The threat of homeland terrorism has been exaggerated to the point where we are our own worst enemy, say a small but growing number of experts and commentators.
More than five years after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the attacks have proven to be a statistical, albeit horrible, anomaly. The other shoe never dropped. Foreign terrorists have been thoroughly ineffective at mounting another attack against North America.
Perhaps, they suggest, al-Qaida is not a formidable threat, much less an existential one. An overwrought public imagination, fuelled by alarmist politicians, Hollywood script writers, a blood-lusting news media and others in the “terrorism industry,” has, they say, created an irrational response far more damaging and dangerous to our way of life than terrorism itself.
Criticism about perceived overreactions to the threat of homeland terrorism is not new. But as North Americans move farther in time from the events of 9-11, those voices of dissent are rising.
The U.S. government’s loudly trumpeted “War on Terror” is not the solution to the problem, writes University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian S. Lustick in his recent book, “Trapped in the War on Terror”.
“It has become the problem. The immense costs, the self-inflicted wounds we suffer from it, and its permanently perceived inadequacy in comparison with the threats it forces us to imagine are more destructive of our national life than the damage terrorists are likely to inflict.”
Another contentious new book making the rounds is “Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them”.
“A threat that is real but likely to prove to be of limited scope has been massively, perhaps even fancifully, inflated to produce widespread and unjustified anxiety,” wasteful government spending, witch-hunts and an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, writes author John Mueller.
Celebrated journalist and terrorism expert James Fallows, in a recent Atlantic Monthly, warns the U.S. will likely be attacked again.
Even so, “because of al-Qaida’s own mistakes, and because of the things the United States and its allies have done right, al-Qaida’s ability to inflict direct damage in America or on Americans has been sharply reduced.”
Wesley Wark, one of Canada’s leading experts in terrorism and security intelligence, bristles at the thesis laid out by Mueller and others.
There is, says the University of Toronto political scientist in an interview, some legitimacy in dismissing terrorism as an existential threat based on what hasn’t happened since 9-11.
But, “if you’re going to say the threat from terrorism is overblown, you have to accompany that argument with some argument that would say terrorists will never get their hands on (weapons of mass destruction) and will never use them. And I’ve not seen a strong argument to that effect. It runs counter to all we know.
“There’s nothing that we’ve learned about al-Qaida since 9/11 that suggests that capability or will has gone away. Everything points to the prospect that there will be future attempts. You can only buy into the (overblown) argument if somehow you go with the recent past, if somehow you believe the 9/11 attacks were an anomaly or an unrepeatable event.
And I don’t know of anything that plausibly argues that’s the case.”
…this post forwarded by a Windsor Humanist (N.Hod) after a May 19, 2007 article by Ian MacLeod in The Ottawa Citizen