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Is the Point of Terrorism to Create Fear?

January 25, 2010

Peter Worthington makes a good point about the ACLU-fueled-hysteria surrounding body scans at the airport.  His point is something along the lines of “get over it, it’s just a body scan”, on which I expressed my sentiment basically with the words “quit being shy.”  But Worthington has a sort of throwaway line in the piece that I really liked:

To some, the implementation of full body scanning at airports is evidence that al-Qaeda is winning, or has won, the current war on terror.

This oddly generous assumption assumes that al-Qaeda’s goal is to inconvenience us, rather than to kill us as infidels. Wrong, but an acceptable alternative if murder fails.

There is a serious partisan divide on that line of belief that I think gets lost in the fray of emotion and hatred of today’s politics.

Yglesias: “Hysteria is the goal of attacks, and it’s a shame to see that goal being served in the name of partisan politics.”

A reader on Sullivan’s blog: “First, what is the major goal of terrorism?  It is not to bring down airplanes.  It is not to destroy the West.  It is, pure and simple, to create terror in people.  Why?  Because when people are afraid they overreact.  And this includes most of us, yourself included.”

Some of us are aware that we understand very little about each other in terms of our political views.  But I certainly don’t share this view and I think it’s pretty reckless to just state as a fact that the point of terrorism is to force us to inconvenience ourselves.  If you listen to Osama Bin Laden, the point of terrorism is to get the United States out of Middle Eastern politics, particularly with regard to Israel.  It seems to me that a far more effective means of achieving that goal would be to kill thousands of civilians, not to make us wait fifteen minutes longer than we otherwise would have or be rendered naked on a screen at the airport.  So, Yglesias’s conclusion that Abdulmutallab’s failure to blow up that plane doesn’t really matter because we all freaked out anyway strikes me as incorrect.

I’m no terrorist, but I think they want to kill us, not discommode us.

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