By Mudd, Philip
Newsweek , Vol. 155, No. 20
Byline: Philip Mudd
Like communism during the Cold War, terrorism is a social movement that must be held in check.
The spike of alleged terrorist plots in this country over the past year seems confusing. Law-enforcement officers have nabbed independent plotters in places like Texas and Illinois; a Qaeda-trained individual in Denver; an American involved in the horrific attacks in Mumbai; and now, a young man who planned mass killings in Times Square.
These incidents may seem episodic and detached, particularly if we look at them as separate operations by individuals who may have had some vague connection to Al Qaeda. They make more sense, however, if we understand them as offshoots of a revolution that Al Qaeda aimed to inspire at its inception 20 years ago. Like communism during the Cold War, this is an ideology to be contained, not defeated.
The view of our adversaries is simple. To them, we are the pillar upholding "corrupt" regimes in the Muslim world, and they believe that if we're put under enough pressure, we'll cut and run. We left Lebanon. We left Somalia. In their minds, we'll retreat again and again--if they can put the pressure on.
The question Al Qaeda faced before 9/11 was how to increase that pressure. How could a relatively small, stateless organization really take on an adversary as powerful as the United States? It couldn't--and can't--at least not alone. The answer is ideology. Al Qaeda wants to spread its revolutionary ideology so the pressure increases everywhere. A thousand points of terror, in locations as far afield as the Philippines and Philadelphia--people who think and act like Al Qaeda even if they've never been a part of the organization. So what was once a fairly centralized, active terror organization is now more significant as an inspiration and a movement.
We can see at least three threads of the revolution now: people linked directly to Al Qaeda, like the plotters with backpack bombs in London's subways in 2005; people who join affiliated groups, like the outfit that attacked hotels in Mumbai; and self-recruited individuals. …