Tim McVeigh was God’s gift to the Left, and the Left will forever keep his memory alive, tending it like a kind of sacred flame.
Al-Qaeda attacks the United States on September 11, 2001? Yes, but don’t forget about McVeigh. Omar Mateen lets loose an “Allahu akbar!” before massacring 49 people at a gay bar in Orlando? Yes, but remember McVeigh. Salman Abedi and his pack of “lone” wolves get a jump on Ramadan by nail-bombing a bunch of little girls and their grandmothers at a concert in Manchester? Terrible, of course, but let us not forget about the real threat: right-wing terrorism on the McVeigh model.
But lots of them aren’t.
The Venn-diagram overlap between the world’s Muslims and the world’s terrorists may be small, but it is not trivial, and the confrontation between the Islamic world and the West puts a cold light on areas of concern beyond political violence. In the Islamic world itself, we see a heritage of high culture and great civilizational achievements, but a great deal of it looks like Karachi at the high end and rural Yemen at the low end: violent, backward, cruel, and uninterested in progress to the extent that “progress” is synonymous with Westernization — which, multiculturalist pieties notwithstanding, it is. Even if you set aside the propensity of certain Muslim fanatics to bomb pizza shops and to name public plazas in celebration of fanatics who bomb pizza shops, there’s still a lot of real life as lived in Afghanistan or Egypt that just isn’t going to fly in Chicago. In places such as Minneapolis, we have done a fairly poor job integrating the relatively small number of Muslim immigrants we already have.
If you happened to live in a city that does not have a significant, poorly assimilated Muslim minority population on the Malmö model, would you want one?
In the case of many terrorist incidents in the West, immigration and travel to and from Islamist hot spots abroad is a part of the equation: San Bernardino, Manchester, 9/11, Orlando, 7/7. The Trump administration is trying, in its habitually incompetent way, to take that fact into consideration, twice failing to impose travel restrictions that fall well within the president’s statutory powers under U.S. immigration law. If anything, the administration does not go far enough. Anti-terrorism considerations should be a substantial part of our public policy not only where visitors’ visas and the like are concerned, but especially in the matter of immigration. The responsibility of the American government is to the American people, as sympathetic as many of those Syrian refugees might be. We do not seem to have much of a well-developed policy on them at the moment, but the most intelligent and decent one would be seeing to it that they are reasonably well looked after — in Syria, or in one of the bordering countries.
We were, impossible as it sounds to say it, in one sense lucky to have al-Qaeda as our main terrorist threat in the years immediately following September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda was, as an ideological matter, focused on spectacular attacks when it came to the West, desiring each to be more dramatic than the last. Osama bin Laden et al. found 9/11 difficult to follow up on, especially with U.S. forces hunting them down in their safe havens. The Islamic State has no such ideological limitation, and it is happy to bomb a concert here and behead a hostage there. The mullahs in Iran may dream of a nuclear Armageddon, but the Islamic State would be perfectly satisfied with a permanent intifada being fought in every Western city of any consequence.
No one wants to see the United States turned into a police state — which almost certainly would mean, among other things, subjecting our own Muslim communities and the U.S. citizens in them to an extraordinary degree of surveillance and other invasive counterterrorism measures. The most humane and effective policy consistent with our traditions of constitutional government and civil liberty is to limit the pool of potential Islamist allies in the United States, where Muslims make up only about 1 percent of the population. The pretense that Islamist terrorism in the West can be understood as a phenomenon separate from the Muslim immigration and the character of Muslim immigrant communities serves no one very well — least of all those Muslim immigrants in Minneapolis or the Bronx who thought they were leaving this sort of trouble behind in Sana’a or Kismayo.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.