War on Terror

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on the Non-Threat of Islamist Terrorism


In her latest column for The Daily, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia wonders why Islamist terrorists haven't struck the U.S. in the 10 years since 9/11? Is it because our $2 trillion in military spending has made us safer? Or is it because Islamists aren't the low-tech version of Dr. Strangelove we make them out to be? In order to pull off attacks worthy of our never-ending war on terror, Dalmia writes:

They [Islamist terrorists] would have to be radicalized enough to die for their cause; Westernized enough to blend in without raising red flags; ingenious enough to exploit loopholes in the security apparatus; meticulous enough to attend to the myriad logistical details involved; self-sufficient enough to make preparations without enlisting outsiders; disciplined enough to maintain complete secrecy, and—above all—psychologically tough enough to function at a high level without cracking while planning their own death.

That emphatically is not the profile of an average al Qaeda foot soldier, who is a semi-literate peasant with little experience of the outside world.

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  1. But I see lots of people who hit all of those checkboxes in “24”!

    1. The 5th checkbox is to be able to make up the name of a country you’re from under pressure.

  2. Haven’t struck? Does Shikha live in the US? Have access to any information services?

    1. Please point us to any successful attack coordinated by Islamic terrorist groups in the US since 9/11.

      1. There’s been several near-successes such as the Times Square and Underwear bomber. Islamic terrorism is most definitely a threat it just doesn’t merit the response given to it.

        1. I think these two attempts prove the incompetence of the opposition.

          1. But they also show that Dalmiia’s theory that these are poor uneducated guys is complete bullshit.

            1. The Underwear Bomber was exactly that.

              The Times Square guy wasn’t, but he still fucked it up.

              1. I thought the underwear bomber was college-educated, and from a well-to-do family.

                1. And not just college-educated, but he went to University College London, one of the best research universities in the world. And with a degree in mechanical engineering.

                  The point with him should be that his plot failed despite our aviation security system.

              2. What? The underwear bomber was Umar farouk Abdullah, the son of the one the richest men in Africa and was once described as a “dream student”


            2. She also seems to assume for some reason that Islamic terrorists must use suicide attacks. For airplanes, that’s the case unless they’ve got a Halbech missile launcher tucked away somewhere, but not so much for car bombs and the like.

      2. The attempt by the Abdul Mutallab and Faizal Shazad don’t count? Najibullah Zazi doesn’t exist?

        1. Evidently, the attacks must be “successful” to count as attacks, and murdered military personnel don’t count.

          1. Honestly, as much as I despise the radical Islamists who attack our troops, I don’t know if it’s fair to classify attacks on active duty troops to terrorism. Ft. Hood is a little different scenario because these were unarmed soldiers not actively fighting, so I would probably say that’s terrorism. However, military personnel, even if they are fighting for a good purpose, are not innocent victims and I don’t think it’s okay to classify people as terrorist just because they attack our military. Attacking civilians with suicide attacks is always terrorism (obviously).

            1. I would call Ft. Hood crazy guy with gun murdering people.

              1. I would call Ft. Hood crazy guy with gun murdering people.

                Extreme religious fanatics are all “crazy people” by definition, and extreme Muslims are even crazier than most. And Hasan was clearly a radical Islamist who saw the infidels as enemies and wanted to off a bunch of them.

            2. Honestly, as much as I despise the radical Islamists who attack our troops, I don’t know if it’s fair to classify attacks on active duty troops to terrorism.

              It depends on if the attackers are entitled to the protections of the laws of war and fight according to the laws of war, as Bill Levinson pointed out to me over three years ago.

              1. That makes some sense, but murder is not terrorism, I don’t think.

                1. “”That makes some sense, but murder is not terrorism,””

                  Our government would love for it to be. That way all the anti-terror tools can be applied.

              2. Terrorism is generally defined as being directed against civilians.

                Unlawful combat is another issue (and of course, misapplied in this case, as there is no recognized “Militant Islam” uniform for those fighting for it to wear).

