The news this weekend of the arrest of three suspects allegedly plotting to sabotage the jet fuel lines servicing JFK Airport – a plot in its nascent stages and one not likely to have caused much in the way of actual damage besides psychological – will undoubtedly have the effect of increasing the supply of fuel to the mass media’s jet engine-like power to soar the worries of everyday Americans to the stratosphere.
Americans already worry that the country is overdue for a domestic terror attack, whether on our transportation system or something more spectacular on the level of September 11. Many Americans are even resigned to the likelihood, knowing that it is really not a matter of if, but when.
Were an attack indeed occur in the U.S., one can only hope that Americans would respond with the poise and undeterred spirit of Londoners, who after the terror attacks on the Underground in July 2005 would not be cowed by those despicable acts of violence. The speed with which Londoners returned to the Tube and to their daily lives was nothing short of astonishing. Their example, if followed, shall prove in time the antidote to the venom of terrorism.
Terrorist attacks are designed to frighten us even more than to kill us. By controlling our fears we control the damage done by terrorism. Were a fresh attack to occur, Americans must do as Londoners, and as Israelis, and maintain the appearance if not the spirit of normalcy. To do otherwise would be to give the terrorists the very thing that they want.
After all, terrorism takes its name not from the violence itself, but from the emotion that the violence brings. The “war” on terror is not waged with weapons – it is waged in the head. Its front line is in our minds.
Terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy. It is a method of using violence against innocent people to gain or highlight a political objective. People resort to terrorism to change the terms of a political conflict they were otherwise losing.
Therefore there can really be no “war” on terrorism in any conventional military sense, as military force cannot really be brought to bear on a tactic or a method. Moreover, a “war” on terrorism can never truly be over; there can be no armistice, no treaties signed, no holidays to celebrate its end with flags and picnics. Terrorism is simply too cheap, too effective, and too available to ever be eradicated.
We can only “win” this “war” by first recognizing that we are, in fact, fighting three battles. The first is against the enemy that is our fear. Fear is what the terrorists intend. If we are all afraid of terrorism, we are all its victims. The more we allow terrorism, and the fear of terrorism, to distort our domestic life, the more we do the terrorists’ work. By changing ourselves we do the job the terrorist couldn’t do for himself.
The second is against terrorists themselves, who must be thwarted, captured or killed by every diplomatic, financial, and, yes, sometimes military means available. Those who would target and kill noncombatants indiscriminately must be pursued by all nations to the ends of the earth.
The third is against the injustices that terrorists and their nationalist and religious brethren see themselves as suffering, and see America and its allies as having caused or perpetrated. Let us not be misled by our politicians: we are under attack not for what we think or what we believe, but for what we do. Terrorists do not “hate our freedoms”, they hate our actions.
No matter our country’s actions prior to that day, there can have been absolutely no justification for the attacks of that bright and terrible morning nearly six years ago. However, from the perspective of the people of the Middle East and the wider Islamic world, our actions since that awful day have essentially confirmed the charges bin Laden made against us before and since.
Rather than controlling terrorism, our actions in Iraq have licensed it. Through our invasion of choice, not of necessity, we have created a nation-sized terrorist training camp far larger and more live-action than bin Laden could ever have dreamed of building in Talibani Afghanistan. We are breeding terrorists faster than we can kill them, and incubating the next generation of global terrorists. Ultimately, the United States Armed Forces in Iraq are training the future resistance to itself.
While we have to live in danger, we do not have to live in fear. While we must pursue each terrorist and bring each to justice, we do not have to commit further injustices that give rise to more terrorists. We have the capacity to “win” this war, and, as even President Bush himself has said, reduce terrorism to the status of nuisance.