Terrorism Works. Check Your Head.
. . .It isn't a pleasant thing to say, and it will be badly out of tune with the sombre music we will all be hearing in commemoration of the Sept. 11 atrocity, but the thing about terrorism is that it works.
It will seem callous to notice that even though fewer than 3,000 people were killed that day in New York, at the Pentagon and in that field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, you would have thought that America had been attacked by monsters from outer space. But that's just one way terrorism works.
The shocking obscenity of it - the passenger planes plunging into sides of the Twin Towers, the seismic shock of the towers collapsing in a deafening mangle of smoke and corpses and twisted metal, the live-action spectacle of the Manhattan skyline vanishing behind a cloud of cinders and ash - that's just how it starts. The terror works its way down into the tectonics only afterwards.
It is only after the blunt trauma that the infection sets in. The propaganda of the deed carries on tormenting the collective unconscious with endless loops of digital footage captured by hundreds of little movie cameras, from right up close, from passing helicopters, from across the East River, in vivid, pornographic detail.
The toxins spread through the culture's lymphatic systems, and less than a decade after everyone was only nervously snickering at the very idea of a "war on terror" as something that was practically, theoretically, and even grammatically impossible, "peace with terror" is now broadly held to be entrenched in the very foundation of conventional wisdom. That's how terrorism works. It's in the way it frightens us to retreat into comforting lies and delusion.
The dissonance is such that in June, in announcing the details of his anticipated troop drawdown in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama could soothe Americans with the reassurance that "the tide of war is receding." It didn't matter that a United Nations report had just set out in melancholy detail exactly how fast it was rising. In Afghanistan, the Taliban and their co-jihadists slaughtered more than 2,000 Afghan civilians in 2010 - three quarters of all the Afghans who died in the conflict that year, and more dead Afghans than in any year since the Taliban's resurgence in 2006. . .
Just for bloody once, it would nice to see some evidence that the comfortable classes in Europe and North America were capable of mustering sufficient empathy and human decency to notice that the victims of terror are the living. They live in Kandahar, in Kabul, in Peshawar, in Quetta, and on and on and on.
It is not about the numbers. All it takes is one mentally handicapped boy to be convinced to put a bomb under his coat and walk into a crowded market. One.
It is not about the dead. They no longer cower in terror. They are the dead.
Mourn the dead. Fight for the living. No surrender.