                1. I’m very familiar with the definition of terrorism, but not every case is identical, nor easy to classify.

                2. Unlawful combat is another issue (and of course, misapplied in this case, as there is no recognized “Militant Islam” uniform for those fighting for it to wear).

                  I guess it is tough shit for them if they get captured, as they can be summarily executed.

                  Of course, we did deploy spies in the world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, knowing if they were captured, they would be lucky if all they got was a bullet to the head.

              3. Or the expectation of being attacked by enemy combatants, legal or not.

        2. The first two failed due to their own incompetence, and the last aborted the plan at the last minute.

          The Ft Hood shooting wasn’t coordinated by any terror group, and to be honest we have plenty of shooting sprees by lone crazies in this country that have nothing to do with Muslims.

          1. They were incompetent or made mistakes so it doesn’t matter?

            Nidal Hassan is an interesting case, because he might not have had any connections to outside groups, but if he was inspired by Awlaki’s teachings to commit the shooting, does it make him a terrorist?

            1. They were incompetent or made mistakes so it doesn’t matter?

              Obviously. Those plots would still have failed even in the absence of any counterterrorism strategy whatsoever. The perpetrators should still be prosecuted in criminal court for their attempts, but they don’t justify counterterrorist strategies.

      3. The Fort Hood shooter, major Hassan, had ties to radical Islamists, although we are all supposed to pretend he was just a lone nut. And just because there have been few successful attacks since 9/11, doesn’t the fact that 9/11 happened demonstrate the need for at least some vigilance?

        1. The point is his activity was not coordinated with, financed by, or assisted by radical Islam.

          Yes, there is always a need for vigilance, against both terrorists and governments that purport to want to protect us from them.

  3. My pet theory remains that the thousands of terrorists sent over here are still sitting in nudie bars gettin lap dances.

    The initial crew thought they were doing a standard hijack and would get to cum back to the nudie bars.

    The second group said, “F*ck that sh*t – I am staying here at F*ckigans and having this 20 year old college student wiggiling around on my lap…

    1. and they all remain part time college grad students…

    2. I think you’re being sarcastic or joking, but the initial crew thought that they didn’t learn how to land and were instructed not to communicate with authorities, why?

      1. The 4 pilots knew it was a suicide run the other 15 didn’t.

        1. Haha ok. But seriously, they all knew.

    3. And not a fuck was given that day…

  4. That emphatically is not the profile of an average al Qaeda foot soldier, who is a semi-literate peasant with little experience of the outside world.

    Apparently, Shikha has little experience with the outside world. I don’t know how one is supposed to differentiate between “foot soldiers” and the average homicide bomber but the majority, if not all of the latter, have been anything but poor and semi-literate.

    1. Citation please.

      1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hijackers_in_the_September_11_attacks

        Some were from poor areas, but had attended universities. Others were from wealthy and prominent families. Some had secular upbrinings.

        Abdul mutallab’s father is one of the richest men in Africa

        Faisal Shazad attended several universities

        Najibullah Zazi was apparently not too smart but certainly had experience all over the world, including attending the HS in Queens that is closest to my house

        Ramzi Yussef studied electrical engineering in England.

        Abu Zubaydah studied computer science in India

  5. Excellent column, Shikha. If only others had your intelligence and guts. (And only if you hadn’t said all those lame things about Obama “ramming” through health care reform. Well, nobody’s perfect.)


  6. I think it’s ’cause the AQ leadership considers the war to be over. What’s happening now (the US part) is theater.

    “Bread and circuses….”

    The war itself ended in October of 2008, when TARP and its kin were passed and AQ achieved their stated goal of bankrupting the US. What’s been happening since is theater designed to provide the appearance of progress and success, while concealing the actual situation.

