About June 2012
Recent years have seen what would appear to be an uptick in reports of U.S.-based Islamic jihadist terrorism. Though these plots have overwhelmingly been unsuccessful, even one success is obviously one too many. What do the experts make of these sensational events? Is this the way of the future… or what? And how should public policymakers respond?
Kicking off the discussion this month is Risa Brooks, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and author of the recent article “Muslim ‘Homegrown’ Terrorism in the United States,” (International Security, Fall 2011). Her lead essay will be joined with replies by Douglas Farah of the International Assessment and Strategy Center; Michael German, a former FBI agent who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union; and Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation.
Risa Brooks argues that the threat of homegrown jihadist terrorism has often been exaggerated. U.S. Muslims have generally shown little inclination toward terrorism. The small minority who feel differently have proven themselves startlingly inept. The Muslim community has proven itself eager to report suspected militants, and many plots would never have progressed beyond fantasy without the “help” of FBI sting operations. Worrying too much about this threat diverts resources from other valuable FBI endeavors, foments suspicion in the Muslim community, and erodes our civil liberties.
Douglas Farah draws our attention to the recruiting efforts and propaganda of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is profoundly violent, anti-western, anti-Semitic, and pro-terrorist. The group’s propaganda is widespread in American mosques, he warns, and the Muslim Brotherhood exerts significant influence over Islam in America. Although American Muslims may not generally be inclined to violence, it is clear that some of them are, and we should not underestimate the threat when we can see it so clearly stated in the available recruitment and propaganda literature.
Michael German calls attention to the civil liberties violations that have sprung up as a direct result of our antiterrorism policies. Federal agencies have investigated tens of thousands of innocents and collected data on many more; the surveillance industrial complex has grown enormously, and traditional privacy protections have been removed. Meanwhile, we still often stop terrorists through a combination of their own incompetence, courage on the part of ordinary civilians, and plain good luck. This suggests that our surrender of civil liberties has done us little good, if any.
Brian Michael Jenkins examines American jihadism and concludes that it’s largely an Internet phenomenon. Sympathies for jihad run wider than they are deep. The 2009-2010 uptick in arrests can partly be explained by Somali reactions to the 2007 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Jenkins finds that national and clan ties likely have more motivating power than al Qaeda’s ideology. Still, because Americans unrealistically expect 100% security, he voices concern that even a single terrorist success could provoke panicked overreactions.
Related at Cato
- Article: “A False Sense of Insecurity?” by John Muller, Regulation, Fall 2004.
- Op-ed: “Terrorism Law Lowers Bar on Justice,” by David Rittgers and Julian Sanchez, Politico, May 18, 2010.
- Book: Terrorizing Ourselves: Why U.S. Counterterrorism Policy Is Failing and How to Fix It, Benjamin H. Friedman, Jim Harper, and Christopher A. Preble, eds (2010).
- Podcast: “The Risks of Terrorism,” by Gene Healy, September 12, 2011.