by Daniel Pipes
June 19, 2007
Note to the reader: All quotations contained in this article and all references to events before June 2007 are genuine. All references to future events are, obviously, fictional. The sentences in square brackets did not appear in the print version.
In retrospect, there were plenty of hints about the war that so abruptly broke out on June 19, 2008.
First, there were the overt verbal threats. Hatem Bazian, senior lecturer of Islamic Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, announced to a rally in April 2004 that the time had come for mass violence, an intifada, in the United States. “We’re sitting here and watching the world pass by, people being bombed [by U.S. forces], and it’s about time that we have an intifada in this country that change fundamentally the political dynamics in here.”
In Canada, Aly Hindy of the Salaheddin Islamic Centre in Toronto threatened Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan about the government “terrorizing” Muslims. “If you try to cross the line I can’t guarantee what is going to happen. Our young people, we can’t control.” When police remarked, “This is a kind of threat,” Hindy replied, “Yes, but it’s for the good of this country.”
Another important sign came in May 2007, when a Pew Research Center study found that 13% of U.S. Muslim respondents believe that “suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies” and 5% expressed a favourable view of al-Qaeda.
Over a quarter century of largely ignored Islamist violence in the United States complemented these statements. The first murder took place in July 1980, when an American convert to Islam assassinated an Iranian dissident in the Washington, D.C. area. Other incidents included an Egyptian freethinker killed in Tucson, Ariz.; Meir Kahane killed in New York; an Egyptian Islamist killed in New York; and two CIA staffers killed outside agency headquarters in Langley, Va.
The first attempted mass attack took place in February 1993, when a truck bomb blew up under New York’s World Trade Center — killing six people, but failing in the terrorists’ objective of toppling one tower upon the other. Commentators judged this a wake-up call but Americans promptly hit the snooze button. Killings continued apace, still provoking little interest, such as the shooting of an Orthodox Jewish boy on the Brooklyn Bridge and a Danish tourist atop the Empire State building. Law enforcement successfully foiled the blind sheik’s “Day of Terror” in 1993, intended to kill thousands in New York City, as well as smaller rampages in southern Florida and southern California.
Then came the 9/11 attacks and 3,000 dead, but that atrocity heightened fears more than it prompted effective countermeasures. Islamist terrorism continued apace within the United States, for the most part generally dismissed as the result of “mental imbalance,” “work stress,” “marital problems,” or “road rage.” Even in cases attended by huge publicity, seemingly any reason was proffered other than devotion to Islamist ideology. A Los Angeles Times analysis of the Beltway Snipers killing spree of October 2002, for example, mentioned John Muhammad’s “stormy relationship” with his family, his “stark realization” of loss and regret, his perceived sense of abuse as an American Muslim post-9/11, his desire to “exert control” over others, his relationship with his junior partner, and his trying to make a quick buck – anything, in short, but jihad.
The absence of large-scale terrorism prompted analysts smugly to conclude that law enforcement had prevailed; or that the Islamists had opted for non-violent means.
It thus came as a great surprise in June 2008 when 51 bombs went off within a few hours in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, killing over 800 people in schools, stores, and subways. Such displays of terrorist prowess had taken place before but in remote places – 500 bombs in one day in Bangladesh in 2005, 50 in a day in south Thailand in 2006 – and the outside world had paid them little heed.
As in the Bangladeshi case, identical leaflets appeared near each of the bombings. Signed by Jihadis for Justice, a hitherto unknown group, the flyers called for replacing the Constitution with the Koran and bringing the country’s foreign policy in line with Tehran’s. Plagiarizing Hamas, Jihadis for Justice justified murder on the grounds that Muslim rule would benefit Jews and Christians: “When we talk about the mission of the restoration of Islam to its natural place [of world rule], we [are] calling for justice, and for goodness, and for world love… so that the Christians will live in peace, and that even the Jews will live in peace and security.”
Photo credit: Chip East, Reuters
Building on the precedent of pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah demonstrations in mid-2006, Islamists and far-leftists brazenly supported the American intifada, punctuating their glorification of its “martyrs” with Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Death to America” slogan. These messages echoed on Canadian campuses, especially Concordia University in Montreal and York in Toronto.
Just as the 7/7 bombings had revealed in Great Britain, Islamist sleepers in substantial numbers lived quietly and unobtrusively in the United States. The violence became daily, ubiquitous, endemic, and routine, occurring in rural towns, upscale suburbs, and metropolitan centres, targeting private houses, restaurants, university buildings, gas stations, and electricity grids. As its frequency increased, terrorists became less cautious, leading to many arrests and bulging prisons. Some terrorists avoided this ignominious fate by engaging in suicide attacks, usually accompanied by boastful Internet videos. In all, roughly 100,000 incidents meant an average 10,000 deaths and many times more injuries each year.
