Since 9/11, two distinct views have emerged about the best way to deal with jihadism. One of them is exemplified by terrorism “expert” Louise Richardson (of whom more anon), who believes that “in the process of radicalization, there is no fundamental difference between terrorists and the rest of us. They are people like you and me.”

Stuck in the 20th century, these no-differencers—as I’ll call them—take for their terror template the Irish Republican Army, the Basque separatists and the pre-Israel anti-British Irgun. They believe terrorists are simply misguided idealists with defensible political or territorial objectives. The no-differencers assume that, once their legitimate grievances are acknowledged, terrorists’ desire for violence can be assuaged and rechanneled in positive ways.

The other school of thought—the “big-difference” school, let’s call it—recognizes that Islamism is hatred-rather than grievance-based, as well as unprovoked, borderless and limitlessly expansionist. Frontline soldiers in this totalitarian ideology are, according to the big-difference view, incapable of rehabilitation and permanently dangerous.

Unfortunately for us big-differencers, the cultural zeitgeist in the West is dominated by no-differencers, whose political or emotional naivete leads them to banalize Islamist terrorism. Accordingly, I found two unrelated recent news items very disturbing.

The first is the paltry sentence—10-and-a-half years, eligibility for full parole in five—meted out to remorseless Canadian jihadist Momin Khawaja, who plotted mass bloodshed with reptilian sangfroid. Justice Douglas Rutherford’s optimistic belief that Khawaja has “become a new person” while in remand for the past five years at Ottawa’s Regional Detention Centre is rather alarming, considering the staff there openly expressed discomfort with his fervid religious proselytism amongst inmates.

The other news item announced the appointment of the aforementioned Louise Richardson—an Irish-born, Harvard professor of government—as the new principal and vice-chancellor of Scotland’s 700-year-old University of St Andrews (Prince William’s alma mater).

Richardson, a terrorism specialist who has consulted to military and intelligence bodies and testified before the U. S. Senate, is not a household name. But she should be, and not in a positive way, for she is the source, symbolically if not literally, of Justice Rutherford’s insouciance regarding an almost certain future national security threat to Canada.

Richardson’s claim to fame rests largely on her dramatic turnaround from ardent adolescent support for IRA violence to the conviction that violence is never the answer to political grievance. Her conversion launched a lifelong commitment to exploring the roots and management of terrorism. It is her accumulated “wisdom” on the subject, best encapsulated in her 2006 book, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat, that has made Richardson the apple of liberal academia’s eye.

We must resist “simplistic formulas of good and evil,” according to Ms. Richardson. She patiently explains to us that terrorists are neither amoral nor irrational.

As evidence, for example, that “Al-Qaeda does have a code that imposes restraints on its actions,” she cites Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a ruthless mastermind of 9/11 who once declared: “In killing Americans who are ordinarily off limits, Muslims should not exceed four million non-combatants, or render more than 10 million of them homeless.” Some code! Some restraints!

And given her status as an “expert” on terror, the following statement from her book simply boggles the imagination: “The 3,000 casualties inflicted by al-Qaeda, while enormous, pale in comparison to the … 42,000 Americans who died [in 2001] in car crashes—17,500 of them alcohol-related fatalities.” Ah yes, that old demon rum and terrorism attacks: as existential threats to a nation, like two peas in a pod!

As you may already have guessed, Richardson is no fan of the U.S. “war on terror.” She feels that if only the United States would take seriously al-Qaeda’s political demands linked to American policy in the Middle East, and of course commit to a massive economic development program to address the “underlying” causes of terrorism (even though poverty as a cause of terrorism has been thoroughly debunked), we would set the mood for “engagement.”

Who is running Western civilization? Over here we have a learned jurist who treats the embodiment of evil as if he were a reformable car thief. Over there, hailed as an icon of visionary leadership, is a former impassioned romancer of terrorism who believes in dialoguing with soulless programmed missiles. Somewhere, as he sips his tea and contemplates the work of his global minions (including their Westernenablers), Osama bin Laden is smiling.