Faisal Shahzad, it should be noted, is not a member of the Tea Party. Nor, it appears, is he a “white man in his 40s,” as early reports described a possible suspect. What he is, it seems, is a manifestation of the reality that the threat of terrorism has fallen far below the magnitude of anything that justifies a “war on terror.”
If all we have to worry about is a guy who tries to explode his underwear and another guy who creates an incompetent, non-exploding bomb in New York, then we’ve won.
It should also be noted that since 9/11 there has been only a single, modestly significant case of Muslim-perpetrated violence in the United States, namely, the case of the soldier in Texas who shot fellow soldiers. And even that, according to reports, was perpetrated by a man who very likely was mentally deranged. Now, it’s true that almost anyone who’d undertake any of these actions is probably mentally unstable, to some degree, not unlike the man who piloted his airplane into the IRS building in Texas.
Yet it’s also undeniably true that by waging anti-jihad in countries from Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda actually existed, to Iraq, where Al Qaeda certainly did not exist, has inflamed passions in the Muslim world and among Muslims, such as Shahzad, living in the United States. Only a tiny portion of those Muslims countenance terrorist violence as a countermeasure, and only a tiny portion of that small group try to carry it out. Only none succeed. But it’s clear that as long as the United States engages in anti-jihad, waging war against broad-based insurgencies such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, there will be sporadic attacks such as these.
Something else is clear. There will also be ridiculous efforts to conflate the real threat of terrorism, as represented by Al Qaeda and by people such as Shahzad, with angry and militant Muslims, their organizations, and various states. During the George W. Bush era, the U.S. government did exactly that, with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, Pakistani-backed, anti-India terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e Taiba and Jaish-e Mohammed, the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Wahhabis, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, the government of Sudan, Libya’s Qaddafi, Yemeni rebels, and, of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Bush & Co. rolled all of them up into one, huge “Islamofascist” ball of wax. In fact, few if any of those states and organizations work together, or even like each other.
And it isn’t just the far right and the neoconservatives who mix up apples and mangos when it comes to terrorism. In today’s Washington Post, Tom Toles has a despicable cartoon showing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who’s in New York, grinning insanely while driving a car filled with exactly the sort of flammable materials that Shahzad concocted.
So far, the Obama administration seems to be approaching this with a cool head and not a lot of alarmism. But I’m still waiting for Obama to tell Americans, as I wrote yesterday, that the only thing they have to fear is fear itself.