Alex Massie

Terrorism? No Big Deal. Keep Calm & Carry On

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I'd like to think that if the Christmas Day underwear-bomber had been en route to London rather than Detroit then our response to the attempted attack would have been a little more phlegmatic than the Cousins' but I'm not wholly convinced that would have been the case. So Fareed Zakaria's excellent column in today's WaPo applies to this country too. The whole thing is well worth reading* but Zakaria's intro and conclusion are especially bang-on:

In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Senator Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, "I'd rather overreact than underreact." This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work. Alas, this one worked very well.

The attempted bombing says more about al-Qaeda's weakened state than its strength.

Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda's hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn't help. What's needed is a larger, more robust watch list that is instantly available to all relevant government agencies. Almost 2 million people travel on planes in the United States every day. We need to isolate the tiny percentage of suspicious characters and search them, not cause needless fear in everyone else.

As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy's father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

Quite so. That's one of the reasons why the case for blanket profiling is so very flawed.

*In fact it's so good one wonders how it ever made it into the Washington Post.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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