Terrorism Strikes Again

Posted: Jul 08, 2005 12:00 AM

World leaders had gathered this week in Scotland to discuss aid for Africa and global warming. Those topics were so uninspiring that it’s unlikely the news networks had even bothered to build animations for them. It’s difficult to imagine anyone watching shows called “G-8 Leaders Discuss Global Warming” or “Things Are Warming Up in Scotland.”

Under normal circumstances, this summit would have been forgotten even before the participants’ had departed. The world leaders would have raced home and the chattering classes could have kept right on predicting whom President Bush would pick to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor.

But terrorists simply will not be ignored.

A series of bombings in London on Thursday killed dozens of people (the early death toll was announced at 37) and brought the country to a standstill. The networks responded promptly, with their “London Terror” animations and wall-to-wall coverage of the disaster.

But this attack isn’t a surprise. On CNN, terror analyst Peter Bergen pointed out that Islamic terrorists have long been based in Great Britain, and he noted that many terrorists have been arrested there in recent years. This actually shows the weakness of the terrorists, not their strength.

Think about it: For years, London has been something of a hotbed of terrorism. For his book “Holy War, Inc.” Bergen traveled into the wilds of the Hindu Kush to conduct interviews, and he visited private homes in London. But even with years of planning, with years of experience living amidst the British, the worst the terrorists could do was explode four bombs on trains and a bus. That’s hardly a creative approach.

The terrorists can hit us almost any time they want. We can’t check every backpack and every briefcase carried by every commuter on every train in the United States (or anywhere in the West, for that matter). Any time he wants to, a suicide bomber can blow up a train and kill some innocent people. If he’s smart, he can time his attack so he’ll block an important tunnel or bridge and knock out train service for days or weeks after his death.

So what’s amazing isn’t the number of attacks we’ve lived through -- it’s the lack of attacks. September, 2001. Bali, Indonesia, October 2002. Madrid, Spain, March 2004. Now London, July 2005. On average the terrorists seem able only to strike once a year. And note the death tolls: U.S., some 3,000. Bali, 202. Madrid, 191. London, about 50.

Now, if terrorists could strike more often, of course they would. If they could kill more people in each strike, of course they would. So it’s reasonable to conclude that, since so much time goes by between attacks and since fewer people are killed in each attack, our policies toward terrorism are working.

What are those policies? Well, fighting back, for one.

Commentators repeatedly complain that our wars against Iraq and Afghanistan have created more terrorists. “The U.S. invasion of Iraq serves as a recruiting tool for more terrorists, making the U.S. and its citizens abroad less safe,” is how the National Organization for Women put it in March 2003.

But in Iraq alone, we’ve killed thousands of bad guys. Recall that on Sept. 12, 2001, a lot of us wondered, “How will we ever get at the guys who did this?” We’re getting them because they’re coming to us in Iraq.

We can’t be completely safe as long as there’s a man willing to die for whatever it is the terrorists are fighting for. And what is that again? A free and independent Iraq? No, that’s us. A country where everyone can worship as he wishes? No, us again.

Oh, right, Osama bin Laden’s dream is a Muslim caliphate governed by a leader such as Mullah Omar. That goal is opposed by virtually everyone in the world, from China (eventually there will be train bombings in Beijing) to Canada. And it’s opposed by millions of Muslims, too. Let’s remember that Islamic suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Iraqis this year alone.

Many will note that these attacks came just a day after London celebrated winning the 2012 Olympics. But it’s worth remembering that, by the time those games are played, there will have been hundreds of thousands more celebrations by Westerners (for events large and small), and a mere handful of senseless attacks by terrorists.

Meanwhile, the world leaders gathered in Scotland ended up talking about the war on terror, which is far more important than global warming but probably wouldn’t have been on the agenda except for the London attacks. So, in a way, the terrorists may have ended up hastening their own inevitable demise.

Indeed, the terrorists won’t be ignored. But as British Prime Minister Tony Blair put it, the “bombings will not weaken in any way our resolve to uphold the most deeply held principles of our societies and to defeat those who would impose their fanaticism and extremism on all of us. We shall prevail and they shall not.”

The West is winning, and will win. It’s merely a matter of time.