    They are operating with a comprehensive long-term Objective (re-establishment of a caliphate on a global scale).
    – One of the goals necessary to achieve that objective is the elimination of the ability of the US to counter its power and influence (hint: dealing with the PRC is their next long-term problem).
    – The primary strategy to achieve that goal was pulling the US into a massively expensive war of indeterminate duration and definition. The already-leveraged financial system couldn’t hold that up forever, and would fall in on itself if it tried.
    – The primary tactic to drive that strategy was/is high-profile terrorist attacks. They knew that these would drive a reflexive response based on pride and anger, and political greed in the US. One big one to kick it off, and a few smaller/cheaper ones now and then are all that are needed now to keep it going.

    AQ is not led by idiots. They know what they’re doing, and the plan worked exactly as they intended. By 2004 they were even announcing it publicly, knowing that they had a permanent reserve of pride and anger in the US to perpetually draw on to drive the strategy forward. And they’re right.

    A deer that’s taken an arrow through both lungs may run a long way, and somebody watching it run may not think it looks too bad from the outside – probably looks like it could even recover. But it’s already dead. That’s where we are.

    And so we have theater. No politician wants to be the one to admit a loss. No politician ever won office by telling the public that blowing all of their money in an endless rage is foolish. They all have rational incentives to keep the theater going. And nobody here likes to hear that the war they’ve supported and the people who’ve died in it have been a show – and a losing show at that – baited into it by enemies. So we close our ears and insist on “winning” when we’ve already lost.

    People died in the Colosseum. Lots of them. The combat there was absolutely real for the individuals involved, and it is today as well. The “wars” you see today are sadly, these spectacles writ large with 21c technology.

    1. “AQ is not led by idiots.”

      That’s because they are lead by the CIA and Mossad.

      1. They are led by the Chinese, who will continue to eat America’s lunch.

        1. The Chinese are secretly led by the Americans.

  7. Or, as a more likely answer …

    As shown throughout history, when you take the battle to the enemies homeland, it is not likely that he is going to attack yours.

  8. Note that “intelligence and guts” is synonymous with “agreement with me, Alan Vanneman.”

    So you don’t think that Obama rammed through Obamacare against public will and over the unified filibuster of the opposition?

  9. Umm, the 9/11 hijackers were not poor or uneducated. Several came from graduate engineering schools in Germany. Abdulmutallab was the son of one of the richer men in Nigeria. Most of the committed suicide bombers from Al-Qaeda have been at least middle class. Palestinian bombers are another story and are often much poorer.

  10. Why are all articles by Shikha Dalmia filled with such egregious factual errors?

    1. Facts get in the way of good stories/ theories.

      1. But she’s good-looking and articulate for a foreigner.

    2. Why are all posts by Neu Mejican filled with nonspecific bold statements unaccompanied by evidence?

  11. What a stunning profile. Unfortunately, the Ft. Hood shooter pretty much skewers the theory.

    The problem is that the improbale combination of circumstances given fails to account for the pervasive, pathological fear of being labeled a RACIST!!!1! for looking sideways at someone who DOES fit the criteria.

    1. The problem is that the improbale combination of circumstances given fails to account for the pervasive, pathological fear of being labeled a RACIST!!!1! for looking sideways at someone who DOES fit the criteria.

      Maybe we should reconsider out hostility towards racism.

      After all, racism is a relic from the hunter-gatherer days when tribes had to compete for food and shelter.

      1. It’s not racism we need, it’s intelligent profiling. It also has the advantages of being natural, universal and completely free.

        If someone wants to call my profiling racism, then I can live with that. It fits their profile anyway.

      2. Hardly a relic Micheal: It’s now used to compete for votes and constituencies.

        1. A wise Latina would never make such a racist remark.

      3. Yeah, let’s go back to a tribal society and shun outsiders. Fuck off.

        1. Your dilemma, it is false.

    2. Hasan doesn’t count according to Islamofascist ass-kissers. They certainly can’t give any good reason why he doesn’t, but no matter.

    3. If that’s all the bedwetting WOT-fans can hang their hats on, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs. The US has had several shooting sprees by crazed lone gunmen during the past few decades, and that’s the only one that had anything to do with Islam. And of course, it wasn’t coordinated by any terror group anyway.

