The Left is on a quest to minimize the threat of Islamic terror. At a time when terror attacks in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Paris, and San Bernardino demonstrate ISIS’s deadly reach, influential commentators respond by mocking Americans for their “irrational fears” or “overreactions.” It’s easy to understand why. When terrorism is on the front pages, few people care about gun control or climate change. President Obama has presided over the unprecedented expansion of jihadist power and influence. Why would he want to focus on his greatest failure?
So the Left strives to change the subject by ridiculing the notion that Americans face any meaningful terror risks. The argument goes something like this: It’s absurd for Americans to be concerned about terror. After all, according to President Obama, since 9/11 few Americans have died due to Islamic terror attacks in the U.S., and we’re in greater danger from our own guns than from terrorists abroad. The Washington Post tells us that “The risk of dying in a terror attack is about the same as the risk of getting crushed by falling furniture.” Salon waxes eloquent on the threats of suicide, medical malpractice, and drowning in our own bathtubs. In each case, the message is the same: Move along from the terror debate. Let your betters tell you what you should really fear.
But these arguments are so transparently absurd that it’s difficult to believe they’re offered in good faith. Saying “Hardly any Americans have died from terrorism at home since 9/11” is not unlike dismissing the threat of the Axis Powers in World War II by saying, “Since December 7, 1941, Americans are more likely to drown in a pond than to be killed on American soil by German or Japanese troops.” Both facts are true. Both facts are meaningless.
First, these leftists are drawing artificial boundaries of time and space — and they know it. The modern “War on Terror” began with the hijackings on September 11, not after the planes crashed. In reality, Americans have suffered more than 60,000 casualties in the struggle against jihad, including more than 3,000 Americans killed at home, roughly 7,000 abroad, and the over 50,000 who have suffered battlefield injuries, many of them so grievous that the victims would have died in all previous American wars. And that’s just American casualties. The toll in equally valuable lives overseas reaches well into the hundreds of thousands. Indeed, there are times when the death toll inflicted by jihadists has been near-genocidal in both scope and intention.
The Left intentionally denigrates the fruits of an immense American sacrifice and of an immense American security effort.
Moreover, the Left intentionally denigrates the fruits of an immense American sacrifice and of an immense American security effort. Does it not occur to naysayers at the Washington Post (or in the Oval Office) that our domestic death toll would be much, much higher had we not been continually engaging jihadist forces since 9/11? Does it not occur to them that the Homeland Security apparatus itself — as cumbersome as it is — has foiled dozens of plots, including some that would have led to even more mass-casualty events?
In addition, there is a distinct difference in the moral gravity of death by accident (even negligence) and deliberate, hostile attack. People are right to be especially outraged by deliberate attack and to be especially determined to not just prevent those attacks but to punish the attackers. There are reasons why we don’t throw negligent doctors in jail but we execute murderers. It’s not that we value the lives lost any less, but rather we rightfully abhor the deliberately wrongful act all the more. And of all the depraved acts in this world, the intentional effort to kill as many innocent men, women, and children as possible — in the most grotesque manner conceivable — deserves the most vigorous response.
A depraved enemy has launched tens of thousands of terror attacks and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives overseas. It has triggered a refugee crisis that has displaced millions of people and is causing profound instability in Europe. That same enemy has demonstrated the ability to bring down civilian airliners, launch urban assaults in a Western capital, and inspire jihadist terror here at home. It has declared an intention to do much, much worse. Anyone who tells Americans they should be more concerned about suicide, car accidents, or “falling furniture” only beclowns themselves. Negligent drivers don’t threaten the very existence of civil society. Unchecked terror does. Americans are right to demand a decisive response.
— David French is an attorney, a staff writer at National Review, and a veteran of the Iraq War.