Be Not Afraid

The awful horror of the Boston Marathon bombing, like any similar attack, is undeniable. The random, graphic violence, the smoke and blood, the shaking eyewitnesses, and perhaps most of all, the knowledge that one or more of our fellow humans is out to murder us for nothing that we have done; it is all deeply disturbing.

It seems quite likely that this was an act of terrorism, though of course we can’t rule out a Sandy Hook-style random act. But whatever it turns out to be, whoever did it, I would like to add my voice to those of Bruce Schneier, Alex Pareene, Ross Douthat, David Rothkopf, Patton Oswalt, and others, to say I will not be consumed by fear, and neither should anyone else.

The brute truth about the Boston attack is that it was fairly minor. Two small bombs, three dead, and a few dozen badly injured. This at an event which tens of thousands attended. Understand, I’m not minimizing the pain of the victims or their families, who have my deepest sympathies; rather I’m saying that this was no elaborate conspiracy of supergeniuses. It was an amateur effort without much in the way of resources behind it. As Pareene says, “Whoever it turns out did this and whatever their motive, he or they sucked at being a terrorist.”

The absolute worst thing we could do is to turn another click on the paranoia ratchet—by instituting more pointless security theater (usually involving checkpoints which only create large crowds in a different place), or giving the government yet more sweeping powers of surveillance and detention, or spending yet more on an already bloated and ineffective security state.

Because the point of terrorism is to terrorize. The only way to win is to be strong and not give in to fear. Bin Laden knew he could never confront the industrial might of the US head-on; the very idea is preposterous. Instead he baited us into a pointless war that did ten thousand times more damage than he could have ever managed.

As Bruce says, “Empathize, but refuse to be terrorized. Instead, be indomitable — and support leaders who are as well. That’s how to defeat terrorists.”

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.