Clinton’s cigar?

  21. The USA is a big country with a lot of ways in and out. If the Islamist kooks want to cause mayhem here, they will find a way–and harassing me at the airport won’t do a damned thing to stop it.

  22. Fuck, I’m surprised there haven’t been more acts of actual americans going off and blowing some shit up. Americans aren’t going to blow themselves up in a crowded market, but I am surprised there haven’t been more things like what happened in Atlanta a few years back.

    But ultimately, I agree with Jeff that if “terrorists” really want to, they can do something pretty much anywhere, at any time. That they don’t/haven’t only proves to me that we are not in as much threat as the administration would like for us to believe.

  23. Every European I’ve talked to has said the one thing they think America does better than anyone else is making people of all nationalities, races, religions and cultures become American and integrate with general society. And that does a lot to pervent terrorist attacks than snagging my lighter at the airport.

    This is part of the reason why I think guest worker programs are a bad idea. It creates that underclass.

  24. Jeff in Texas,

    I would suggest you not take the word of your government and the liar-in-chief and his ugly dwarfs and that you take the time inform yourself about al Qaeda, or OBL, or terrorists like Mugniyeh, or Hezbollah, which is deeply buried in Argentina planning who-knows-what.

    Having done that myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that even we in America are not safe from continued terrorism.

    One person of my acquaintance was over 9/11 on 9/13. “Shit happens,” he told me. Of course, he’s from L.A. I’m from New York, where they shut down the entire subway system during terrorism threats. And where even doubters like you are grateful.

  25. kwais,

    Really? The one thing the Brits say they like about America is that we are all Americans, where in their country they are not all Brits. They say the Kurds, Arabs and others maintain their identity.

    That’s funny. Speaking as someone who came to the US from down under, I’ve been constantly amazed at the number of hyphenated-Americans there are: Chinese-Americans, African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, etc. I wasn’t used to that kind of ethnic self-separation at all. I’ve even met third generation Americans who are “Irish” (“Really? What part of Ireland are you from?” — “Oh, I wasn’t *born* in Ireland…”)

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