Should We Stop Letting Terrorist Attacks Scare Us?

Related to the bombings at the Boston Marathon, I read a recommendation that we Americans and the media should stop overplaying the significance of the attack as its casualty count is small compared to the violence that criminals commit everyday in this country.  Essentially, the point was that we should stop letting the terrorist win by allowing their violence to terrorize us.

I disagree as the point drops context. If this was a terrorist act as it appears to be, then it is a political act.

To down play its significance does a service to the terrorist organization behind the attack by refusing to use one of the most effective counterterrorism strategies, backlash (see Ted Robert Gurr, “Terrorism in Democracies: Its Social and Political Bases“). Through backlash, violence is repudiated as a method of achieving political change; backlash has the consequence of weakening terrorist organizations by depriving them of new recruits, member retention, and other support.

At this point, without a claim of responsibility, the political result being achieved by the Boston Marathon bombing is to delegitimize our government by challenging its monopoly on force and its failure to protect innocents from an initiation of force. As we have seen over the years, reliance by the government on anti-terrorist defensive policies (like TSA) as part of a deterrence strategy can further the aims of the terrorist organization by further delegitimizing the government.

Effectively ignoring the significance of terrorist violence results in greater violence:  al Qaeda issues a declaration of war, bombs US forces in Saudi Arabia, bombs two US embassies, bombs a US warship, and then 9-11. If the earlier events had not been downplayed as of small significance and simply criminal events during the Clinton Administration, then could the later have been prevented?

Terrorism is not about making people afraid…it is about a belief that the initiation of force, against symbolic targets, by a non-state organization can effectively create political change.

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