Terrorism’s Real Targets

A random thought I had in connection to the torture memos and the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 in general: The real danger of terrorism isn’t so much that it might succeed in terrorizing a country’s citizens. After all, people face all sorts of known — yet unpredictable — risks in many aspects of daily life. Prevalent violent crime, for instance, can have the same random effect on people’s lives as terrorist strikes, thereby leaving them with the same sentiment of lingering dread and uncertainty.

The real danger of terrorism is if it succeeds in terrorizing a country’s leaders. That’s the only way that what amounts to a security threat might become a national security threat. But the threat, inasmuch as it can ever be existential, results from the subsequent response, not the initial attack itself. Like a virus, terrorism can only consume its target by grafting itself onto his DNA. So when we talk about resilience in the face of terrorism, we should also be talking about a new type of leadership in response to it.

More World Politics Review