After the Benghazi attack, I quoted George W. Bush saying that our security forces have to be right 100 percent of the time while the terrorists have to be lucky only once to inflict death and destruction. The former president’s sage observation applies, I think, as well to the Paris carnage. And it must serve as an ominous warning that we should be prepared for more atrocities in the years ahead.
That’s not to say our security forces are not doing their job, just that nothing human is perfect. The Charlie Hebdo massacre is characterized as a French intelligence failure because the villains had traveled to Yemen. The State Department was faulted for not being responsive to calls for better security in Benghazi before the 2012 attack. The antenna of U.S. security agencies failed to detect warning signs before the Boston Marathon bombing.
The scary truth appears to be that the possible threats are so numerous and diverse as to present an overwhelming, if not nearly impossible, challenge to those who protect us. How do you assess the level of threat when, for example, the Paris killers go silent and appear to live ordinary lives for a couple of years after returning from Yemen?
The threats are many. There’s the long-planned, complex and well-coordinated strike of hijacking four jetliners in the 9/11 attack. The lone wolf is self-radicalized through the Internet like the Fort Hood murderer. The Paris thugs laid low for years before exploding in violence in a newspaper office and kosher market.
Years can pass between attacks. In that time, our fears subside while concerns about protecting civil liberties rise. Witness the controversy over National Security Agency surveillance, not of actual conversations, but records of calls and emails.
Out of a well-meaning desire not to paint with a broad brush the vast majority of moderate Muslims who are our fellow citizens, there’s been a tendency to shy away from naming the source of the terror plaguing the West — and the Middle East, where most victims are Muslims.
When the native-born son of immigrants turns to terror, we hear talk of “homegrown terrorism.” That seems to me a misnomer. There’s no denying we have terrorism springing from darker currents in American history. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a homegrown terrorist. The Ku Klux Klan was a homegrown terror organization.
The source of the threat we face comes not from American or Western tradition. The White House, strenuously, ridiculously, refuses to speak of radical Islamism, instead favoring the term “violent extremism.”
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and member of the International Koranic Studies Association, referred to “a virus of ultra orthodox Puritanism” in the Muslim world and said there is “no question about what the source of this virus is, whether we’re talking about Boko Haram or ISIS or al-Qaida or the Taliban. All of these have, as their source, a single sect, Wahhabism, the state religion of Saudi Arabia.” That country is supposed to be a U.S. ally.
Saudi Arabia has spent $100 billion spreading this ideology throughout the world, Aslan said. “And so we do have a problem within the Muslim community. But that problem tends to be very much localized within a particular ideology that must be confronted first and foremost by Muslims themselves.”
That’s true. But we in the West can’t be expected to just stand by and watch our body count rise year after year.