Morgan Norval shares with this reviewer one characteristic both of us may soon have cause to regret: We live near Washington, D.C., one of the prime candidates for a major terrorist attack with unconventional weapons in the near future, an attack in which the victims will be numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Among those in the Washington apparat in the best position to know, a growing number talks sotto voce about getting out of town before it is too late.

The wake-up call should have been the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The meager death toll obscures a key fact that has received insufficient attention: The United States already would have suffered its first acknowledged foreign terrorist strike resulting in mass deaths if the sodium cyanide planted with the conventional bomb had not burned but, as intended, vaporized as cyanide gas.

In April 1995, the Baltimore Sun reported that federal authorities at Los Angeles International Airport had apprehended two Japanese men believed to be members of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, which shortly before had killed several people (again, far fewer than would have died if the attack had gone off as planned) in a sarin poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway. According to the Sun, the men apprehended at LAX were carrying instructions on how to make sarin and planned to hit Disneyland during one of the fireworks displays on Easter weekend, when the crowd would have been at its peak. The next day, the Justice Department claimed the whole thing was a false alarm. “It just didn’t happen,” said a spokesman. The Pentagon refused to comment, and the Japanese National Police chose “neither to confirm nor deny.”

One is left with the distinct impression that something very significant almost occurred but that the authorities have about as much intention of letting the rubes in on this secret as on the persistent and credible reports of foreign (namely, radical Islamic) connections to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1996 TWA 800 explosion. After all, as long as all terrorist actions or intentions can be tagged on American retrogrades, the only reasonable response is more federal “hate crimes” legislation, more gun control, and maybe clamping down on talk radio and the Internet. On the other hand, terrorism, if seen as an imported phenomenon, becomes far more problematic for the regime, an indictment both of American immigration policies and of the glaring idiocies in foreign policy management. (With regard to the latter point, the Cato Institute recently compiled an exhaustive report linking the increased terrorist threat to Americans to our indiscriminately interventionist policies, As Cato notes, the link has been acknowledged by both the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board and by Bill Clinton.)

Mr. Norval is the executive director of the Selous Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based think tank concerned with unconventional warfare, terrorism, and the collapse of societies and cultures. He has written extensively on subversion and terrorism in southern Africa, a theater that in many ways epitomizes the transitional phase from the Cold War to the current disorder, where the lines between state violence and private mayhem, between warfare and crime, are increasingly illusory. The African National Congress, now in power in the “new” South Africa largely because of the brutal deaths it inflicted on thousands of innocents, has become the legitimating example for such kindred groups as the Kosovo Liberation Army, whose commanders are being welcomed to the United States for “democracy training,” Ciinton-style.

In retrospect, the Persian Gulf War may have been the swan song of an international system characterized by confrontations between industrial states fielding massed armies on a defined front. The warfare of the future will increasingly be the province of non-state actors competing with both national governments and international entities like the United Nations and NATO in their efforts to intimidate enemy populations and to manipulate opinion through the mass media—as we have already seen in the Gulf War and the Balkan conflicts, courtesy of CNN. The result will be an intensification of the current international experiment in chaos theory: “There is a connection between the rise of terrorism,” writes Mr. Norval, “the anarchy of the former Soviet Union, the riots in Los Angeles, Islamic fundamentalists poised to take over Muslim countries, and the local thugs who threaten your life and limb.”

As the subtitle of Mr. Norval’s book indicates, the forces of resurgent Islam will play a major—perhaps decisive—role in the unfolding era of turmoil:

The infidel—those that aren’t Muslims—fit the bill for the militant Islamic fundamentalist. In the minds of the radical fundamentalist, if one isn’t enlightened enough to see the righteousness of Islam, that person is a subhuman being. The infidel is pictured as evil and loathsome, deserving to be killed as an enemy of God.

Just as the gutters and back alleys of Weimar Germany favored the hands — red or brown —tough enough to win a no-holds-barred fight to the death, the “triumph of disorder” will give a Darwinian edge to creeds that sanctify the most calculated application of violence and terror: survival of the most ruthless. It is only a matter of time before terrorists strike enemy civilian populations with the most fearsome weapons ever made, weapons which even the governments that developed them have hesitated to use.

The opportunities for the use of such weapons will rise as the population of the Third World becomes increasingly mobile. As Mr. Norval observes: There are over ten million Muslims in [Western] Europe and Islam has become the second largest religion in many non-Muslim countries.

There are about five million Muslims in North America, and Islam is the second largest religion in both the United States and Canada. . . . During the next half-century, the world’s population will double. . . . The population explosion will coincide with, and add to, the great migration of peoples. . . . This migration foreshadows another Islamic invasion of Europe. Demographers project the Middle East alone (including Iran) could reach a population of three hundred to four hundred million by 2030. . . . If large numbers of Middle Eastern and African migrants swarm into Europe in the 2000s and beyond, the result will not only be a migration of individuals, it will be a migration of Islam.

As Mr. Norval points out, the storefront mosques where the World Trade Center bombing was hatched are a sign of events to come. The proliferation of advanced weapons, the Koran, and the realization of a Camp of the Saints scenario: These are the makings of a deadly combination, advanced at every step by bad policy decisions made in Washington. In view of that fact, the locus of the next major terror strike might involve a little poetic justice—though Mr. Norval and I may find it a little too close to appreciate.


[Triumph of Disorder: Islamic Fundamentalism, The New Face of War, by Morgan Norval (Bend, OR: Sligo Press) 306 pp., $25.95]