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The Next Stage of Terrorism By: Max Singer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 19, 2002


When the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were attacked, President Bush declared war on international terror. He said that the U.S. would not make any distinction between terrorists and organizations or governments that harbor terrorists. What could be called the war against the first stage of international terrorism has been underway now for over a year.

The first stage of the terrorism problem is terrorism from existing terrorist organizations, all of which have been built with significant support from governments. To destroy these organizations governments must be convinced or compelled to stop providing support and safe harbors to them. When the terrorist organizations are deprived of government support it will be a difficult but feasible task to hunt them down and destroy them. They will be vulnerable because their connections to governments will make them easier to find, because they have no experience in operating without government support, and because the organizations are already known.

Right now it might appear that the U.S. does not have the determination needed to deal with the first stage of the terrorism problem -- although things may begin to look differently after Saddam is removed. But it is quite plausible that if there are several more 9/11 size or greater attacks on the US, the US will have the determination and political support it needs to take care of the first stage. And if there are no more such attacks then the terrorism problem will turn out not to have been a major influence on history.

Perhaps overcoming the first stage of the terrorism problem will be enough and will end the problem of major terrorism, assuming that the success is maintained and all governments continue to refuse to help or harbor any terrorists.

The danger of a second stage of the terrorism problem will arise if after the first stage a significant fraction of the world's Moslems are part of "Militant Islam" (MI) -- with MI defined as those Moslems who support violent attacks against the West. ("Support" means those who will continue to favor such attacks on the West, rather than calling for the attacks to stop, if they or other Moslems suffer as a result of the attacks.)

If over a number of years hundreds of millions of Moslems support attacks on the West it seems quite possible that they will be able to create one or more seriously competent major terrorist organizations that need little or no help from any government.

Even if the U.S. has a reasonable degree of cooperation from the Moslem governments such large Moslem publics may well be able to provide safe enough harbors for these new terrorist organizations so that the US cannot defeat them in their bases.

If large Moslem publics are supporting competent new terrorist organizations they will be able to escape ordinary efforts by their governments to control them. Governments will only be able to keep such organizations from operating in their territory if they work as hard against the terrorist organizations as they work against organizations trying to overthrow the government * that is, they get the highest priority. And such large public support for militant Islam will make it very difficult for the US to ensure that all the Moslem governments are that strongly motivated to control terrorist organizations, especially in the face of strong popular support for the terrorists.

If this becomes true, it will be very difficult for the US to prevent the new second stage terrorist organizations from having reasonably safe harbors where they can rest, recruit and train agents, and organize terror attacks.

This means that the US will be vulnerable because it is virtually impossible to defend the US within its borders against a competent terrorist organization which has a protected base abroad.

The point of this concern about a potential second stage is that the US policy should be designed to minimize Moslem public support for "Militant Islam (MI), even though in the first stage of the war against terrorism the US needs to concentrate on terrorist organizations and on the governments that support them.

I would argue that the heart of an effort to minimize support for MI is to use US power to convince Moslems that it is too dangerous to attack the West. The most fanatic Moslem believer in jihad against the West knows that Islam does not command hopeless attacks, or jihad that can't succeed and will cause great harm to Islam. By making Moslems afraid to attack the West we give them the religious justification many of them need to refrain from attacking us. Therefore strong attacks on the current terrorist threat work against the potential second stage too, although other measures are also needed.

In the long run our safety, and a more decent world, depends on moderate Moslems eventually becoming the dominant element in Islam. This will be a long slow process, and we will need to do what ever we can to support the voices and arguments of moderate Islam (that is, all those, of whatever Moslem religious view, who oppose violent attacks against the West). But the most valuable and essential help we can give to moderate Moslems is to make it clear that MI cannot succeed and will cause great harm to Islam. Moderate Moslems don't have a chance of winning their argument if it looks as if MI has any chance of succeeding. The real help we can give moderates is overwhelming defeat for the extremists.

To protect ourselves against the second stage terrorism danger, and to prevent a horrible extended war against MI, the US must begin to demonstrate to Moslems that it is hopeless and dangerous to fight against the US. The path of peace is to confront particularly the Arab states with absolute confidence in our superior power and our determination to use whatever force is required to make them comply with our demands in fighting existing terrorist organizations. A continuation of the US policies that according to Bernard Lewis give the appearance of "anxiously propitiating" Arab governments will increase the danger of the war we seek to avoid.

Max Singer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and co-author of The REAL World Order: Zones of Peace/Zones of Turmoil.




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