America's first encounter with Islamic terrorism would have to come in the form of the Barbary pirates, against whom we fought two wars: The First Barbary War and the Second Barbary War. Though rarely connected to terrorism I would argue that the Barbary pirates were in fact terrorists in their day. Their war was one waged not against targets of opportunity, but rather as an ideological struggle against Christians. With religion as their justification the pirates often attacked villages, fishing boats, and merchant ships. The crews would usually be enslaved and ransomed back to their families or countries. All of this is similar to how modern Islamic terrorists operate, especially the Somali pirates. Both the Barbary pirates and modern day terrorists wage a greater war against anything non-Islamic, specifically targeting the West. For the most part targets are based on vulnerability, often striking civilians and using religion as a justification for taking innocent life.
For these reasons I would argue that the Barbary pirates constitute America's first conflict with Islamic terrorism, and also help demonstrate that this war is about more than a handful of extremists driven by perceived abuse from the West in general. Rather, this is a war based in an ideology that is driven to form a hegemony.
After the Barbary Wars most incidents of terrorism in the US were committed either by anarchists or The Black Liberation Army until the late 20th century.
It's a bit difficult to say what the first act of Islamic terrorism in the 20th century is. The Lod Airport massacre could be considered since the Japanese communists who carried out the attack did so for the PLO. Otherwise it would be in 1973 when the terrorist organization Black September killed two US diplomats in Sudan.
Other events are:
- 1973 attempted NYC bomb plot
- TWA Flight 841 bombing in 1974 that killed 88 people, 37 of whom were Americans.
- 1977 African American Muslims seize three buildings in Washington DC, holding 100 people hostage
- The Iran Hostage crisis in 1979
- The Pan Am Flight 830 bombing
- The Beirut barracks bombing in 1983 that killed 241 Americans and 58 Frenchmen
- The Lockerbie bombing in 1988 that killed 259 people including 189 Americans
- "Black Hawk Down" in 1993 which killed 18 Americans
- The bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 sailors
- 9-11 which killed almost 3,000 Americans
- The 2002 assassination of US ambassador Foley
- The 2009 Christmas day bombing attempt
These are just a small handful of the repeated attacks made against America over the last four decades, and doesn't really touch on the numerous other attacks committed by Islamists against other governments and people. Western governments have always been the primary targets, but even Muslim nations see their fair share of terrorist activities as Islamists use their ideology as an excuse to kill any who disagree with them.
To see more attacks and attempted attacks I suggest you look at these websites:
A short list of attacks before 9/11
The wikipedia list of Terrorist attacks
Global Security list of both successful and attempted terrorist attacks
After the events of 9-11 Americans were warned to not vilify all Muslims for the actions of a handful of bombers and extremists. My views on Islam aside, I agree with that advice wholeheartedly as there are plenty of hardworking Muslims in the US who live normal lives and contribute to society.
As time went on, however, the advice changed until the left stopped believing we should connect Islam to terrorism at all. Obama's administration once again provides the example as Terrorism becomes "Man caused disaster" and any references to Jihad or Islam get removed from national security documents. To me that seems to be the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears, shutting your eyes, and screaming "la-la-la" at the top of your lungs.
Similarly Ron Paul and his followers believe that the only reason Islamists attack America is because we occupy their lands, bomb their houses, and rape their women. The argument completely fails to account for a wide Islamic movement outside of middle eastern countries directly affected by the US, attacks that happened decades ago, or how strikingly similar it is to the actions of the Barbary pirates over 200 years ago.
Liberals can believe whatever they want, but that doesn't make it true. Whether they like it or not there is a clear link between Islam and terrorism. No, not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslim, but most terrorists are Muslim. At the very least the most relevant to America's interests are Muslim and that alone warrants drawing a distinction between them and other terrorist groups. The attempted bombing in NYC should remind us who our enemy is, and knowing your enemy is a key part of the battle.