Predictably, the Boston Marathon bombings have spawned a renewed interest in “jihadist” (why is this in quotes?) terrorist activity. We are once again reminded of the “looming threat of radical Islam.” We are told that this is the existential struggle of our generation. Terrific events such as these are reminders that we ought not slip into complacency about our perennial Muslim foes. Rest assured, anti-Muslim demagogues are keen to keep us hyper-vigilant against the all-powerful Islamic menace.
Yet, if we step back and take a wider perspective, it becomes apparent that the Boston Marathon bombings actually indicate the exact opposite and display how truly weak Al-Qaeda and the “jihadist” threat is. This may seem like a shocking statement to my fellow Americans. After all, we’ve been trained by our government and media to think of radical Muslims as extremely threatening–the greatest threat of our time. This is something we are taught from a very young age. (Famously, the children’s show Sesame Street used an Arab man to explain the word “danger.”) It is one of the reasons why Americans are fearful of Muslim Iran, which does not possess nuclear weapons and clearly just wants to be left alone, and meanwhile brush off North Korea as “a joke”, even though North Korea not only possesses nuclear weapons but routinely threatens the United States.
As horrific as the Boston Marathon bombings were, they were hardly another 9/11. Only three people died, as compared to the almost three thousand that died on September the 11th, 2001. Despite their efforts, Al-Qaeda and company have been “successful” in killing very few of us since that day, well over a decade ago. In 2012, I wrote an article entitled Annual Report: Zero Civilians in U.S. Killed by Islamic Terrorism… Just Like Every Year Since 9/11. Using official data provided in annual reports by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), I was able to show that “Islamic” terrorists killed zero civilians in the U.S. between 2005 (the earliest year that data was published) and 2011. (The 2012 report has not yet been published.) The RAND Corporation’s 2010 list indicates that in fact zero civilians in the U.S. have been killed by “Islamic” terrorists since 9/11.
The 2013 NCTC report will no doubt include the three innocents killed in Boston. Again, as horrific as that is, the threat must be taken into perspective: three people in the span of well over a decade (excluding 2012 as official data has not yet been published). More Americans die from their own furniture than that.
CNN’s Peter Bergen noted:
[I]n the years since 9/11, actual terrorist bombings in the U.S., like the ones at the Boston Marathon, have been exceedingly rare.
As Bergen’s article notes, “Islamic” extremists have not been responsible for most of these bombings:
Of the 380 individuals indicted for acts of political violence or for conspiring to carry out such attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, 77 were able to obtain explosives or the components necessary to build a bomb, according to a count by the New America Foundation.
Of those, 48 were right-wing extremists, 23 were militants inspired by al Qaeda’s ideology, five have been described as anarchists and one was an environmentalist terrorist…
The only bombing attack carried out by an extremist in the United States during the past 12 years was in 2004 when Dennis Mahon, a white supremacist, sent a homemade bomb to Don Logan, the African-American city diversity director of Scottsdale, Arizona, who was maimed when the package exploded in his arms.
Previously, I published an article entitled All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 94% that Aren’t: using official FBI data, I was able to show that Muslims accounted for only 6% of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil from 1980 to 2005 (as far as the database goes). This point comes into even clearer focus when we look at much of the rest of the Western world: Europol Report: All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 99.6% That Aren’t. In this follow up article, I used Europol’s official data to show that Muslims were responsible for a negligible percentage (less than half of a percent) of terrorist attacks in Europe.
It is precisely because “Islamic” terrorist attacks in the West are so rare and ineffectual that
right-wingers the government and media must play up incidents like the Boston Marathon bombings for all that they are worth. It is these isolated events that must be highlighted and focused on in order to justify the U.S.’s multiple wars in the Muslim world.
If there was a justifiable reason to go to war in 2001–to incapacitate and destroy Al-Qaeda–even that reason has seemed to vanish. The U.S. military has pulverized Al-Qaeda’s bases in Afghanistan, such that even our own government says that there are “fewer than a hundred” Al-Qaeda operatives left in the entire country. In fact, government officials have stated that, for all intents and purposes, Al-Qaeda has been rendered “operationally ineffective.” The terrorist organization is debilitated, if not dead.
How truly weak the extremist group has become is apparent by the Boston Marathon bombing itself. According to a CBS News article, Al-Qaeda wants to claim the terrorist attack as their own:
CBS News senior correspondent John Miller said. “They’re saying, ‘We think this was us. We want it to be us.’”
It is telling that Al-Qaeda is so broken that it doesn’t even know whether the bombers were on their own “payroll” or not. That seems like amateur hour for the seasoned terrorist organization. The bomber, Dzhokhar the Joker Tsaernev, was a nineteen year old kid who, along with his older brother, used pressure cookers as makeshift bombs. These were amateurish bombs made by amateur bombers that Al-Qaeda is seeking to claim as their own. Al-Qaeda is really scraping the bottom of the barrel here.
