Within hours of the attack in New York in which an Islamic terrorist used a truck to mow down and kill eight people on a bicycle path, public officials were out in front of the cameras telling the public to go on with their lives because: “we can’t let the terrorists win.”
In fact, I would argue the terrorists have already won. During the past couple of decades, they have achieved what they set out to achieve. They have dramatically altered the way we live our lives, the way we travel, the way we perceive the world.
They have made terrorism a miserable fact of our lives.
For those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, these changes are especially striking and disheartening.
I remember when you could walk onto airplanes without even passing through a metal detector, let alone long lines for multiple security checks during which you must remove your shoes and submit to invasive electronic body searches.
I remember when you could go to a baseball or football game with a cooler and a backpack.
I remember when schools didn’t have metal detectors or armed guards standing guard or roaming the halls.
I remember when the only violence you occasionally encountered in a bar was between a couple of drunks throwing wild punches at one another. Not once did an Islamic terrorist walk into a crowded nightclub, shout “Allahu Akbar,” and start mowing down patrons with a semi-automatic weapon.
“We can’t let the terrorists win,” declare our public officials and media pundits.
But the awful reality is, terrorist cells are already plotting more attacks all across the globe. No country or city will ever be truly safe from terrorism again but that, sadly, is the era we live in now.
In George Orwell’s seminal book, “1984” a character says: “The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now, do you begin to understand me?”
For all of our surveillance and intelligence gathering, terrorists are free, and we’re not. So who’s really winning the war on terror?
Unlike conventional wars between nation states in which there were clear-cut victors and vanquished, in this war, there is no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel.
Following the New York attack, I heard one public official state: “I believe we owe it to the victims of this act not to let the terrorist win by being terrorized. That’s exactly the response they are hoping for. Sure, it’s natural for our emotions to get the best of us. But, especially given the impact of sensational media coverage, we need to respond intelligently and rationally.”
“Sensational media coverage?” I wonder to what he was referring. The fact that the story of eight innocent people being crushed under the wheels of a truck driven by a deranged Muslim screaming “Allahu Akbar” was covered coast to coast? Why wouldn’t the media cover the first terrorist attack in New York since September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers were brought down by Islamic terrorists?
The Daily Mail in London wrote: “The proper response to sickening crimes like these is not to apportion blame but to present a show of unity and defiance. We must let the terrorists know that we stand together against them and that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. If we allow the terrorists to divide us – setting one racial group against another – they have won.”
Such platitudes may sound reasonable, but they are misleading and dishonest.
On the one hand, they say “don’t let the terrorists win” while on the other they say that living in a world brimming with terrorism and ruled by multifaceted security checks is the “new normal.”
If this is the new normal, then I reiterate: The terrorists have already won because they have forced us to live in an abnormal world.