The Jihad That Wasn’t

WASHINGTON – A funny thing happened on the way to the jihadi takeover of America.

It got lost.

Same goes for Islamist radical attacks on American interests overseas – it’s just not happening to the degree that our favorite jihad hunters here in the U.S have been ranting about for the last 12 years. Turns out that most of the terror attacks occurring in the world today, according to 2012 Global Terrorism Index, are happening to someone else, and in many cases associated with conditions created by western military interventions.

According to that report, the top places for terror remain Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where their civilians are dying, not ours. In fact, Iraq is by far the worst. But no American has died there since November, while more than 200 Iraqis have been killed since Jan. 1 in violence perpetuated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorists who are the direct outgrowth of the U.S occupation of that country in the last decade.

Something to think about as we’re watching today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, where CIA director-to-be John Brennan will no doubt be talking up an elaborate check-list of global threats against American interests (more on that later).

Meanwhile, North America is the least likely place to be targeted for terrorism on the planet, according to the report, and if it has suffered from attacks, it is more likely to come from "environmentalists, animal activists, racists, and anti-abortion activists," according to the Global Index, which charted violent acts from 2002 to 2011.

"It should be noted in the U.S., most terrorist attacks were aimed at buildings and businesses, with minimal attacks on private citizens," the report declared.

Now if one is inclined for whatever reason to question the findings of the Institute of Economics and Peace, which published the 52-page paper in December, then Wired’s Spencer Ackerman brings our attention to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, which on Feb. 1 released its own report, "Muslim-American Terrorism: Declining Further" (.pdf).

That report, authored by Professor Charles Kurzman at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, finds the number of Muslim plots against domestic targets in 2012 down to 14 from 21 in 2011. That number was down from the previous year. While there have been 209 such plots since 9/11 (an average of 20 per year) the vast number involved FBI informants and undercover agents, and most likely, fake bombs and weapons, "to encourage would-be terrorists to act on their violent desires and arresting them when they do – a practice critics say comes perilously close to entrapment."

In that same time period, according to Kurzman’s assessments, there were 33 fatalities resulting from Muslim-American terrorism in the U.S. He includes the 13 military personnel killed by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, and the convicted Belway Snipers, John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, who killed 11 people in the Washington, D.C metro area in 2002.

For the second year in a row, there were no fatalities or injuries from Muslim-American terrorism. Meanwhile, the United States suffered approximately 14,000 murders in 2012. Since 9/11, Muslim-American terrorism has claimed 33 lives in the United States (Figure 3), out of more than 180,000 murders committed in the United States during this period.

Apropos of today’s headlines, the report points out that there were 66 mass shootings in 2012 that did not involve Muslim hate. The author also points to a report recently released by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, which found "violent far-right" groups were responsible for 306 fatalities since 2001. While that report has been criticized for merely shifting attention from one ideological/religious-based movement to another, putting beliefs under scrutiny rather than simply focusing on criminals and their behaviors, it nevertheless weakens the narrative that the country is under siege by plotting fifth column Muslims manned with underwear bombs at every airport and flashing knives behind every potted plant.

More strikingly, the emerging data puts the entire post-9/11 counterterrorism/national security state infrastructure, which has grown into a behemoth of irreconcilable secrecy and girth, imposing unacceptable strains on the Constitutional rights of ordinary Americans, into serious question, says Michael German, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office.

"This is a big part of the problem," he told Antiwar in an interview.

"Of course no amount of terrorism is acceptable or desirable, but, putting it into context with violent crime throughout our society, this (Islamic terrorism) is a small segment of that violent crime and perhaps we should not be spending such a significant amount of law enforcement resources, especially when too often these resources are being focused on innocent people who aren’t even suspected of being involved in wrongdoing. If our resources were focused on the few specific threats that are assessed based upon reasonable evidence of wrongdoing, they would probably be much more effectively spent.”

Consider that in direct response to the 2001 terror attacks, the federal budget has grown by billions a year in homeland security funding, sprinkled most generously among an alphabet soup of 31 federal agencies and departments, with the most going to the Department of Defense ($17.3 billion) and the Department of Homeland Security ($35 billion). Other agencies that enjoy Uncle Sam’s post-9/11 fear funds include the State Department ($2.2 billion), the Department of Agriculture ($570 million), Department of Energy ($1.9 billion), Health and Human Services ($4.1 billion), the Department of Justice ($4 billion), Commerce ($289 million) and the Department of Labor ($46 million).

States and municipalities have taken billions of these federal dollars to keep up with the "War on Jihad," too. In the case of New York City, police there actually created an entire surveillance division to spy on Muslim organizations and communities, forcing them to live in fear as second-class citizens while the rest of us are supposed to sleep more easily knowing a threat that does not really exist is being kept under 24/7 scrutiny.

"Hopefully we can start to calibrate our efforts a little better," German said, encouraged that the recent data, as well as new reports underscoring some of the serious waste and abuse of homeland security dollars, may put future funding into perspective. Nice thought, but German easily admits this is one house of cards that’ll be hard to tear down.

"It’s not just the bureaucracy, but private companies receiving the largesse … there is definitely a big gravy train to be found in this new security work."

