26 December 2009
While the would-be suicide bomber arrested at a Detroit airport failed in his immediate task he can console himself with the thought of some success in the form of inconveniences imposed on American air travelers at one of the busiest times of the year. Whether there will be political consequences remains to be seen. I suppose some people will try to blame the Obama administration for this man being able to board planes in foreign countries. On the other hand, I can imagine some fringites imagining that the happy-ending scenario was contrived by the Obama administration, either to reinforce its case for escalation in Afghanistan or to distract Americans from the President's alleged domestic failures. The extremes I can predict. How the rest will react I don't know. The most surprising reaction might just be a collective shrug and a return of everyone to his or her business. That would reflect an acceptance of incidents like Friday's as sort of normal. That might be regrettable, though realistic, but it would still be a preferable alternative to any hysteria that demands radical new measures after every episode of would-be terrorism. In any event, here is proof that some radical Islamists still want to kill American civilians in reprisal for Muslim suffering. It is terrorism if it's meant toward some political end, but if revenge is an end in itself that really limits our options. If terrorism is a means toward an end, then victory in a war on terror might come if the enemy is convinced that killing civilians won't advance their goals. But it these attacks are motivated purely by vengefulness, the only way to end them is to extinguish that impulse. Planes can't be made terrorist-proof unless you want to put everyone to sleep as they board and lock them in compartments for the duration of the flight. No one will stand for that, so they'll accept the risk that exists now or they'll demand a final solution, literal or figurative, to the Muslim problem. This may be one of the first questions the new year will answer.