Jihadis for Justice laid siege to Capitol Hill and the White House, inspired by three prior terrorist assaults on symbols of sovereignty: the attack on Trinidad‘s Red House in 1990, on India‘s Parliament House in 2001, and the failed plot to storm Ottawa‘s Parliament Hill in 2006. Despite massive security in Washington, sniper attacks picked off some legislators and presidential aides. Jihadis for Justice relied on Iranian and Saudi patronage but no U.S. retaliation followed because, before acting, President Obama required proofs that would pass muster in a U.S. court of law, something the intelligence agencies could not provide.
As in other countries – Israel offering the most obvious comparison – major changes in American life followed. Whoever wished to enter supermarkets, bus stations, malls, or campuses had to produce identification, show his bags and perhaps submit to a search of his person. Cars routinely underwent inspections at road blocks. As airline passengers had to arrive four hours before flight time to run the gauntlet of security questions about their travels, airports emptied and airline companies went bankrupt. Local public transportation went through similar upheavals, as commuters took up bicycling rather than submit to interrogations and near-strip searches on their way to work. Telecommuting finally took off.
Anti-Muslim sentiments hardened, turning a once-fringe opinion into a powerful political movement. Those arguing for the critical importance of moderate Muslims found their ideas widely rejected. The “No Muslims – No Terrorism” slogan that was quickly shunted aside after surfacing in 2003 became the rallying cry of the newly-formed Anti-Jihad League whose branches quickly blanketed the country, helping citizens protect themselves. Talk about bombing Mecca and Medina, hitherto marginal, was now seriously discussed though ultimately rejected, by the Pentagon.
The old politically-correct bromides collapsed. Recognizing that only Muslims engage in Islamist violence, the past practice of treating the entire U.S. population equally quickly fell into disfavour, replaced by a focus on the 1% that is Muslim. The American Civil Liberties Union protested this as discrimination and the Council on American-Islamic Relations decried it as a war on Islam and Muslims, but to no avail, as it was shut down on terrorism charges.
Drawing on the example of the Danish imams going international in 2005 with the Muhammad cartoons, American Muslim delegations travelled abroad to publicize their complaints, arousing vast emotional support by presenting themselves as an innocent but brutalized community. Majority Muslim states unanimously condemned Washington for “Islamophobia” and the U.N. General Assembly passed nearly weekly resolutions condemning U.S. practices, with only Australia, Israel, and Micronesia reliably voting with the Obama administration.
Pre-intifada, terrorists such as Ahmed Ressam and Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer exploited Canada’s less stringent security environment as a base from which to attack the United States, a pattern that now continued. Repeated closings and crossing delays of the border with Canada followed, harming the Canadian economy and provoking widespread resentment.
Several factors prompted an outflow of Muslims: a new emphasis on expelling illegals from Muslim countries, Muslim immigrants voluntarily repatriating, and groups of African-American converts moving to Liberia. Ironically, the intifada also led to a surge in conversions to Islam throughout the Western world, just as had happened post-9/11. Muslim visitors from abroad found entry into the country difficult. For example, the idea first floated in early 2007 to require visas only of Britons with Pakistani origins was applied in late 2008, intensely annoying Europeans.
Just as a Norwegian grocery store chain urged the boycott of Israeli products in 2002, so did it initiate the 2009 international anti-U.S. economic boycott. What began by marking American products with a red-white-blue sticker ended by dropping them all together. “Mecca Cola,” “Beurger King,” and Barbie doll replacements Fulla and Razanne, all created years before the American intifada began, were now joined by other Muslim replacements for their better-known U.S. equivalents. Inspired by the success of Ülker, a Turkish corporation long associated with Islamist causes, to replace Coca-Cola with its Cola Turka, other Islamist-affiliated companies commercially exploited anti-American sentiments. Rumblings of an Arab oil boycott along the lines of 1973-74 led to a surge in the price of energy, causing an economic recession, but structural changes in the oil market made such an effort too difficult to sustain.
Then, almost as suddenly as it had started, the terrorist campaign ended in June 2012. A combination of draconian security measures, beefed-up intelligence capabilities, and a relentless focus on the pool of Islamist suspects led to a severe drop-off in terrorist capabilities. Battered by the experience, American Islamists realized the error of their tactics and decided to forego violence. Like their counterparts in Egypt, Syria, and Algeria, they took up lawful means and worked henceforth within the system.
A Reuters description of developments in Algeria in 2006 foreshadowed the Islamist evolution in the United States: “Algeria’s Islamists are making a modest political comeback after failing to win with the bullet what they once sought with the ballot. [With an armed insurrection long in decline, most Islamists these days want to work in the political mainstream, using peaceful means to build Islamic rule in the oil exporting nation. It is an approach that is winning them powerful friends.”
Azzedine Layachi of St. John’s University further explained about Algeria that “The Islamist movement tried to challenge the state head on and it failed miserably. But Islamist sentiment has not been defeated. On the contrary, Islamists are now part and parcel of the political and cultural scene.”]
The ending of the four-year American intifada signalled, as in Algeria, the opening of a political battle over the country’s future. Would the Constitution of 1787 remain in place, or would it be complemented or perhaps replaced by the Koran and the Shariah?