The Washington Times

By the time of the stock market close in New York on July 7, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up a little, notwithstanding the bombs in London. The next day, the Dow closed at 10,449, up 144 points. The FTSE 100, the main London index, dropped 1.4 percent the day of the attack but the next day more than recovered the loss, closing at 5232, or about five points off the 52-week high.

Of course, the scale of the London attack was nowhere near as great as the September 11 attack, which kicked the support out from under an already-wobbly economy – nor as great as the attack on Madrid on March 11, 2004. But the London bombings were, by any reckoning, a serious terrorist attack. Not just a bomb blast, a la Oklahoma City, but a series of coordinated blasts, indicating the action of a determined conspiracy interested in making the statement that four separate bombs are better than one bigger explosion. Anyone who contemplates July 7 in London ought rationally to be thinking about the distinct possibility of more such attacks coming.

And yet: Whereas September 11 was a “day of fire” that put an end to the “years of quiet, years of sabbatical,” as President Bush audaciously characterized the moment in his second inaugural, the attacks in Madrid and now London were the other shoe dropping – and dropping, in fact, surprisingly late, at least to judge by the standard of the expectations that held sway in September and October 2001.

That was a time of radical uncertainty of a sort not seen in the Western world outside of the former Yugoslavia in decades. Peace breeds the expectation of peace, prosperity of more prosperity. David Rieff writes chillingly in “A Bed for the Night” of the bewildered sense of injustice experienced by Bosnians in the 1990s: What had become of their share of the right to peace and prosperity enjoyed by everyone else in the Western world? How could mortars be blowing up marketplaces in elegant Sarajevo, host of the 1984 winter Olympics?

It was no difficult thing to imagine something comparable as fall turned to winter in 2001. What about this new enemy who could apparently strike without warning and then fade into the shadows, unreachable by the tools of war, law enforcement or reason. How soon would “they” strike next? Would it be a spectacle on the scale of the September 11? Or a slow, steady sequence of mayhem in the midst of which every step outdoors would bring terror to mind? Or would it be an attack of a kind that could reach even inside one’s home, a biological or chemical intrusion against which the recommended duct tape, plastic sheeting and stockpiled canned goods merely made one feel ridiculous?

The message of the markets is that we now have a very different measure of what we are up against from the one we had late in 2001. The adversary is not quite the combination of omnipotence, implacability and invisibility that we once thought. For some reason, the more closely one scrutinizes the thoughts of a Zarqawi, a Zawahiri, a bin Laden or a hate-spewing imam, the weirder they seem. A menace, to be sure, and one that needs to be stomped out. The threat they pose deserves to be taken with utmost seriousness. But they and their views certainly don’t. They are where they belong, in hiding, cackling among themselves over their fantasies. They haven’t got a prayer. It will be a great moment when mainstream Islam is rid of them.

This more balanced assessment, it seems to me, is what’s reflected in the more recent market response. Of course, the market is not dispositive. Anybody who concludes on the basis of skyrocketing real estate valuations that Washington is safe ought to take note that the price of office space in the World Trade Center did not decline in the runup to September 11. But the market response is indicative. It reflects a more measured assessment of who they are and what they can do – and who we are and what we can do.