If there was any certainty in the weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks, it was that these were just the first in a campaign of terror on American soil. “You can just about bet on it,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “I anticipate another attack.”
Gary Stubblefield, who directed the Naval Special Warfare Task Unit in the Pacific area, asserted that, as The Denver Post paraphrased, “the question is not if but when dozens of terrorist cells in the United States will unleash biological, chemical and perhaps nuclear weapons against U.S. cities.” FBI Director Robert Mueller estimated the U.S. harbored “several hundred” extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Americans had seen in Israel how a homegrown terrorist movement was able to kill hundreds of people with suicide bombings and other attacks. It seemed we could expect the same. A comment often heard was, “We are all Israelis now.”
But the predictions have not come true. There have been very few attacks in this country by Islamic extremists—and nothing remotely on the scale of 9/11. The “sleeper cells” proved to be mostly nonexistent.
This surprising record has been attributed to excellent work by the FBI, CIA, and other law enforcement agencies, the war in Afghanistan, and the Bush administration’s aggressive treatment of suspected terrorists. But on the list of those deserving credit, the first is a group hardly anyone would have predicted: American Muslims.
Millions of Muslims live in the United States. Had even a tiny percentage been radicalized enough to commit violence, they could have done immense damage. Despite all the efforts to upgrade security at a few crucial sites, it really wouldn’t be hard for any group to kill lots of people.
A car bomb in a stadium parking lot, a couple of semi-automatic rifles in a shopping mall, a Molotov cocktail in a crowded bus, a bomb on a railroad track, a runaway pickup on a city sidewalk—there’s an endless list of easy pickings.
There are too many targets to secure them all. It would have been a simple task for a handful of minimally trained volunteers to keep us in a constant state of fear.
But the volunteers, with rare exceptions, didn’t come forward. Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writes in Foreign Policy magazine that “approximately a dozen people in the country were convicted in the five years after 9/11 for having links with al-Qaida” and “fewer than 40 Muslim Americans planned or carried out acts of domestic terrorism.”
That may sound like a lot, until you remember that there are 15,000 murders a year in this country. A report from the Rand Corp., a national security think tank, noted that of 83 terrorist attacks that took place between 9/11 and the end of 2009, only three “were clearly connected with the jihadist cause.” Three!
We hear a lot of allegations of radical American imams preaching jihad. If so, they are not getting through. The simple fact is that most American Muslims don’t sympathize with religious extremism and almost none are willing to practice it.
And why should they be? According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, “They are overwhelmingly satisfied with the way things are going in their lives (82 percent) and continue to rate their communities very positively as places to live (79 percent excellent or good).”
Suicide bombers may proliferate in places where followers of Islam feel oppressed—as many living under Arab dictators do, as many living under Israeli control do. But worldwide, says Kurzman, global Islamic extremist organizations have been able to recruit “fewer than one out of every 100,000 Muslims since 9/11.” Islam is not particularly fertile ground for growing terrorists.
That’s especially true in the land of the free. Despite the suspicions they face from some of their fellow citizens, American Muslims clearly value what America offers them. They like living in a democracy that respects their rights. People with good lives are not inclined to throw them away in grisly acts of violence.
A decade ago, American Muslims were called by our enemies to rise up and slaughter their fellow citizens. Al Qaeda must be wondering why it never heard back.