July 22, 2002
The four dud bombs that went off in London yesterday may well have been the work of amateur copycats, but the fact remains that Great Britain is under siege. Londoners came face to face with the implications of that today when security agents shot dead a man who was attempting to set off another bomb in a subway car. For a country that prides itself on civilized norms of behavior, where "bobbies" keep the peace without the threat of lethal force, this is a rude awakening. Will Englishmen and women begin calling for the right to bear arms? The only purpose I can discern from the small-scale explosions is to provoke a security crackdown by British police and security forces, in an effort to sharpen the division between native English people and immigrants, thereby inflaming tensions around the world. Thus, I would expect the British government to proceed vigorously without going overboard; The specter of mass detentions of Islamic immigrants, like what happened to Japanese people in the United States during World War II is real, but we're not there yet.
Donald Sensing recently posed a question that most folks would rather not face: What should we do if, God forbid, Al Qaeda succeeds in setting off a nuclear bomb in one of our cities? Until now, our military response has targetted countries that were known to be havens for terrorists, leaving alone countries such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan that made at least a half-hearted effort to round up or suppress the bad guys. Could we continue to be so lenient when the consequences of giving ambiguous countries the benefit of the doubt? Sensing cites some possible options suggested by Jihad watch (by Robert Spencer), which in turn was prompted by Rep. Tom Tancredo who said on a Florida radio talk show, "if this [a nuclear attack] happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites." (see foxnews.com) A big part of the problem is that religious fanatics tend not to respond in a rational way to threats and incentives. The prevention of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War rested to a large extent upon the doctrine of "Mutual Assured Destruction," under which each side maintained a strong enough second-strike missile force to ensure that any surprise attack would be met with a devastating retaliation. It is hard to imagine that a U.S. threat to "nuke Mecca" would restrain Islamic radicals from attacking America or American allies, partly because such a threat would not be credible enough. Such a threat would only play into the hands of paranoid xenophobes in Karachi and Riyadh, in any case. As Sensing, Mideast expert Bernard Lewis, and others have said, the war against terrorism is primarily a war within the Arab-Islamic civilization, between those who believe in modernization without Westernization (the path that China is taking) and those who reject modernization outright, fearing that it is part and parcel of Westernization. These are the distinctions made by Samuel Huntington in Clash of Civilizations, a must read for anyone seeking to understand this terrible new global conflict. Unless and until there is a consensus among Muslim religious leaders that terrorism (or at least murdering innocent people) is an ungodly crime, we will not be safe.
Rather than threatening eye-for-an-eye violence, I think we should make it clear to Arab and/or Islamic oil exporters with a weak record in fighting religious extremists that we will expect them to pay in full for the damages from any nuclear attack on Western cities, and that our Navy will enforce this demand, with a total blockade if necessary. It may not prevent such an attack, but it would at least get their attention, while maintaining a restrained posture of moral superiority.