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The Global War on Something

Lessons from the failed Times Square bombing

David Harsanyi
May 5, 2010

Even as investigators were hunting for the perpetrator of the botched "man-caused disaster" in Times Square, our cool homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, was reassuring a frazzled nation that the failed bombing appeared to be an isolated incident—a "one-off"—and avoided the notion of (much less the word) "terrorism."

Thankfully, law enforcement agencies refrain from leaping to conclusions before they have all the facts. Not Janet. And citizens should not infer anything based on a litany of historical and anecdotal evidence, even after the fact, lest some group feel demonized.

"If I had to guess 25 cents, this would be exactly that," explained New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who has plenty of quarters to spare—during the investigation's early stages, "homegrown, maybe a mentally deranged person or somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something. It could be anything."

It could be anything, said the mayor of New York. A mentally deranged person perhaps? Maybe some crazy from the fundamentalist faction of about 56 percent of us who opposed health care reform? After all, in the deep recesses of some imaginations, conservatives are not above murdering hundreds of tourists to make a point about ObamaCare.

Or it could be something totally unanticipated! For example, Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old naturalized American citizen from Pakistan who was taken into custody at Kennedy Airport as he attempted to escape to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A senior U.S. official said Shahzad already admitted to interrogators that he had received (not very effective) bomb-making tips during his five-month trip to Pakistan. Reason dictates Shahzad wasn't upset about reconciliation.

It is also clear that Shahzad worked "alone" in the same way that Nidal Hasan or Najibullah Zazi or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab or that bumpkin who threatened the South Park creators or the 9/11 terrorists or Umayyad and his armies worked alone.

If I had to guess 25 cents, I'd bet the administration makes no mention of fundamentalist Islam, even when it reluctantly admits we're dealing with "terror."

Yet such an obvious admission is neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of any brand of foreign policy. It is neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of the idealistic notion that we can "eradicate terrorism," nor is it the naive idea that a charismatic president can plead for friendship enough times that jihadists worldwide will be lulled into submission and awe.

After all, the administration never has been scared to call out despots and extremists, such as insurance companies, Wall Street executives, tea party activists, and the Israeli government. This is the Department of Homeland Security that issued a report alerting us to potential violence from "right-wing extremists" who are ginned up about "illegal immigration," "federal power," and the Second Amendment. (So at least half of you qualify.)

Why not engage in one of those frank discussions the president always is pretending to have with the American people? How can we deal with a problem if we're not even allowed to talk about it honestly?

Now, if this attempted man-made disaster had been perpetrated by a member of a white power militia, it would have been a "one-off." As it turns out, however, we are dealing with something utterly predictable and increasingly common. I just don't know what to call it or whom to blame.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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