Bruce Sterling on Tue, 9 Sep 2003 05:35:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Wet Squib of Terror

*Well, it's certainly not "conventional wisdom,"
I'll give him that  --bruces

A Europe-based columnist's provocative look at international affairs. 
Discuss this column on the GBN website.

GBN Global Perspectives
Gwynne Dyer
Two Years On: The Score

   Two years on, September 11th is still a raw anniversary for most
Americans, who cannot forget the terrible scenes in lower Manhattan as
three thousand of their fellow-citizens died in a terrorist attack. But
not one further American has died from Islamist terrorism on home soil
since then. Was it all just a flash in the pan?

   The Bush administration pumps up the terrorist threat to distract
attention from the economy and provide a pretext for some other actions,
but for all the colour-coded alerts and the thousands of suspects held
without trial, all the paranoia and duct tape, the past two years have been
among the most terrorism-free in modern American history. Apart from the
brief anthrax panic that cost four or five lives in late 2001, even the
domestic crazies are giving it a rest.

   Islamist terrorism is down in the rest of the world, too. If you
ignore local conflicts of a more or less colonial character in which
terrorism already played a major role before 9/11, the total number of
deaths world-wide in Islamist attacks in the past two years is 348 -- and
fewer than fifty of the victims were Americans.

    For obvious diplomatic reasons the governments in Moscow, Tel Aviv
and New Delhi have been trying to re-define their own local struggles with
Muslim opponents as part of America's global 'war on terrorism', but it
just won't fly. The Palestinian militants of Hamas and Islamic Jihad only
attack Israelis, the Kashmiri and Pakistani militants of Lashkar-e-Taiba
and their associates only attack Indians, and the Chechen guerillas only
hit Russian targets.

   In every case the basic quarrel is about territory, and the
terrorists see themselves acting in a tradition of national liberation war
that stretches back to the Irish, Israeli, and Algerian wars of
independence (all of which involved a good deal of terrorism). The recent
terrorist attacks in Iraq also don't count, whether carried out by secular
Baathists or the burgeoning Islamic resistance movement, since they are
part of a local struggle against foreign occupation. What's left after all
that is genuine international Islamist terrorism -- and there isn't very
much of it.

   Count the attacks up. Nothing for six months after 9/11, and then
an attack on a Christian church in a diplomatic compound in Islamabad,
Pakistan in March, 2002, in which five people were killed including the
wife and daughter of an American diplomat. A truck laden with explosive
and driven into a synagogue in Tunisia in April, 2002, killing 21 tourists,
mostly Germans. A suicide bomb in Karachi in May, 2002 that killed 14,
including 11 French engineers working on a defence project.

   Another long gap until the autumn, and then the attack on a Bali
nightclub last October that killed 202 people, mostly Western tourists. I
the same month a suicide bomber attacked a French oil tanker off Yemen,
killing one crewman. In November other suicide bombers drove into an
Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, killing 15 people and injuring 80, mostly
Kenyans. In May of this year, suicide bombers in Saudi Arabia hit a
foreign compound in Riyadh, killing 34, and others in Morocco blow
themselves up in a number of places around Casablanca, killing 45.
Finally, in August, 12 people were killed in the bombing of the Marriott
hotel in Jakarta.

   And that's it. In two years, a total of 348 people have died in
seven countries in attacks that could be loosely linked with al-Qaeda or
its many affiliates and emulators -- far fewer than have been killed by
bolts of lightning in the same period. Global terrorism is a highly
over-rated threat. 

   The attackers on 9/11 were extraordinarily successful because they
employed teams of suicide hijackers including trained pilots, a new and
unforeseen technique that would only be a surprise once, and because nobody
was on a high state of alert. They changed everybody's perception of
terrorism because of the number of deaths they caused, and because they
struck at the nerve centres of the world's greatest power. But since then,
it's been back to low-tech attacks on soft targets, and the terrorists
haven't been having much success.

   Even if the US invasion of Iraq generates a whole new wave of
terrorist recruits, it won't make much difference to this larger picture so
long as the terrorists' weapons remain conventional. So-called 'weapons of
mass destruction' like poison gas and biological agents aren't really very
impressive either; in a real-life situation, they would generally be no
more lethal than a well-placed truck bomb. A nuclear attack would be
entirely another matter, of course, but how likely is that?

   Extremely unlikely: terrorists do not have the resources to make
nuclear weapons, and no existing government would give them one. No Muslim
country except Pakistan even owns any nuclear weapons, and one of the
unspoken truths of the current international order is that a take-over by
radical Islamists in a nuclear-weapons state would trigger instant and
decisive international action to disarm it. (Not that the invasion of Iraq
was about that; Iraq had neither radical Islamists in charge nor WMD, which
is why so few countries followed the US lead.)

   Terrorism is not an enormous threat to life as we know it. It is a
marginal nuisance which some governments find it useful to inflate into an
enormous bogeyman. We should all get a grip on reality and stop worrying
so much.

Gwynne Dyer, Ph.D., is a London-based independent journalist and GBN 
Network member whose articles
are published in 45 countries.For more on Gwynne Dyer, please read his GBN 

Discuss this and other Gwynne Dyer columns by going to the Global 
Perspectives archive on the GBN website, clicking on the column, and then 
clicking on "Discuss."

The Global Perspectives series is intended to challenge and provoke the 
thinking of GBN members.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of GBN or its members.
We welcome suggestions of other writers and columnists whose ideas we might 

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