If we step back and look at the conflict between the United States and radical Islam on a global and historical scale, what we actually see is a grossly unequal match up. On the one hand, the U.S. is considered a hyper-power, with the strongest military the world has ever seen. In its wars in the Muslim world, the United States inflicts hundreds of thousands of deaths using high-tech weaponry, including the latest in F-16′s, bombers, missiles, and drones. Meanwhile, all Al-Qaeda and radical Islam have are the likes of Dzhokhar the Joker. This is truly the essence of the phrase “asymmetric warfare.”
It is this unequal power distribution which results in the far greater level of violence committed against Muslims by Americans than by Muslims against Americans. Using what I consider to be a conservative estimate, this means well over 100 Muslim fatalities for every American lost. We Americans kill far more Muslims than they kill of us. There is in fact no comparison.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, some Muslims (and non-Muslims) were quick to point this out. An interesting discussion ensued, in which Muslims discussed whether or not it was appropriate to discuss this topic. Was it disrespecting the victims and their loved ones? Regardless of the appropriateness or not, the fact is that it is very much true.
When one compares the overwhelming force displayed by the United States in the Muslim world to the showing by the “jihadists” on American soil–namely, Dzhokhar the Joker–it seems inappropriate to always be talking about how “Islamists”, “jihadists”, and other ridiculous terms the West coins, are the greater problem. There is in fact another, more intuitive overarching meta-narrative. Americans view the (so-called) Global War on Terror as the response of the West to the Muslim “jihadist” threat, whereas it is exactly the reverse: it is the response of the Muslim “jihadists” to the warring and aggression of the West.
The inversion of victimhood is not unfamiliar to American history. The Boston Marathon bombing occurred on April 15th. On this same date, just under 300 years ago, the Yamassee, a tribe of American Indians, tortured and killed four white traders, in what came to be known as the Pocotaligo Massacre. In the weeks that followed, the Yamassee Indians killed scores more, including over a hundred white people–men, women, and children. They terrorized the settlements, killing off 7% of South Carolina’s white citizenry. If the suicide bomb is radical Islam’s choice of weaponry, scalping was the terror tool of the Yamassee. If an angry “Allahu Akbar!” is the chant of the Muslim terrorist, then the Yamassee Indians had the “death whoop.”
Historian Pat Hendrix writes on page 23 of his book Murder And Mayhem in the Holy City:
[T]he Yamassee continued to appear on the Carolina frontier, killing and spreading terror throughout the colony. One contemporary recalled the barbarity during the second phase of the conflict:
[T]he Yamassee Indians…harboured in their breasts the most inveterate ill-will and rancour to all Carolineans, and watched every opportunity of pouring their vengeance on them…[T]hey often broke out on small scalping parties, and infested the frontiers…One party of them catched William Hooper, and killed him by degrees, by cutting off one joint of his body after another, until he expired…
The account goes into much greater and gorier details of the terror tactics used by the Yamassee. One colonial soldier described the terror of scalping, and then explained that after
[b]randishing the scalp, [the Yamassee] utter a whoop which they call the “death whoop”….[T]hey behave in an extremely cruel manner towards those they kill or the dead bodies. They disembowel them and smear their blood all over themselves.
Such brutality was inflicted “against the defenceless frontiers” and “poor settlers.” This is how the conflict was characterized by the white colonialists at the time.
No sane person would justify the acts of terror committed by those American Indians. But, at the same time, it is clear to most reasonable people today that in the conflict between American Indian and white settler, the aggressor was clearly the latter. The American Indian response, extreme though it may have been at times, was a response nonetheless. To ask why the American Indians hated the white settler–why they “harboured in their breasts the most inveterate ill-will and rancour” towards the white colonialists–would seem too obvious to even bother answering. Today, however, Americans are absolutely confused as to “why they hate us”–is it our freedoms? Is it our way of life?–even as we bomb, invade, and occupy their lands.
The United States has been in a constant state of war ever since it was founded, as I analyzed in my article “We’re at War!” — And We Have Been Since 1776: 214 Years of American War-Making. The desire for war has always been to stretch American power, first West against American Indians, then South against the Mexicans and other Latin American countries, then to the Pacific, then to Asia, and then to the Middle East. It has been the constant march of Manifest Destiny. During each conflict, some brown victim has been portrayed as the villain–whether it be American Indians, Mexicans, other Latin American peoples, or Asians. Arabs are simply the next darker-complexioned victim of American aggression. The pattern is predictable: attack a people, wait for them to respond, and then use that response to justify the attack.
