Dan Gardner is the New York Times best-selling author of Risk, Future Babble, Superforecasting (co-authored with Philip E. Tetlock), and How Big Things Get Done (co-authored with Bent Flyvbjerg). His books have been published in 26 countries and 20 languages. Prior to becoming an author, Gardner was an award-winning investigative journalist. More >

Remember That "Eurabian Civil War"?

If someone mentioned terrorism in Europe, you would probably have an idea about the size of the threat and who's responsible. It's big, you would think. And growing. As for who's responsible, that's obvious. It's Muslims. Or if you're a little more careful with your language, it's radical Muslims, or "Islamists." After all, they were at it again just in the past month. On Dec. 11, a 28- year-old naturalized Swede - originally from Iraq - injured two people when he blew himself up on the way to a shopping district. And on Dec. 29, police in Denmark said they thwarted a plan by five Muslims to storm the office of a Danish newspaper and kill as many people as possible. So the danger is big and growing, and Islamists are the source. Right? Wrong, actually. The European Union's Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 states that in 2009 there were "294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks" in six European countries. This was down almost one-third from the total in 2008 and down by almost one-half from the total in 2007. So in most of Europe, there was no terrorism. And where there was terrorism, the trend line pointed down. As for who's responsible, forget Islamists. The overwhelming majority of the attacks- 237 of 294 - were carried out by separatist groups, such as the Basque ETA. A further 40 terrorists schemes were pinned on leftist and/or anarchist terrorists. Rightists were responsible for four attacks. Single-issue groups were behind two attacks, while responsibility for a further 10 was not clear. Islamists? They were behind a grand total of one attack. Yes, one. Out of 294 attacks. In a population of half a billion people. To put that in perspective, the same number of attacks was committed by the Comité d'Action Viticole, a French group that wants to stop the importation of foreign wine. Now, I don't want to overdo the point. Europe has major problems with the integration of its Muslim populations and the threat of Islamist terrorism is real. It's also important to note that the number of attacks does not indicate the full extent of the danger, since Islamists, unlike most terrorists, seek to commit indiscriminate slaughter. But even with these caveats, the data clearly demonstrate that common perceptions about terrorism in Europe are wrong. To see why that matters, think back to 2005. When rioting exploded in France's heavily-immigrant suburbs, many conservative pundits dismissed claims that the violence had something to do with poverty, unemployment, and exclusion. No, what mattered is that the rioters were Muslim. "This is an early skirmish in the Eurabian civil war," wrote Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph. "If the insurgents emerge emboldened, what next? In five years' time, there will be even more of them, and even less resolve on the part of the French state. That, in turn, is likely to accelerate the demographic decline. Europe could face a continentwide version of the "white flight" phenomenon seen in crime-ridden American cities during the 1970s, as Danes and Dutch scram to America, Australia, or anywhere else that will take them." Steyn noted that his gloomy British readers often sent him e-mails that ended with the observation "fortunately I won't live to see it." Steyn snatched away even this cold comfort. "As France this past fortnight reminds us, the changes in Europe are happening far faster than most people thought," he wrote. "Unless you're planning on croaking immediately, you will live to see it." In 2006, Steyn expanded his jeremiad into the book America Alone. It was a huge hit, a New York Times bestseller, and its influence among conservatives - Americans in particular - is hard to overstate. Even George W. Bush is a fan. In Republican and Tea Party circles, Steyn's vision of an enfeebled, infertile Europe overrun by fecund, violent Muslims is almost a truism. But half a decade has passed since Steyn declared the outbreak of the "Eurabian civil war." And yet, there are no waves of bombings. No armies of bug- eyed jihadis. No pale-faced boat people bobbing about the North Atlantic in rusty scows. Oh, there are incidents. I cited two above. And for people like Steyn, that is more than enough. Tell a true story; treat it as typical; draw a scary conclusion: This is the standard operating procedure of alarmists. Steyn hates to be called an alarmist, as he made clear in the preface to a later edition of America Alone. He is merely a realist, he says. But then he goes on to write this: "In 2007, some larky lads were arrested in Germany. Another terrorist plot." What set this one apart were the terrorists' names. They weren't Mohammed, or Muhammad, or Mahmoud. They were "Fritz" and "Daniel." Why, they were ... deep breath ... native-born Muslim converts! "All over the world, there are young men raised in the Multi-Kulti-Haus' of the West who decide their highest ambition is to convert to Islam, become a jihadist, and self-detonate." That year happened to be a particularly bad one for Islamist terrorism in Europe. There were four Islamist attacks. Four. Out of a total of 583. The following year there were zero. In 2009, as we have seen, there was one. Mark Steyn has a new book in the works, apparently. Something to do with the end of civilization. Given his track record, this is grounds for optimism.