A World Numbed to Mass Murder

Roundup
tags: terrorism, mass shootings



Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a regular contributor to Commentary. He is completing "The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Experience in Vietnam." Thumbnail Image -  Robert J. Fisch

“Terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead.” So said terrorism analyst Brian Jenkins in 1975. It was a reasonable judgment for that time. The Munich Olympics massacre in 1972, which captivated world attention, resulted in the deaths of 11 Israelis and one West German policeman. The Ma’alot massacre in 1974 killed 31 Israelis. The Rome and Vienna airport attacks in 1985 killed 23 people.

All of these attacks were evil enough, but they seem positively restrained by present-day standards. Just think of some of the atrocities the world has witnessed in the past year:

July 2015—Suicide bombing at a market in Iraq frequented by Shiites kills 130.

October 2015—The bombing of a Russian airliner in Sinai kills 224.

October 2015—A suicide bombing in Ankara, targeting protesters at a peace rally, kills 102.

November 2015—Multiple attacks in Paris kill 130.

May 2016—Four separate suicide bombings in Baghdad kill at least 90.

June 2016—Attack at Istanbul airport kills 44.

June 2016—Orlando nightclub attack kills 49.

July 2016—Suicide bombing in Baghdad kills 290.

And now Nice, where a driver killed at least 84 people by plowing his truck into a crowd during Bastille Day festivities.

What’s changed? How and why did terrorism become so much more deadly than it used to be? The simple explanation is the emergence of religious fervor as the primary motivating force for today’s terrorists.

True, some mass casualty attacks have been carried out for non-religious motives—for example, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, which killed 168 people, or the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988, which killed 270. In the former case, the perpetrator was a right-wing extremist; in the latter case, the secular Qaddafi regime was to blame. And not all religiously motivated attacks have been carried out by Muslims; one notable exception was the bombing of Air India flight 182 in 1985, which killed 329 people, and was the work of Sikh extremists.

But by and large, the increase in terrorism casualties has been the work of Islamist extremists. By killing in the name of God, they don’t feel any of the constraints that at one time bound more secular terrorist groups such as the PLO and IRA and ETA. They were heinous enough, but they were also generally careful to calibrate their violence so as to avoid a popular backlash. Islamist terrorist groups feel no such restraint. In fact, they seem to be in a race of one-upmanship to see which group can slaughter more people.

That trend began with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group organized by Iranian agents in the early 1980s. It pioneered both suicide bombings and mass casualty attacks. October 23, 1983, was a turning point: That was the day when separate suicide bombers struck both the U.S. Marine Corps and the French barracks in Beirut, killing 305 people. Those tactics, pioneered by a Shiite terrorist organization, soon enough migrated to the premier Sunni terrorist group, al-Qaeda. In 1998, it used truck bombs to hit two U.S. embassies in Africa, killing 305 people. ...




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