That Americans think that you can bomb, invade, and occupy multiple Muslim countries (fourteen Muslim countries in between the U.S. and its erstwhile ally Israel) without a response is as unbelievable as the white settlers being completely befuddled as to why the American Indians would ever want to attack them back. A U.S. veteran of the Iraq war once said to me, describing his experience: “I couldn’t understand why the Iraqis hated us so much.” How a soldier who was part of an occupying force could not understand why an occupied peoples would hate him is simply beyond me.
This befuddlement–why oh why do these Muslims hate us, it is a complete mystery to me!–is clearly evident in the discussion of the Boston Marathon bombing. News reports are being released that the bombing suspects were turning more religious and that their turn toward radical Islam motivated them to carry out these attacks. This is not an unreasonable thought, but it is an incomplete one. The
million trillion dollar question is: why do radical Muslims target the United States?
The underlying assumption of Western media outlets is that radical Islam itself instructs Muslims to wage war against the unbelievers, and that this is the reason why the “jihadists” attack us. But, radical Muslims call this war against the United States a “defensive Jihad”–which is the only reason that lone wolves like the Tsaernev brothers could initiate attacks on their own, without the approval of the Muslim Caliph or Imam (or their parents for that matter). When the enemy occupies Muslim lands, the “jihadists” are told, they must fight back. Only time will tell, but it will be unsurprising when details of the Tsaernev brothers’ motivations emerge and they match up with the reasons given by the Times Square bomber and countless Muslim terrorists before him.
Of course, there seems to have been a strong psychological component at play. The Tsaernev brothers were immigrants and had a very difficult time adjusting to life in the United States. They didn’t fit in–they were isolated and didn’t have American friends. In the words of their uncle, they were “losers.” It seems this emotional isolationism found refuge in a reassuring fundamentalist religious worldview. They didn’t fit in in the West, and therefore, it was not difficult for them to see the West as the enemy. The appeal of an us-vs-them mindset to disenchanted, lost youths can be understood in this way.
Ultimately, the bombings of innocent civilians is unconscionable–morally repugnant. But, so too were some of the more violent attacks launched by the American Indians almost three hundred years ago. It is clear as day to us that the only way for the American colonialists to have avoided American Indian excesses was to stop invading their lands and stealing their resources. Historical examples exist not to simply read about them in schools, but rather to learn from them. The only way to bring an end to “Islamic” terrorism is to stop creating the grievances that recruit Muslim terrorists in the first place.
But, instead of recognizing the inescapable fact that a nation simply cannot invade another without experiencing serious blowback (just as the American colonialists could not invade American Indian land without facing serious and sometimes excessive reprisals)–and instead of recognizing that “Islamic” terrorist attacks on U.S. soil are actually exceedingly rare and ineffectual in the context of the large-scale wars against multiple Muslim countries–many Americans simply understand the caveman logic: Muslim attack us, we attack Muslim–simpleton logic that is not dissimilar to the “jihadist” understanding.
Many Americans wish to place the onus on Muslims: why can’t you Muslims stop the terrorists from within your own ranks? Yet, we know from U.S. history that American Indian elders could often not stop radicals from their own ranks–especially “hotheaded” youths–from using more violent means of resistance. Similarly, there is simply no way for the Muslim population to police every single one of its over one billion adherents. This is not to say that radical Islam shouldn’t be intellectually challenged by other Muslims. But, it does mean that the only way for the West to win the war on terrorism is to not participate in it. In the words of Noam Chomsky: “Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”
* * * * *
On a (somewhat) related note, Micah Daigle posted the following about the apprehension of the terror suspect, and I think it is worthy of repost here:
On Friday at 7:05pm Eastern Time, Boston Police received a report that suspected terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding in a boat in Watertown.
At 7:15pm, the low buzz of a drone was heard overheard. Seconds later, an enormous explosion engulfed the area, destroying the boat and several nearby homes. Sources say 46 Watertown residents were killed in the missile strike, including 12 children.
Of course, that’s not what happened. But if it did, wouldn’t we find it unconscionable?
If so, then why are Americans okay with our government doing this to people in other countries?
In Pakistan alone, the U.S. government has killed more than 3,000 people with drone strikes… and only 1 out of 50 were suspected terrorists. The rest were bystanders, rescue workers, and children.
Let’s stop this madness now.
It should be pointed out that the U.S. can no longer hide behind the “we only target military targets, not civilians” defense. In drone attacks, the U.S. “presum[es] any military aged males in the vicinity of a war zone [to be] militants.” According to such twisted logic, the Watertown boat owner would be classified as a militant and thus licit to kill.
Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011. Due to a hectic work schedule, Danios took a “sabbatical” from LoonWatch in 2012, but he plans to write from time to time in 2013, as time allows.