Why terrorism persists
Sixteen years after the cataclysmic events of 9/11, it’s time to “take stock of where we stand,” said Tom Nichols in TheHill.com. Have we “faced down the threat” from Islamist terrorism? Or have we “surrendered to it, perhaps in ways we don’t even understand?” Osama bin Laden knew in 2001 he could never “defeat us by force.” The al Qaida leader wanted to “bait us into defeating ourselves”—to make us “abandon our values and lash out in ways that would make the rest of the world turn against us.” Well, mission accomplished. More than a decade and a half later, Americans remain irrationally “obsessed” with terrorism, despite our success in limiting its toll. We’ve spent tens of billions building “a new national security state,” accepted massive infringements on our privacy and civil rights, and compromised many of the country’s defining principles— all in the quest for an “absolute security” that isn’t possible.
The threat of Islamist terrorism may not be fully extinguished in our lifetimes, said Robin Wright in NewYorker.com. In the past, terrorist groups such as FARC and the IRA ended up “negotiating to achieve their political goals.” Other terrorist groups were crushed by the state in which they operated, or fell apart when their leader was killed. But the same won’t happen to ISIS, al Qaida, or the Taliban. Their ideologies are completely at odds with Western values, making negotiations next to impossible, and they’re too scattered and resilient to be erased with battlefield victories. Unfortunately, technological advances are making terrorism easier, said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in Fortune.com. ISIS reached millions of potential recruits on social media with “slick and effective propaganda.” Extremists can now groom jihadists online without ever meeting them.
Perhaps the most dangerous development, said former FBI terrorism specialist Ali Soufan in The Atlantic.com, is the Islamophobia that’s taken root in the U.S., including in the current White House. It would delight bin Laden and his acolytes, who hoped to turn Americans against Muslims. He’d also be happy with the “deep divisions plaguing American society,” which make us weaker and more vulnerable. Meanwhile, Islamist terrorism retains its “toxic potency,” and myriad extremist groups have sprung up in such failed nations as Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan. This is likely to be a generational war; to win it, our ideas and values must be stronger than our enemy’s.