The arrest of 17 people in Canada on terrorist charges underscores, across the West, a growing sense of dread and inevitability that is rooted in the homegrown nature of the threat. But what do we really know about these killers among us?
We know, of course, the broad outline of their all-encompassing fundamentalism, and we have some vague ideas about Al Qaeda as a decentralized network of cells in many countries that seeks to acquire chemical, biological, and perhaps even nuclear weapons. We also know their leaders’ long-term goals: seize power in Muslim countries and attack the Western states that support secular regimes in the Islamic world. Finally, we also know that the leaders of this fanatical tide are few, but now have the sympathy of millions of ordinary Muslims.
There have always been fanatical individuals ready to die and kill in the name of their beliefs. But they seem far more dangerous nowadays as a result of technological advances that have “democratized” bomb making. After all, as the London and Madrid bombings demonstrated, a cell phone is all that is needed to time an explosion – or a series of explosions – with deadly efficiency.
Our freedoms and social fluidity also contribute to the threat. People move about the globe cheaply and with relative ease. Immigrants can establish themselves in new societies, and in democratic states they can live completely free of supervision. Our freedoms are their tools.