I originally posted this as a comment to Michael’s article about Osama bin Laden’s latest attempt to goad the West, but I thought it deserved more visibility. In his article, Michael asked, “But how many terrorists are there exactly?”
This is an impossible number to know, and that’s the entire problem with a notion of a “War on Terrorism.” Terrorism has got to be a notion at least as old as humans wanting to scare each other by mass death or destruction of property.
The very idea that we can somehow eradicate terrorism, as though it were a disease, is absolutely preposterous to my mind. You may be able to pick off a single organization one-by-one, but another will pop up in its place. We’ve seen this happen with diseases (someone say superbugs?), so why should it be any different with people?
You know, I think that George W. Bush’s heart was in the right place, but he should never have encouraged the notion that we could get rid of all terrorists. Maybe it was a nice way to unite the West after 9/11, but I think it also gave people a false impression of a frankly Utopian world. One that has never existed in our past, and simply never will.
Even if the Middle East is somehow pacified, and all the disparate groups lay down their arms forever, the War on Terrorism still won’t be won. Someone, some group, somewhere in the world will rise and take their place. Then we’ll be back at the same place we are now. It’s simply inevitable.
People have to stop looking at this in terms of “winning against the terrorists” and start thinking about it in terms of “winning against Al-Qaeda,” or Hamas, or Hezbollah, or the Revolutionary Guard, or any of the other hundreds of groups out there. Take away the abstract ideas and look at it in concrete terms, and then you might have an idea of the task in front of us.