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Anniversaries and Anxiety

Today is September 11, a date filled with dread. No American can help looking back in horror at the terror attacks that occurred on this day in New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001, or at an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, nor nervously looking ahead for what might happen today. That nagging worry has occurred on this date for the past 14 years, but seems especially hard to shake this year.
The Islamist bloodlust that caused the past terror attacks is as impassioned as ever, and those afflicted with this ancient hatred have lately been conquering a large portion of the Middle East with beheadings and crucifixions, waging war against Israel with rockets lobbed into random civilians, committing the usual atrocities against one another, and issuing threats of mass murder against the west generally the United States specifically. It was once easy enough to dismiss such threats as mere Islamist bluster, but not now. Among the terrorist army rampaging through Middle East are hundreds of people with western passports that will get less scrutiny than the randomly selected businessman or tourist standing behind him at the airport, our  porous border with Mexico can’t keep out an illiterate and impoverished Guatemalan teenager much less an educated and well-funded terrorist, two Americans have been beheaded and others are being held awaiting the same fate, and the president’s prime time explanation of his hastily formulated strategy for dealing with the main Islamist threat on Wednesday offered no reassurance that our government is up to the challenge.
We’re not the only ones with this sense of foreboding. The United Kingdom has elevated its level of alertness in response to what the Prime Minister calls the “greatest terrorist threat in history,” Australia is considering doing the same, and a threatened king in Saudi Arabia has warned of attacks in the United States within months. A senior official at the Department of Homeland Security has told congress of Islamist plots to infiltrate the southern border, and although the agency quickly denied anything was currently afoot the brass at the Fort Bliss Army base near El Paso has been ordered to implement increased security measures. Polling data show that the public at large is lately more worried about the threat of terrorism, too, and the president’s appearing on prime television to admit that al-Qaeda is not on the run and the tide of war is not receding and our enemies are not a junior varsity team suggest that he at long last has the same necessary worry something big might happen.
He’s probably not yet so worried that he’ll reconsider his ban on detaining terrorists at Guantanamo Bay or using the harsh-interrogations that have successfully thwarted past terrorist plots, or his supposedly more moral preference for drone strikes that incinerate the terrorists and anyone who happens to be in the vicinity, or his instruction to Israel that even existential wars must be fought with the utmost politeness. Wednesday’s speech alternated tough talk about a “core principle” of his administration that “If you threaten America you will find no safe haven” with reassurances to his dwindling base of hippie peaceniks about the many things that he won’t do to the fight the enemy.
The president has recently described the country as “pretty safe,” a rather modest boast that he was obliged to admit he could make only because of all the national security apparatus created by his hated predecessor, and we’d like to believe it. Something about September 11 makes it difficult, though, so we’ll say a prayer, keep our fingers crossed and the radio on, and hope to be less anxious on September 12.

— Bud Norman

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