You bet. So even when the numbers don’t live up to the hyperbole, politicians and self-interested Islamophobes disguised as national security experts and advocates continue to whip up the domestic paranoia in order to stay professionally relevant, and of course, fully funded.

That’s why they cherish congressional leaders like (now retired) Senator Joe Lieberman, I-CT., who as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee for five years was able to hold hearings and produce nearly 20 reports on radical Islamic extremism "in the homeland," while his cohort in the House, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., convened scores of similar productions, ginning up the specter of domestic radicalization as the most critical threat facing the country today.

Off the Hill, shrewd jihad hunters sense the statistics on actual violence aren’t jibing, so they turn toward ideological "infiltration" as the next domestic bugaboo. This quiet attack, or "civilization jihad," as dean Frank Gaffney puts it in his 10-part online course, "Muslim Brotherhood in America: the Enemy Within," is hardly known to us at all, but as Gaffney insists, it’s everywhere.

"The threat," the stern professor charges, "is a totalitarian supremacist, Islamic doctrine," otherwise known as sharia. It is spread, he contends apocalyptically, through subversive "information dominance," "lawfare," "manipulative financial techniques," and infiltration of our U.S government institutions.

Whatever Gaffney talking about it is not terrorism, not in any way we can grasp legally. What he’s really suggesting, however, usually ends with blacklists and loyalty oaths, which the majority of thinking Americans want no part of. But he’s not without his acolytes in congress. For example, Rep. Michele Bachman, R-MN., said last year that there is a "deep penetration" of radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which she suspects of "influence operations" in the federal government – (though she was admonished by the meanest senator on the Hill, John McCain, and barely won her congressional re-election in November).

As for domestic money laundering or material support for terrorism or other non-violent crimes tied to terror, those incidents are way down too: 27 Muslims indicted on such charges in 2010, eight in 2011 and six in 2012, according to the Kurzman study. Hardly an infestation.

But true virtuosos of fear like Pamela Geller could care less about numbers and are all about the lizard brain – that’s why her big shtick right now is spending the cold hard cash her donors give her (through Stop Islamization of America and the Freedom Defense Initiative) to splash subways and buses with anti-Muslim provocations like the new #MyJihad campaign in Chicago and this one in New York in December:

Meanwhile, Geller zipped down to Washington this week to launch a public invective against Al-Jazeera for being "sympathetic to the global jihad and … complicit in those jihadist activities," and insisting the network, which just bought Current TV to gain greater reach in the U.S cable market, should be registered as a terrorist organization. She forever fails to see the irony that one of the scariest mass murderers of the decade, Anders Breivik, who killed 69 people, mostly teenagers, during a shooting and bombing rampage in Norway in 2011, cited Geller’s Islamophobic writings in his own manifesto.

Anders Breivik
Anders Breivik

But she and Gaffney will not cease. Like the government, they have too much invested to turn back now.

Which brings us back to global terrorism and U.S policy. What is clear from former Senator Chuck Hagel’s testimony last week is that rethinking our strategy is not likely in the cards:

As Secretary of Defense I will ensure we stay vigilant and keep up the pressure on terrorist organizations as they try to expand their affiliates around the world, in places like Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa. At the Pentagon, that means continuing to invest in and build the tools to assist in that fight, such as special operations forces and new intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies.

What is not so clear is what the threat actually is, or if it even warrants the war-hammer approach quickly hardening as standard operating procedure for overseas military and law enforcement operations. The Washington Post clearly demonstrates the lack of clarity here in its piece entitled, "Al-Qaeda divided, but still a danger," published February 3.

The headline says it all, but what follows is one of the most confusing narratives ever printed. On one hand, al Qaeda in Pakistan is "all but demolished," and movements in Somalia, Indonesia as well as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)are deflated, but attacks on western interests by loosely connected new al Qaeda groups in Libya, Mali and Algeria draw attention to their "lethal potential." However, it is not clear whether those groups are more regional than international in nature and whether, ultimately, "the scale of the counterterrorism campaign is still warranted" when the original goal – destroying those responsible for 9/11 – "has largely been accomplished."

Take home message: all those invested in keeping the machinery oiled and churning will eventually find a way to connect new upstart Islamist groups to the authorized Global War on Terror. Like The Washington Post suggests, acknowledging these groups as threats provides "new justification" for the president’s counterterrorism policies. But the jury is out on the critical, so far unanswered questions: whether these new groups are threats to us, and if so, would they be so effective if we hadn’t been meddling and killing over there already?

For people like Frank Gaffney, there is only one answer. He has already ripped Brennan – the man who has authorized the killing of thousands of people by drone strikes in the last four years – as "the very person who has epitomized and enforced a policy of willful blindness towards the central threat of our time: the supremacist Islamic ideology of shariah and the holy war, or jihad."

Gaffney’s blindness is not only willful, but blissful, and it should have no part in policy, especially when the reality – that his brand of terror is infinitesimal here in the United States – is staring him right in the face.

Follow Vlahos on Twitter @KelleyBVlahos

Author: Kelley B. Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine. Her Twitter account is @KelleyBVlahos.