If our way of life makes us vulnerable to terrorism, we need another way of lifeby Michael Lind / August 28, 2005 / Leave a comment
“They will not change our way of life,” the Queen declared on Friday 8th July. Following the al Qaeda attacks on 9/11, American leaders similarly insisted that their country’s libertarian way of life would not change in response to the threat of terrorism. ? The sentiment is admirable, but as a policy it is mistaken. We who live in liberal societies like Britain and America should change our way of life, to make ourselves less vulnerable to terrorism. ? This is a pessimistic view, I concede. From 2001 until now, optimists have dominated the debate. Conservative optimists like George Bush claim that the problem of jihadist terrorism can be solved by hunting down, killing or capturing a finite number of terrorists, chiefly by military means. Liberal optimists claim that the problem of jihadist terrorism can be solved by international efforts to bring prosperity to the poor of Muslim countries. ? Quite apart from the improbability that either a war of attrition or a Marshall plan for the middle east will stop al Qaeda, the threat of terrorism is not limited to jihadists like Osama bin Laden and his allies. In the US, only two of the last five major terrorist atrocities—the attacks of 9/11 and the previous bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993—were committed by jihadists. The other three were the work of home-grown terrorists of the far right (Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympics bomber, and Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber) and the radical left (Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber). According to the FBI, the leading domestic terrorist threat today comes from the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and similar violent eco-terrorist groups. In Japan, it was not foreigners but the apocalyptic Aum Shinriko cult that used sarin gas to murder people on the subways.
In the long run, the greatest menace to civilisation may come from solitary extremists, like the Unabomber, and from cults like Aum Shinriko. Biological terrorism, in the form of a plague, is potentially far more damaging than any other kind. Al Qaeda and other groups are unlikely to unleash epidemics which might kill their allies as well as their enemies. But deranged individuals and sects that want to hasten the end of the world may not be so restrained. The US has yet to apprehend the terrorist who mailed the “anthrax letters” in autumn 2001, killing a number of people. One plausible theory suggests…