Not an Age of Terror

Barcelona. Beirut. Lockerbie. New York. Tokyo. Tel Aviv. Dharan. Oklahoma City. And now Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Terror bombs or poison gas attacks may seem to be grim heralds of a long-term trend. Commentators rush to proclaim a new age in which secret cell groups expressing twisted ideals of hatred or revenge in pursuit of a cause can move more clandestinely, more maneuverably than the defenders of social order, sanity, indeed civilization.

Thus last week's tragic, unconscionably cruel bombings of innocent East Africans and Americans have produced dire forecasts of a new age of unpredictable, strike-anywhere-anytime terrorism.

The more scholarly take their cue from Samuel Huntington's 1996 book, "The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order," which argued that at the end of the cold war a Pandora's box of ethnic and religious collisions would spring up to challenge world stability.

So, side by side with proclamations of Global Village sociability, Global Economy integration, and a Pax Americana world order there sprang up predictions of ethnic anarchy and terrorist nukes-in-a-suitcase.

The US State Department's annual list of terrorist-abetting states grew. And after each of the bombings or gassings listed above, precise-looking charts appeared in the media, graphically displaying the terrorist-genealogy guesses of experts.

There can be little doubt that a world policeman's lot is not a happy one, as the thin lines of European empires' troops discovered in the Boxer rebellion, and scores of struggles from Khartoum to Kabul to Dienbienphu.

But, as these historical references indicate, the cowardly, blind vengeance that so tragically struck the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania is neither unprecedented nor the harbinger of a new era of unstoppable attacks. Recall the 1950s-'60s moves to design US embassies as fortresses against terrorists and protesters.

But recall also the supposed tactical superiority of the Bader Meinhof gang in Germany, the Maoists in Italy, assorted terrorists in France, and the technically skilled Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan. All ultimately failed.

Intelligence agencies and police painstakingly tracked down and brought to justice such past would-be assassins of the peaceable global village. We are confident US and international investigators will do the same to those who killed so many totally innocent people in East Africa.

In doing so they will assure people worldwide that this is not the start of a new age of terrorism. Society is used to fighting local crime. It now is learning to fight international crime.

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