Saturday, September 11, 2010

So we're nine years on --

-- and much has changed. A war in Afghanistan, begun to catch the perpetrators of the terror, quickly toppled the medieval barbarians who were in power, but couldn't find the perps themselves, and now still grinds on, interminably. A war in Iraq, on the other hand, begun to oust an evil regime (which may have had Weapons of Mass Destruction), and to send a message to all such terrorist-supporting regimes in the region, has more or less ended, its mission accomplished.

For a few years after 9/11, organized terror plots succeeded elsewhere in the West, but none have for some time now. It seems clear that terrorist organizations have been damaged at least, and are largely on the defensive, for the time. Native, isolated terrorist wannabes have occasionally managed to murder a number of people, but it's small scale and sporadic, and they're often caught before they can act. There is still the spectacle, both amusing and alarming, of mobs of Islamist rage-boys in various parts of the world screaming to behead those who do something or other they find offensive, but their numbers too seem to be dwindling, whether through discouragement or boredom -- or, of course, through success, as they intimidate the West into self-censorship.

Because, on the other hand, much remains that is of serious concern. Perhaps the greatest at the moment is Iran, which still has the potential to inflame the world. But of course there's still Pakistan, the most populated Muslim country by far -- ostensibly an ally of the West, but the only Islamic country known to have nuclear weapons, with intelligence services at least suspected of having Islamist sympathies and ties, and large tribal regions uncontrolled/uncontrollable by the central government where terrorist leaders are suspected of hiding. There's Saudi Arabia and its vast oil wealth -- another ostensible ally, but one of the most backward, feudal regimes on the planet, that uses its wealth to fund and spread a fundamentalist version of Islam that underlies much of the anti-West, anti-modern world terrorist sentiment. And there are a number of other tyrannies and failed states in the Islamic world that have the potential to hide and support the terrorist organizations currently on the run, allowing them to rebuild.

More than that, there's that self-censorship phenomenon within the West mentioned above. Terrorism cannot topple regimes in the way that open warfare can, but that's never its aim or purpose. Instead, it aims to sow a kind of lurking fear and anxiety that spreads through the interstices of a society and a culture, weakening its self-confidence, leveraging its openness, undermining its own institutions, and leaving it prey to a kind of internal decay. Now, we're a long way from that, despite the hopes and fantasies of the Islamists themselves. But the exaggerated respect given to their particular belief system as compared to that given to all others is an indication that terror has had an effect on us, and only the foolish would deny it. We need to think about that every time we find ourselves, explicitly or implicitly, worrying about the reaction of the Muslim world to whatever the latest tempest in a teapot may be.

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