The World's Most Wanted
A PDF summarizing the biographies of 14 high-value terrorists transferred to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay can be found here. Their collective life-histories provide a snapshot of the world of al-Qaeda. They mostly lived and operated in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Gulf and the United States. When things got hot several tried to flee to the UAE. Neither Iraq nor Iran are much mentioned in the life-histories of these individuals. This brings us back to the problem of what these men are: whether terrorists who constitute the conspiracy in themselves or merely actors in a larger plot.
Neither liberals nor conservatives -- and especially "neoconservatives" regard terrorism as a problem arising solely from a demented few. Conservatives commonly regard terrorism as a form of proxy warfare by states or powerful organizations which want to hide in the background. Behind the terrorist there is a state; destroy the state supporter and the terrorist weakens or perhaps vanishes altogether. The liberal doesn't regard the terrorist as an isolated actor either. He has a causal chain to advance too. Behind the terrorist is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Israel can be forced to concede land or better yet dissolve itself then the same effect predicted by the conservatives will result. The terrorist will weaken or perhaps disappear altogether.
Recently a third kind of causal relationship has been argued. Behind the terrorist is the ideology of radical Islam. According to this view hostility to the west would persist even if states which opportunistically support terror were toppled and even if Israel were to vanish overnight; in particular would continue to exist in Europe. This view derives from the pronouncements of the terrorists themselves who do not see their goals as limited to the destruction of Israel alone or even of America alone. Both are simply steps to the establishment of a planet under One Caliph. Today Birmingham, tomorrow the World.
If this were a multiple choice test about the causes of terror, one might be tempted to answer "A and B" or "B and C" or even "all of the above". The "all of the above" answer to what those 14 high-value terrorists are constitutes the worst scenario of all. Because it implies that no regime change or sequence of regime changes; that no concession or sequence of concessions by Israel; that no amount of "dialogue" by itself would solve the problem. A comprehensive conflict involving all these elements would be functionally equivalent to a "war of civilizations", a "long war" or whatever euphemism is more comforting for what is in every sense a word for "catastrophe". It would at any rate be the end of the easy, non-judgmental world of the late 1990s. That time was not a multicultural world at all, but on the contrary, the last moment when Western cultural dominance existed; the last shining autumn when Kyoto, unlimited immigration, the UN and the EU were the certainties of a vanished future. In many ways we are living in a truly multicultural world today; not the kind that Mark Steyn derided as a kind of wallpaper shallowly expressed in a choice of exotic cuisines, massages and aromatherapies in your local shopping district but the real kind. One which demands commitment in a world once again thronged with competing voices and planted with flags.
But on the other hand, maybe things aren't that bad. After all, it's been five years since September 11 and the good news is that neither the world nor the US has blown up yet. If all al-Qaeda can kick up is 14, not 14,000 high value adherents then maybe there's hope yet, possibly because people prefer to live rather than to die. And maybe in the end we will owe survival mostly to the power of the everyday: to the bowling alleys, the children's birthday party, American idol and the backyard barbecue. To that and a little spine.