Terror as a policy tool is meant to destroy its target as much from the inside as from outside. The deaths, the horror at lives lost or much reduced (in the case of those who survived but are horribly maimed, emotionally as well as physically), may have been the “immediate” target but Terror is as much strategic in its goals as it is tactical in its targeting.
A battle done on an open field between contending armies can shatter morale, at best, of a whole armed force, even a nation, but morale is something that can be recovered; Dunkirk and its aftermath showed us that. Terror, on the other hand, seeks to drive a dolorous blow to the very soul of the society its perpetrators target.
9/11 wasn’t just about the ending of lives in an extremely violent manner. If slaughter was the only objective of the sick, demonic individuals who planned, organized, supported and executed the whole thing, there were targets easier to reach, with more lives to snuff. No: if there will be deaths, they must be done in significant numbers, and on locations with significance to the collective psyche of the target society. Which is why the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were hit. Aside from there being large numbers of people there, they were symbols.
That is what Terror seeks to injure, if not kill outright: the spirit, the soul, of a people. Modern, Al Qaeda-class, Terrorism is about the symbolic more than the actual because at the end of the day these fanatics aren’t fighting against people but against an IDEAL. An IDEA. Americans aren’t the target because they happen to be citizens of a powerful country belligerent to a Jihadist’s nation. They are the targets because they are part of the Great Satan. The imagery is important here, after all.
Which is why, I think, this piece in the New York Times about how life is near Ground Zero nearly a decade after is, in its almost bland presentation of today as compared to all those years before, an eloquent testimony to the resiliency of a people, of democracy itself. People and businesses are not only back but thriving. The concern is there, I am sure, but where is the fear that paralyzes? Where is the anger that blinds?
In much the same way (I think) the leaders – political and military – of the Western World (and its allies) have been incorrect in their assessment of the true nature of the threat facing them from Bin Laden’s twisted mind and soul, that same madman has so underestimated the world he wanted to destroy. The Towers fell like Babylon’s. People died in the thousands. Surely, the Great Satan will be cowed, its mightiest city turned into a shell of its former self.
Yet look at New York now.
It is also a condemnation of extreme Right Wing thinking. The knee-jerk reaction would have been to turn New York into a Fortress City, thinking that all that obvious military power and the suppression of rights and freedoms would save people and the city itself.
What the Right Wingers never see in situations like this is that THAT is part of the objectives of this unjustified jihad. Physical deaths are part and parcel of Terrorism, but its ultimate goal is the utter perversion of the fundamental concepts of its target society. The things a modern, democratic, secular society celebrates are the targets, because in the oppressive, tunnel-vision world of the Radical Fundamentalist these ideas and ideals are the enemy.
The biggest blow a society that is a victim of Terror attacks can make against these abhorrent excuses for human beings is to remain as they were, if not become a better society, stronger and more united than before the attacks. In fact, the perfidy of the Terrorist should be a cause for the society so harmed to assess itself and reaffirm the basic values it treasures and defines it. For, truly, what is wrong about democracy? What is wrong about the freedom – the right – to express one’s thoughts and feelings; to worship the God you wish, in the manner you want, or maybe no God at all; to eat and drink and dress and do what you will?
Terror, by its very name, seeks to cow the human spirit through fear and intimidation. It tries to impose its will on us by pointing out to us that the cost of our living the lives we wish is death and destruction.
If we give in to that fear, allow that intimidation – be it from the Terrorist or our own governments reacting extremely to such a threat – then they have truly won.
But if we live and laugh and play just as we did before the Terror came, or do so but only more responsibly, less excessively, with a deeper appreciation of the truly important things in our lives as a freedom-loving people, then no matter how many die, how much is destroyed… Terror will never win. It will be painful, yes, and we must express our sorrow too at the lives unjustly and untimely ended, but if we go on living the life we all chose as citizens in a free and democratic country… then I think we can give no greater honor to our dead.
Just like what New York has done. For there is no stronger defiance to Bin Laden and his hellbound cabal of Terrorists than people sitting on Times Square enjoying a wonderful day gifted by the Almighty to all his creations.