Declaring War Against Islamic Terrorism Is An Empty Gesture Radical Muslims are spread around many countries. The real challenge is locating them

WASHINGTON – Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman added his voice to the chorus of those who really believe that we need a formal “declaration of war” against Islamic terrorism in order to effectively fight it. Sadly, such declarations are “feel good”, empty gestures. (A Global War on Radical Islam, WSJ, January 13, 2015).

Islamic terrorism

I said before and I repeat that we should not be afraid of calling terrorism justified by Islamic doctrine by its own name. Yes, some people believe that they are prompted by Islamic scriptures to wage their own Holy War against the West. And therefore we are right to say that they are engaged in political violence inspired by their interpretation of a major religion.

Meaningless proclamations

That said, to loudly proclaim that we are at war against Islamic radicals, and that we are going to wage this war, while the US will lead an alliance of all the wiling countries against this global threat is essentially meaningless. Of course, we need to focus on this threat. But the idea that any solemn proclamation will increase our chances of success is ludicrous.

Invisible enemy

Our problem is not the lack of will to fight the enemy. Our problem is that the enemy is mostly invisible. Indeed, in many cases we do not know who the enemy is, where he is, and where and when he may decide to strike. At the cost of being repetitious, “radical Islam” has no fixed address, and no published membership list.

US and Western intelligence know bits and pieces of a rather big puzzle. We know of some groups and some leaders. But we know almost nothing about the potential army of foot soldiers, just like the two French Algerian brothers who staged the attack against the magazine Charlie Hebdo.

In that particular case, the French authorities knew, in a general way, that these two might at some point engage in something illegal. But they were not sure. And so the two managed to plot and execute their attack, essentially unnoticed.

How many more like them? Potentially thousands. Law enforcement agencies simply lack the resources to keep an eye on all of them; let alone keep tabs on those they do not know about.

Just a couple of bad guys

Again, please remember that these terror plots, while they may require some technical skills, are not that complicated to plan and execute. Just a couple of motivated bad guys, with a couple of machine guns, can choose among thousands of soft, unprotected targets in several countries.

In the effort to prevent future attacks, even when fully mobilized the police cannot defend every possible target. Besides, many of these militants seem to be indifferent to the risks involved in any violent action. Many of them are willing to be killed while executing their “missions”. They are willing to be martyrs, if this is what it takes to advance the cause of their jihad.

Diffuse threat

All this amounts to saying that the threat is diffuse. Its size, while significant, is impossible to quantify. There can be hundreds, may be thousands of potential would-be terrorists who may decide to act today or tomorrow, according to their whims.

Law enforcement can and will try to locate them.

But this is the proverbial needle in the haystack. There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. Would-be Islamic terrorists are only a small fraction. Still, there are many extremists groups scattered all over. Within them there are potentially thousands of volunteers willing to risk their lives in order to hit us, the enemy.

Not Saddam’s army

The trouble is that this is not Saddam Hussein’s army, located in known places, with garrisons, and command and control centers. These people are spread all over. There are small cells or just individuals who can be in New Jersey, Hamburg, Milan, or Yemen.

What Joe Lieberman suggests in his article in the WSJ at most may be good to build morale. But it is yet another empty gesture that will not do anything to help the fight against an elusive, in fact semi-invisible enemy.

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