December 02, 2016
Terrorist atrocities, like the murder of that elderly French priest in his own church, are so horrible that we are naturally inclined to overestimate the threat that they pose to our democratic way of life. They pose some threat, certainly; there is always the danger that these fanatics may get hold of a dirty bomb. Nevertheless, on the evidence available since 9/11, that threat is exaggerated, as much imaginary as real. They are occasioned by human malice, but in terms of the damage they do and the loss of life they inflict, they are no more to be feared than natural disasters like earthquakes and floods or accidents like plane or rail crashes. The real damage they do is to the morale of us ordinary citizens. If we decide, for instance, we won”t take that offer of a weekend in Paris because there have been terrorist attacks there, that’s a victory for the Islamists.
It’s nonsense to say that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam; it has everything to do with Islam. Spokesmen for ISIS and al-Qaeda have made this abundantly clear. But, equally, it’s nonsense to suggest that every Muslim is a potential terrorist or a sympathizer with the Islamist terrorists. That’s as stupid and offensive as to suggest that every American high school kid who has access to a gun is likely to go on a killing spree. What indeed we should never forget is that by far the greatest number of victims of Islamist terror have been other Muslims, not Europeans or Americans.
ISIS is probably in the process of being destroyed as a coherent force, deprived of territory and its pretensions to statehood. Sadly it will remain capable of promoting terrorism, and planning and financing terrorist attacks. However, on the evidence of the years since 9/11, its capacity to do this is much less than many fear. Inasmuch as it is fighting a war, it’s a war in which it will have occasional successes, often small-scale ones, and many failures; and it’s a war that it will lose”so long as we are vigilant and keep our heads, refusing to panic when some terrorist plot succeeds. Finally, whatever motivation the Islamist terrorists claim, we should regard them simply as criminals, and try them and punish them as criminals.