      1. The only one? Really? You may want to check your facts before you decide to die on that hill… because that’s demonstrably untrue.

  12. The American death toll from the Drug War is more than twice the total from Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is a threat, but not our largest threat by a long shot.

    1. If we’re going by death toll, how about the War Occurring on Roads where tens of thousands of people die each year as a result of traffic accidents?

      1. Not that I approve of the Drug War.

        1. And not to go all off-topic and shit, but what about the war on cancer, huh? Won’t somebody think of the breasts and colons?

          1. It would be so much easier if we just declared one war on death and left it at that.

            1. Have you considered the potentially staggering number of casualties?

          2. That’s Warty’s job.

      2. “”If we’re going by death toll, how about the War Occurring on Roads where tens of thousands of people die each year as a result of traffic accidents?””

        Ban the automobile, any one driving one is a terrorist!! 😉

  13. To all those who are disputing the main point of the article: If AQ is so full of awesome, smart, well educated people capable of pulling off successful terrorist attacks, then why haven’t there been tons of successful attacks but only a few failures and a few more fake attacks planned by the FBI? There is a huge number of easy targets in the US. If there really were such a committed and capable enemy we would have shit blowing up here as often as in Israel.

    1. Has stuff been blowing up in Israel lately? Maybe Israel shares a very tight space with a community that (rightly or wrongly) feels compelled to use suicide attacks, right?

      Is it possible that there have been attempts that have been stopped that we don’t know about? Have there been attempts that have been unsuccessful because of luck? Is it possible that the War on Terror has actually weakened the global reach of Al-Qaeda and like minded groups?

      As I’ve linked to in previous posts, most of the guys that carry out the attacks are educated and at least middle class.

      1. Over the course of 10 years and myriad attack opportunities, “luck” is a pretty poor explanation for the lack of a single success.

        And I’m very averse to handing those in power the “secret thwarted attack” excuse. Those in power need to be judged on falsifiable grounds.

        1. You want the government to fully publicize the information every time there is an attempted attack? The panic that would ensue would have a negative effect on civil liberties, don’t you think?

          A friend of my father’s worked for the NYPD in the NYPD/FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, and while he obviously couldn’t give specifics, said there have been attempts that the public doesn’t know about.

          1. First off, it’s simply not plausible that there have been secret thwartings of attacks considering the stream of heavily publicized “thwarted attacks” that the FBI has blessed us with.

            And I’m far more concerned with the eternal delegation of special powers to government than I am with people’s reaction to the news of a thwarted attack.

            1. Why isn’t it plausible?

              You know, as this is a republic, the reaction of ‘the people’ leads to the election of people that respond to what people want, including (probably) a majority of Americans who are okay with sacrifice some of their civil liberties for a sense of security.

            2. I’m completely agreeing with Tulpa throughout this. Also not buying the stories that there are a gazillion plots that the alphabet soup agencies have protected us from.

              My own explanation as to why no attacks is that a lot of the infrastructure of AQ was busted up when the U.S. went into Afghanistan. Post-Afghanisan, I think the U.S. is largely dealing with the 2nd teamers; most of the experienced guerrillas and explosives experts are all dead. That, or it’s a lot tougher to get here from there than I thought. Because, as I think Malvo and Muhammad showed everyone, it’s not that hard to run around the United States and sow terror if you practice and have your shit somewhat together. Money, ordnance, safe operating bases, trained personnel: seems like AQ has or can get all of those, so it’s strange they haven’t been that active here. For that matter, I still can’t figure out why a lot of the groups that have had beef with us over the last 15 years: Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, AQ, didn’t figure out to bring a bombing campaign to the U.S. Glad they didn’t.

              Israel, as has been already explained, has a much different security problem, and is much more forceful and brutal towards its suspected terrorists than the U.S. yet needs to be. Thankfully.

              1. Well, some doesn’t mean a gazillion.

              2. The only successful bombings I can think of at the moment is WTC in ’93, and OK City. Alledgedly the FBI helped them build the WTC bomb. Perhaps they were never very good at it on their own. And perhaps the restrictions on fertilizer.

