7 Months Later and We're Falling Back into Apathy

News Abroad

Mr. Pipes is director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.

Are Americans taking the necessary steps to protect themselves from further attacks?

This question comes to mind on reading a news agency dispatch titled,"Iran Enthusiastically Celebrates the American 'Humiliation' at Tabas 22 Years Ago."

It refers to Tabas, a remote desert town in Iran, which on April 25, 1980, was the site of a U.S. military disaster. A rescue team sent by President Jimmy Carter to spring 49 American hostages held in the U.S. embassy in Tehran had to abort when two U.S. aircraft collided at Tabas, leaving eight U.S. soldiers dead.

To this day, Iran's militant Islamic leadership keeps the memory of that day alive. Last week, the government bussed thousands of militiamen to Tabas where they prayed and shouted slogans like"Death to America" and"Death to Israel." It will build a museum in Tabas exclusively devoted to chronicling the failed American mission. Iranian television news informs viewers that the U.S. failure in 1980"proves the weakness of the United States."

Meanwhile, the disaster at Tabas has gone down the memory hole for Americans. But it's Americans (and Israelis and other Westerners) who really should be recalling the incident at Tabas, for this marked a major turning point.

It was when the current round of militant Islam's war against the West took its first fatalities."Death to America" proved to be not an empty slogan but the battle cry of this era's most vibrant and dangerous extremist ideology.

In retrospect, it is clear that the eight deaths at Tabas were the very first in a sequence that has continued for over two decades. Consider just some of the attacks on Americans:

* April 1983: U.S. embassy in Beirut bombed, killing 63.

* December 1983: U.S. embassy in Kuwait bombed, killing 6.

* October 1983: U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut bombed, killing 241.

* January 1984: Malcolm Kerr, president of the American University of Beirut, assassinated.

* April 1984: the environs of a U.S. airbase in Spain attacked by Hizbullah, killing 18 servicemen.

* September 1984: U.S. embassy in Beirut again bombed, killing 16.

* December 1984: Two Americans murdered on a hijacked plane in Tehran.

* June 1985: American sailor killed on a hijacked plane in Beirut.

And on and on, the assault continued. More recent incidents include the World Trade Center bombing of February 1993, the two attacks on U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, the two American embassies blown up in East Africa in August 1998, and the USS Cole destroyed in Yemen in October 2000. In all, some 600 Americans lost their lives to militant Islam before September 2001.

All of these were highly publicized incidents, dominating the headlines and furrowing brows about an effective counterterrorism policy. But they did not inspire action. The U.S. government neither attacked the enemy nor changed policies. For example, the 241 dead at the Marine barracks bombing (the largest number of Americans killed by militant Islam before 9/11) brought forth no retaliation at all and the World Trade Center bombing prompted no review of immigration procedures.

In short, although Americans were repeatedly attacked, they barely responded. One can hardly blame the militant Islamic groups and governments for concluding that the United States was weak, demoralized, and ripe for attack. The population was feckless, distracted, and complacent, the government incompetent.

And now? The trauma of September changed some things but not enough. The government won't name militant Islam as the enemy but hides behind the euphemism of"terrorism." The CIA and FBI remain largely unchanged. Airline security is a sham. Israel is constrained from rooting out the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.

As the sense of vulnerability and resolve of seven months ago dissipates, Americans are returning to business-as-usual. September 11 increasingly feels like a remote nightmare without much relevance to the present circumstances.

To which I predict: If things proceed in this direction, there can only be one certain result - further assaults perpetrated by militant Islam.

The carnage begun that awful day in the Iranian desert in 1980 will not run its course until Americans understand how much they need to fear and loathe militant Islam. We can only hope this happens sooner rather than later, so that the number of casualties to come will be smaller rather than larger.

This article is reprinted with permission from Mr. Pipes's website.

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More Comments:

Corrine - 10/12/2002

Osama bin Laden, peace be upon him.

Fred Carte - 5/3/2002

By this logic, there was "little difference" between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia (both were repressive, anti-western and anti-Semetic dictatorships), and Roosevelt and Churchill made a big mistake in not realizing the real axis of evil and simultaneously declaring war on both Hitler and Stalin. Are you so young that you are unaware that a million Iraqis and Iranians died fighting each other in the 1980s ? Islam has some grave problems, but an undifferentiated assault against a religion practiced by a billion people is an exercise in futility if if founders, a recipe for disaster if it proceeds.

It is counterproductive of Pipes to protest repressive Islamic theocracies by inciting hatred and "loathing" of Moslems (that is, it WOULD be counterproductive if Pipes' real objective were resisting dictatorship rather than pursuit of a demagogical ego-trip).

Arnold Pulda - 5/2/2002


The distinctions that you value here -- between militant Muslims in Iran vs. those in Iraq, Shi'ite vs. Sunni -- seem to make little difference here. Their commonalities -- that each Muslim country is a repressive fascist theocracy, that each nurses a true and deep hatred of the West in order to divert attention from corruption, dictatorship, and poverty at home, that each teaches and nurtures the vilest forms of anti-American and anti-Semitic fantasies, that each supports and promotes terrorist activity against the United States and its allies -- are not the figments of anyone's imagination. For you to say so -- that the dangers posed to us by militant Islam extremists are not real, that they are imaginary characters hiding under the bed -- trivializes a substantial threat.

Sage - 5/2/2002

This is sooo true. We can't let the Sufis win. If they get away with chanting "Death to the Taliban", next thing you know they'll be blowing up federal buildings in Oklahoma City. While I work on my fear and loathing, it is comforting to know that kind and thoughtful souls like Daniel Pipes are coming up with good ways of making our foreign policy more successful, our airplanes safer, and our skyscrapers more secure.

John Moser - 5/2/2002

Sorry, but when I hear mobs chanting "Death to America," my first response isn't to ask, "Are they Sunnis or Shi'ites?"

John Moser
Ashland University

Olaf Brakmaker - 4/29/2002

After an absence of many weeks, Chicken Little has returned to save us again.

Do not worry about confusing distinctions between Sunnis and Shiites, do not bother about inconvenient historical trivialities such as the Iran-Iraq war, or political complications such as Iran's opposition of the Taliban.

Check make sure there aren't any Muslim militants hiding under your bed. You need to do this regularly now, and to have faith that our fearless leaders will eventually realize that they must strive to provoke the war of civilizations we know that militant Islam wants.

Onward Judeo-Christian-Druid-Body-and-Mind-Pierced soldiers ! Leave your history books behind, for duty calls you now to join the brave march to stop the sky from falling. Chicken Little won't be able to join you on the front lines, he's too busy sounding the alarm from a safe distance. But you go on ahead anyway. Just remember to keep your eyes on the sky and your mind free of complicating historical details !