Is Terrorism at a Dead End?

A German writer, Thomas Bärthlein, has made a compelling argument that the attack in New Delhi that killed 60 innocent Indians and wounded 200 on October 29, 2005, is a sign that the terrorist threat is getting weaker, not stronger. He said the movement has fallen into a cul-de-sac with only one way out—a complete reversal of its policy of attacking innocent people. The reason why is not that the terrorists have changed, but that their victims are responding differently.

Writing in the German government’s world service, Deutsche Welle, on October 31, Bärthlein said the terrorists were hoping to force their enemies to give in—or at least provoke a counterattack that would sharpen the conflict between Islamists and the rest of the world.

But it didn’t happen. Both the Indian and the Pakistani governments reacted with calm and composure. The attacks actually accelerated an agreement of the two governments to open five border crossings to permit aid to victims of the earthquake that shattered Kashmir and surrounding regions in October.

A similar response occurred after suicide bombers, working under the direction of al Qaeda’s chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed 57 people, mostly Muslims, in three hotels in Amman, Jordan, on November 9, 2005. It was the worst terrorist assault ever in Jordan. One of the bombers detonated his explosives at a Muslim wedding reception. Instead of spreading fear, however, the attacks aroused intense public loathing and resolve of the Jordanian government to root out everyone connected with the atrocities.

Muslims are beginning to realize that the Islamic terrorists are hurting fellow Muslims more than they are hurting the West. They are beginning to see that the nihilistic movement the terrorists are fomenting—a design to destroy existing institutions and replace them with a rigid totalitarian religious state—appeals to only a tiny minority of fundamentalists. Thus, unlike the passivity that has characterized Muslim response to terrorist bombings up till now, the New Delhi and Amman assaults show that Muslims are being galvanized to root out these criminal cells and eliminate them.

The al Qaeda leadership, although it’s in hiding, senses this emerging anger against terrorism. It criticized Zarqawi for his attacks on innocent men, women and children. So far al Qaeda has been unable to stop him, however. This indicates that Zarqawi is tone deaf to the rising clamor against violence in the Middle East. We can draw hope from the situation. Attacks like those Zarqawi ordered in Jordan and is continuing to order in Iraq are looking more and more like desperate attempts to prop up a dying movement. They are not a sign of increasing power.

The terrorists’ methods of spreading fear and panic are no longer working as well as they did, for example, when they killed 191 and injured 1,400 persons in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004, and brought about the election of a pacifist prime minister who hastily withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq and embarked on a path of appeasement of the terrorists.

The good news about the Muslim world’s increasing disillusionment with Islamic fundamentalists comes at the time when President Bush is lashing out at critics of the war in Iraq. In a speech on Veterans Day, November 11, Bush accused his critics of trying to rewrite history and said their criticism is undercutting American forces in battle.

“The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important for politicians to throw out false charges,” Bush said. “These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will.”

Before going to war, Mr. Bush said, Democrats and Republicans alike were privy to the same intelligence that indicated Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. More than a hundred Democrats in the House and Senate, who had access to the same intelligence as the White House, voted to support removing Saddam.

Nevertheless, politicians have been complaining of late, and their comments reflect a reality---the American public is becoming disillusioned about Iraq. Americans killed in the war have passed 2,000. Hopes are declining that a stable democracy can emerge in the face of the continuing insurgency by a minority of Sunni Arabs. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said on November 10, 2005, “There is an undeniable sense that things are slipping in Iraq.” His answer is to increase U.S. troop strength there, but other politicians are pushing for phased withdrawal. Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts called for large-scale reduction of U.S. forces over the next fifteen months. Another Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, suggested that, if the Iraqis cannot work out their differences, the United States should threaten to get out.

We cannot walk away from terrorism and Iraq’s new government in the simplistic, irresponsible way Kerry and Levin are proposing. Even so, Americans are not going to support a guerrilla war with no foreseeable end. That’s why Thomas Bärthlein’s comment offers so much hope. If indeed the terrorists have fallen into a cul-de-sac created by their own insane killing of innocents, then our job is not to back off, but to destroy them in the trap they’re in, not let them slip away.

We should never lose sight of the fact that the terrorists are savages with no sense of humanity, decency or compassion. President Bush said in his Veterans Day speech, “When unsuspecting Muslims breaking their Ramadan fast are targeted for death, or 25 Iraqi children are killed in a bombing, or Iraqi teachers are executed at their school, this is murder, pure and simple, the total rejection of justice and honor and morality and religion. These militants are not just the enemies of America or the enemies of Iraq. They are the enemies of Islam, and they're the enemies of humanity.”

We can’t require the Iraqis to create a replica of American democracy, but we have to stay there until they establish a reasonably responsible government with reasonably adequate military and police forces. Then we can withdraw. Meantime, we must ferret out every terrorist cell wherever it exists on earth. Only when the Islamic terrorists are dead can the world rest easy.

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