The Islamist movement has two wings, one illegal and violent, the other legal and political. I believe the latter enjoys better prospects of success than the former. That's because law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and military forces know how to deal with the illegal and the violent, but the Western world lacks the muscles to defend itself from an insidious radical movement.
For these reasons, I consider the major terrorist assaults – 9/11, Bali, Madrid, Beslan – to be failures. They foul the nest and they rouse Westerners to action. Or, as I put it after the murder of Theo van Gogh, "Islamist terrorism in the West is counterproductive because it awakens the sleeping masses; in brief, jihad provokes crusade. A more cunning Islamist enemy would advance its totalitarian agenda through Mafia-like intimidation, not brazen murders."
Then along comes the irrepressible Mark Steyn who argues in the National Review ("A War Without Polkas") why 9/11 makes sense from the Islamist viewpoint. I am not convinced, but he does make an interesting case. He starts by assuming that Europe will be Muslim:
That being so, why louse things up by flying planes into buildings? Why not just lie low and in the fullness of time everything you want will come your way? The Wahhabists have successfully radicalized hitherto moderate Muslim communities from Albania to Indonesia; they've planted their most radical clerics as in-house padres throughout U.S. prisons and even the armed forces. Why screw things up by doing something so provocative it meets even [former secretary of defense] Bill Cohen's criteria for a response?
Here's why. It's always useful to test the limits of your adversaries, and, though it cost them their camps in Afghanistan and much of their leadership, the 9/11 attacks exposed many useful tidbits about the decadence of the West — the worthlessness of the post-modern NATO "alliance" and the active hostility of many of its key members to the United States, the immense deference accorded not just to Islam but to the most radical Islamic groups, especially when it comes to immigration and other aspects of national security. Many Islamists might have suspected all this, but it's heartening to have it confirmed: If the "sleeping giant" is hard to wake up, his European pals aren't sleeping so much as in irreversible comas. …
But the real battleground is the West itself, the heart of Europe, where bombs in Spain, murders in the Netherlands, "honor killings" in Germany prompt only shrugs or preemptive capitulation from the political class.
In other words, Steyn is saying, successful terrorist attacks boost Islamist morale and provide good intel. True, but this is not worth it. I see these atrocities as radical Islam's indulgences, not its path to victory. (May 23, 2005)