54. Militant Islam continues to spread and gain power.
It has been clear for years that the Muslim lands face severe problems with religious extremists dedicated to advancing their political, social, and doctrinal views by any means necessary. Most of the Muslim lands are overcrowded and short of resources. Many are poor, save for the oil-rich states of the Middle East. Virtually all have large populations of young men, often unemployed, who are frequently attracted to violent extremist movements. During its proxy war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the United States massively fortified the Muslim extremist infrastructure by supplying it with money, arms, and, above all, training. It is making a similar mistake today. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the American occupation of Iraq has inspired a new generation of jihadis, who have been trained and battle-hardened in the growing insurgency. In a now-declassified National Security Estimate, the American intelligence community concluded that Al Qaeda was more powerful in 2007 than it had been before the so-called “war on terror” began—more dangerous even than it had been when it planned the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Assessment: This trend may wax and wane, but it seems unlikely to disappear this side of a Muslim reformation comparable to those that transformed Christianity and Judaism.
Implications: Virtually all of the Muslim lands face an uncertain, and possibly bleak, future of political instability and growing violence. The exceptions are the oil states, where money can still buy relative peace, at least for now. These problems often have spilled over into the rest of the world. They will do so again.
In a 1994 terrorism study for the Department of Defense and other government clients, Forecasting International predicted that by 2020 a strong majority of the world’s 25 or so most important Muslim lands could be in the hands of extremist religious governments. At the time, only Iran was ruled by such a regime. That forecast still appears sound.
Iraq is likely to become the next fundamentalist Muslim regime. Once American forces leave, Iran will support the establishment of a Shiite regime much like its own in Baghdad. There is a one-in-ten chance that this will set off a general war in the Middle East, as Sunni-dominated states intercede to protect Iraqi Sunnis against Shi’a domination. However, Iraq and Saudi Arabia already are negotiating to keep this situation under control.
Any attempt to reduce the commitment of Western forces to the task of stabilizing Afghanistan will result in the restoration of the Taliban to power.
Implications for hospitality and travel: In Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand, hotel bombs kill four people. Another bomb shakes the Al Dera Tourist hotel, west of Gaza city. In Kabul, Pakistan, one journalist dies in a hotel bombing. In Islamabad, Pakistan, a restaurant bombing kills 20 people. In Baqouba, Iraq, a car bomb outside a restaurant kills at least 70. In Mumbai, three hotels and a restaurant are among 10 targets struck by terrorists. All these incidents happened in 2008—and outside Iraq it was a relatively slow year for terrorism.
In 1994, Forecasting International predicted that as government installations were “hardened” against attack, terrorists would turn to softer targets, and particularly those of the hospitality and travel industries. That forecast has been amply proved correct. Hotels, restaurants, and transportation facilities have become the preferred targets of both local and international terrorists.
The next generation of terrorists is now being trained in Iraq and Pakistan. As the American wars in those regions prove unsustainable, the most zealous among them will continue their war against their chosen enemies. Most will return to their home countries to attack local rulers. Others will focus on the United States and its allies in the Iraq war. All of them will continue to find hotels and restaurants easy targets with high publicity value. Some may attempt to attack passenger aircraft, while others will aim their bombs at public transportation. A few may even choose cruise ships, conference centers, or casinos as their victims of choice.
Terrorism will become more common in the future, not less so, and the hospitality and travel industries will remain appealingly vulnerable to attack.
55. International exposure includes a growing risk of terrorist attack.
Terrorism has continued to grow around the world as the Iraq war proceeds, even as the rate of violence in Iraq itself has, at least temporarily, declined. State-sponsored terrorism has nearly vanished, as tougher sanctions have made it more trouble than it was worth. However, nothing will prevent small, local political organizations and special-interest groups from using terror to promote their causes. These organizations have found inspiration in the successes of Al Qaeda, and many have found common cause. The most dangerous terrorist groups are no longer motivated primarily by specific political goals, but by generalized, virulent hatred based on religion and culture.
On balance, the amount of terrorist activity in the world will continue to rise, not decline, in the next 10 years. This was seen in corrections to the State Department’s April 2004 report on terrorism, which originally seemed to show a sharp drop in terrorist incidents. In fact, terrorist attacks had risen sharply since the invasion of Iraq, both in number and in severity.