Another Perspective

Hold the Anvil

Are Muslim terrorists one-trick ponies?

By 9.13.06

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LYNDEN, Washington -- It seems a long time ago but I guess it was only last summer. I was the op-ed guy at a D.C. think tank when the London bombings went down. I took the Metro into the office mad as hell, determined that at least one of our scholars would release an explosive editorial before close of business.

The thesis was simple enough. When you look back at terror flare-ups of the past few years in any given Western country, you see one big highly organized effort followed by a series of small, clumsy, and usually failed efforts. Muslim terrorists get about one bang for their buck, and that's that.

That pattern had held true so far in America (9/11), Spain (Madrid), and Australia (okay, Bali, but close enough), so there was reason to hope that the same would be true for the UK. Once the first bombs go off, a process kicks in that makes further death and destruction more difficult:

1. Police and intelligence agencies start shaking down local Muslims for information and threatening Very Bad Things if somebody doesn't start talking.

2. Political correctness and civil liberties take a back seat to fears of more terrorism. Said police are given latitude by legislatures to do "what needs to be done."

3. The public attitudes of non-Muslims shift on a host of related issues: from immigration to racial profiling to torture. This gives elected officials and police the opportunity to act the part of restrained peacemaker compared to the pitchfork-wielding mob.

4. Local Muslims feel the pressure and for whatever reason -- fear of backlash, threat of deportation, or genuine patriotic sentiment -- they start to publicly cooperate with local authorities, even while they bitch about the unfairness of it all. More importantly, they privately snitch on each other.

5. Those leaks are invaluable. They work to sever the supply lines of money and information that run from international organizers to local terrorists.

6. What the neighborhood division of the forces of darkness has left over is mostly the bottom of the barrel: would-be bombers with fantastic imaginations but zero expertise, loners, screw-ups. People like Seattle's Naveed Haq, whose shooting spree at the Seattle Jewish Federation ended with a body count of one.

These are guerrillas that couldn't deliver a gorillagram, much less mount an organized campaign of terror and destruction.

And... who wanted to work with me to produce this groundbreaking op-ed? Who would lend his name to the undertaking?

If you guessed "nobody," then you are very cynical and also spot on. I wanted to write it myself but the normal flow of business got the better of me.

It was a dumb thing to let go. Two weeks later, a second wave of bomb attempts took place on London buses. The detonators failed in every single case to ignite the bombs, because the Keystone Killers failed to properly attach them. The only thing that these explosives managed to set off was one asthma attack.

Here was a vindication of Lott's Law of Diminishing Returns on Terrorism, which next to nobody knew about. I was beyond inconsolable.

But enough (for now) about me. If my theory is correct -- and, as the magic 8 ball would say, "most signs point to 'yes'" -- then it raises some questions.

The most important question would be, Why is it correct? Does it work like visible anti-theft devices in cars, in simply helping thieves to decide which cars not to target? Or is terrorism by Muslims, in most Western countries, a lot harder to pull off than we've been inclined to believe?

After a lot of thought, I've decided to go with hard-to-pull-off. Islamo-terrorism is horrible but it also seems to be manageable. And: We could bungle it if we lose our sense of perspective and try to swat that fly with an anvil.

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About the Author
Jeremy Lott is an editor of rare.us.