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Everything we know about terrorism is wrong

Andrew Sullivan reprints a great question from one of his readers that really makes you think about how stupidly the US is responding to terrorist acts. The (paraphrased) question is, if the Christmas day underwear terrorist really wanted to blow up the airplane, why did he go back to his seat where he had to fiddle with a makeshift detonator in public (where other passengers would jump on him and stop him)? Why didn’t he stay in the toilet?

One interesting possible answer to this question is: because the people who planned the attack knew that there was no way they could get enough explosives (or a good enough detonator) past airport security to actually blow up the airplane, so he had to be in public (not in the toilet) when the bomb failed so that we would think that he tried to blow up the airplane. They figured that if this was publicized as a failed terrorist attack, we would overreact and become terrified. Which we did.

The real goal of terrorism is to create terror, not to blow up airplanes or kill people. Therefore, this terrorist attack succeeded brilliantly (well, except for the patsy who fried his privates instead of going to heaven to claim his promised virgins).

Interestingly, they’ve done this before. Recall the shoe bomber. He supposedly failed in his mission, but caused plenty of overreaction and terror. The terrorists seem to have learned from that experience, but apparently we did not.

So, the next time Cheney or some other politician accuses Obama of not reacting fast or strongly enough to a terrorism attempt, think about what they are doing.

© Jim Morin

UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria has an excellent article about this. Here’s one quote:

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.



  1. ebdoug wrote:

    When Bush started his little war in Iraq, the supposition was that Bin Ladin had created 9/11 for that purpose. Bush’s friends in Texas are the Bin Laden brothers. All knew that Bush wanted to invade Iraq long before he started campaigning. Osama had gone to his brothers to ask for funding to invade Iraq to make it a fundamentalist Islamic country as he has tried to make Afghanistan. His brothers refused but they knew a cowboy who would invade at the drop of a hat. In this case the drop of the World Trade Centers. Deed done, Bin Laden said “We don’t need to do anything else.” Bush destroyed the economy of this country playing his war games. So every once in a while Al Qada had to keep Cheney and his ilk panicking.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  2. Pierre-Lucas A-F wrote:

    The fact is that, on that matter, Obama has his hands tied. I’d wager a say that he would be putting his job in danger if he tried to stay zen about those. Because I don’t think we can’t bet on the majority of the population to understand the issue as well as we think we do. No matter how much we don’t like Cheney and his ilk, the fact is that they ARE influential. So Obama needs to walk carefully to try and keep enough people’s trust.

    Staying zen could also lead Al Qaeda to challenge this change of direction with new attacks… something we obviously want to avoid…

    But it goes without saying that aggressive tactics are plainly counter-productive ! And that trying to educate people is the right way to go … but alas, this a hard task indeed …

    Monday, January 11, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink
  3. Holy moley. Mind blown…

    Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink