Daniel Pipes: American Intifada

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org. Click here for his blog.]

Note to the reader: All quotations contained in this article and all references to events before June 2007 are genuine. All references to future events are, obviously, fictional. The sentences in square brackets did not appear in the print version.

In retrospect, there were plenty of hints about the war that so abruptly broke out on June 19, 2008.

First, there were the overt verbal threats. Hatem Bazian, senior lecturer of Islamic Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, announced to a rally in April 2004 that the time had come for mass violence, an intifada, in the United States. "We're sitting here and watching the world pass by, people being bombed [by U.S. forces], and it's about time that we have an intifada in this country that change fundamentally the political dynamics in here."

In Canada, Aly Hindy of the Salaheddin Islamic Centre in Toronto threatened Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan about the government "terrorizing" Muslims. "If you try to cross the line I can't guarantee what is going to happen. Our young people, we can't control." When police remarked, "This is a kind of threat," Hindy replied, "Yes, but it's for the good of this country."

Another important sign came in May 2007, when a Pew Research Center study found that 13% of U.S. Muslim respondents believe that "suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies" and 5% expressed a favourable view of al-Qaeda.

Over a quarter century of largely ignored Islamist violence in the United States complemented these statements. The first murder took place in July 1980, when an American convert to Islam assassinated an Iranian dissident in the Washington, D.C. area. Other incidents included an Egyptian freethinker killed in Tucson, Ariz.; Meir Kahane killed in New York; an Egyptian Islamist killed in New York; and two CIA staffers killed outside agency headquarters in Langley, Va.

The first attempted mass attack took place in February 1993, when a truck bomb blew up under New York's World Trade Center — killing six people, but failing in the terrorists' objective of toppling one tower upon the other. Commentators judged this a wake-up call but Americans promptly hit the snooze button. Killings continued apace, still provoking little interest, such as the shooting of an Orthodox Jewish boy on the Brooklyn Bridge and a Danish tourist atop the Empire State building. Law enforcement successfully foiled the blind sheik's "Day of Terror" in 1993, intended to kill thousands in New York City, as well as smaller rampages in southern Florida and southern California.

Then came the 9/11 attacks and 3,000 dead, but that atrocity heightened fears more than it prompted effective countermeasures. Islamist terrorism continued apace within the United States, for the most part generally dismissed as the result of "mental imbalance," "work stress," "marital problems," or "road rage." Even in cases attended by huge publicity, seemingly any reason was proffered other than devotion to Islamist ideology. A Los Angeles Times analysis of the Beltway Snipers killing spree of October 2002, for example, mentioned John Muhammad's "stormy relationship" with his family, his "stark realization" of loss and regret, his perceived sense of abuse as an American Muslim post-9/11, his desire to "exert control" over others, his relationship with his junior partner, and his trying to make a quick buck – anything, in short, but jihad.

The absence of large-scale terrorism prompted analysts smugly to conclude that law enforcement had prevailed; or that the Islamists had opted for non-violent means.

It thus came as a great surprise in June 2008 when 51 bombs went off within a few hours in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, killing over 800 people in schools, stores, and subways. Such displays of terrorist prowess had taken place before but in remote places – 500 bombs in one day in Bangladesh in 2005, 50 in a day in south Thailand in 2006 – and the outside world had paid them little heed.

As in the Bangladeshi case, identical leaflets appeared near each of the bombings. Signed by Jihadis for Justice, a hitherto unknown group, the flyers called for replacing the Constitution with the Koran and bringing the country's foreign policy in line with Tehran's. Plagiarizing Hamas, Jihadis for Justice justified murder on the grounds that Muslim rule would benefit Jews and Christians: "When we talk about the mission of the restoration of Islam to its natural place [of world rule], we [are] calling for justice, and for goodness, and for world love… so that the Christians will live in peace, and that even the Jews will live in peace and security."...

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Adam Holland - 6/30/2007


Craig Michael Loftin - 6/30/2007

Pipes seems to be subtly suggesting that all Muslims in this country should be rounded up and either put in concentration camps or exterminated so us good guys can feel safe. I'm sure this viewpoint would please many regular commentators on this site. If not, then what was his point?