To phrase the essence of the problem succinctly, you are perhaps more likely, as a reader of this column, to be blown up at work or play, or on the way to work or play, by a “homegrown” or “lone-wolf” or “self-starter” fanatic using whatever explosive or incendiary tools may lie to hand, than you are to die at the hands of al-Qaida or the Shabab or any of their shifting surrogates. In the same way, it is at least as likely that a local operative will emerge from the American suburbs to commit one random and unpredictable act as it is that—as sometimes has happened—a fanatic will leave our shores and take himself to Somalia or Yemen or Afghanistan. And so we have the figures of Maj. Nidal Hasan, unsheathing his weapon at Fort Hood to yell “God Is Great!” or Faisal Shahzad rigging his SUV to explode in Times Square or, at one more remove, Farouk Abdulmutallab stuffing his underwear with combustibles and (rather too easily, given his record) boarding a flight to Detroit.
And as usual, these fantastical action-flick death scenes are dragooned into the service of a necessary militancy. Hitchens has been writing this column for years, and it's become the catechism of militant moral casuistry. Hitchens does admit that he quails a bit before the proposition that our governments can put the hit out on their citizens without trial or process, but then yanks his turtle legs back into the shell: "Those who share my alarm at the prospect of this, and of the ways in which it could be abused, are under a heavy obligation to say what they would do instead." There's a certain stink of when did you stop beating your wife here. One is obligated to give a positive alternative to murder? When you tell a child that stealing is wrong, you must immediately outline an affirmative opposing right?
Hitches would have us all drown in the murky moral quandary of something-must-be-done, the better-this-than-nothing accounting that serves mostly to manufacture enormities. What I would do instead would be to stop garrisoning half the world with shock troops, to stop bombing and invading other countries, to stop subverting popular governments and turning native revolutions to our own ends. I would not combat lightning by whacking at the sky with a three-iron.