The South Asia Channel

Don’t be afraid of terrorism

Terrorists use violence to produce fear, which in turn compels counterproductive behavior in a target society. It is unclear what Faisal Shahzad thought he was going to accomplish by setting off a bomb in Times Square, but many of his supporters on jihadi forums were heartened by his effort, even if disappointed that the bomb ...

Terrorists use violence to produce fear, which in turn compels counterproductive behavior in a target society. It is unclear what Faisal Shahzad thought he was going to accomplish by setting off a bomb in Times Square, but many of his supporters on jihadi forums were heartened by his effort, even if disappointed that the bomb produced more fizzle than bang.

One poster on an English-language jihadi forum argued that the attack in New York was a success despite the bomb's failure, writing, "even now the kuffar [infidels] are scared beyond our imagination, it surely has sent a wave of terror through their evil souls.…" Some American analysts have similarly argued that jihadi tactical failure still equals strategic success.

Americans should not succumb to this logic. No doubt the Times Square attempt illustrates a continued and evolving threat to Americans. But it is also a reminder that jihadists make many mistakes. We were lucky to avoid a deadly attack, but al Qaeda and its friends have to get lucky to pull one off.

Terrorists use violence to produce fear, which in turn compels counterproductive behavior in a target society. It is unclear what Faisal Shahzad thought he was going to accomplish by setting off a bomb in Times Square, but many of his supporters on jihadi forums were heartened by his effort, even if disappointed that the bomb produced more fizzle than bang.

One poster on an English-language jihadi forum argued that the attack in New York was a success despite the bomb’s failure, writing, "even now the kuffar [infidels] are scared beyond our imagination, it surely has sent a wave of terror through their evil souls.…" Some American analysts have similarly argued that jihadi tactical failure still equals strategic success.

Americans should not succumb to this logic. No doubt the Times Square attempt illustrates a continued and evolving threat to Americans. But it is also a reminder that jihadists make many mistakes. We were lucky to avoid a deadly attack, but al Qaeda and its friends have to get lucky to pull one off.

The Times Square failure says as much about jihadi incompetence as American vulnerability, yet American discourse in the wake of the attack often reinforces the narrative of fear the jihadists hope to produce. U.S. counterterrorism strategy should encourage the American body politic to respond to attempted (and successful) attacks with determination and confidence rather than fear.

Brian Fishman is a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation.

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