                1. OKC wasn’t related to Islamic terrorism. The WTC ’93 bombing was only partially successful, as it was supposed to bring the towers down. Didn’t the explosives get prematurely triggered by a speed bump in the parking garage or something?

                  1. “OKC wasn’t related to Islamic terrorism.”

                    I wouldn’t be 100% sure about that. Weren’t there some murmurs about Nichols and Ramzi Yousef being in Cebu City, Philippines, at exactly the same time?

                    Not saying AQ blew up the Murrah Building, but it’s not inconceivable that Nichols/McVeigh had some technical assistance, somewhere along the way.

                    My favorite conspiracy theory, for entertainment purposes only, is that the powers that be knew about McVeigh and were letting him run loose in an attempt to ferret out the rest of his connections. They had no idea he had a very large VBIED, lost tabs on him, and… Whoops. No proof for this, of course.

                    AFA the ’93 WTC bombing, I thought that it was a case of “not enough gun”. It wasn’t a suicide bombing, IIRC. Didn’t the FBI break the case when members of Yousef’s cell went to Ryder truck to try and get their rental deposit back?

            3. “The FBI: Saved or Thwarted Millions of Terrorists”

    2. Well, we did kinda kill a lot of them.

      Plus, they’ve been preoccupied with blowing up our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  14. “Is it possible that there have been attempts that have been stopped that we don’t know about?”

    Yes. It is also possible that I am the only being in the universe and everything else is the creation of my mind.

    But all of the planned attacks on the US since 911 that I do know about either failed because of incompetence or were almost entirely planned and carried out by FBI agents or informants. I’m open to the possibility that there is an enemy as scary as we are led to believe, but i just don’t see the evidence. I don’t think it is possible to terrorism-proof a free society and I would expect to see a lot more carnage from a supposedly well organized and determined group.

    1. There’s different probabilities to what’s possible. Of course there’s no way to make a free society terrorism proof, and I don’t want to live in a society that is terrorism proof. But that is different than saying they pose no threat because they haven’t been successful recently.

      1. They’ve been successful ONCE. Not merely “not recently”.

        For the WOT supporter, history begins and ends with 9/11/2001, apparently.

        1. Or the 1993 WTC bombing. Or let’s say the Madrid and London train bombings (yes not the US, but Western countries). Have you heard of the attempted Millenium attacks?

          Anyway, do you know the history of radical Islam and Al Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was formed in the late 80s, early 90s and immediately started planning attacks. It’s hard to have a War on Terror when there’s no threat of terrorist attacks or nobody actively planning attacks.

          1. Oh and before you say the Madrid attack was only in response to Spain’s support for the Iraq War, there was a terrorist cell that was relatively close to attacking Barcelona in the winter of 2008 (coincidentally just as I arrived to study abroad there)

          2. Radical Islam goes back way before that, to the 1940s-50s (along with its cousin Radical Judaism, which didn’t so much vanish as have its playbook adopted by the Israeli govt). There were notable Islamic terrorist airline hijackings in the 1970s.

            And of course, not having anyone who wants to attack you is the best counterterrorism strategy of all.

  15. The threat that non-government groups will attack civilians for the purpose of inciting terror is bigger in many non-western countries. The concept goes back hundreds of years.

  16. I think the reason is largely because (A) Islamists are most familiar and experienced with airplane hijackings, and (B) since 9/11 it’s been nearly impossible to sucessfully hijack an aircraft, for the obvious reason that passengers aren’t going to sit passively and allow the plane to be hijacked anymore.

    1. And surprisingly, now-impossible air hijacking is precisely the type of attack that DHS seems most concerned with preventing.

      1. It’s almost like this foreseen consequence is not unintended. Silly me!

  17. Good points; while the throwbacks would like to smite us they don’t have the wherewithal…yet we stoke the fear to feed the security state and few call things as they really are.

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