Funny — but still frightening

Funny — but still frightening

Terrified of terrorists? Two writers in the current Atlantic make “the case for calling them nitwits” – not to make us relax our vigilance but to reduce our anxiety by getting a bead on who they actually are. The “twin ideas” that “[t]hey’re fanatical and highly organized … keep us fearful and help them attract new members,” write Daniel Byman and Christine Fair. (Byman is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy and director of Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, where Fair is an assistant professor.)

The pair, while acknowledging the lethal capabilities of terrorist leaders, cite case after case of bungling by their underlings – including the recent Times Square attempt that, fortunately, fizzled.

“Nowhere is the gap between sinister stereotype and ridiculous reality more apparent than in Afghanistan,” they write, and provide an example that is so breathtakingly foolish it’s hard to believe it’s true: “In Afghanistan, as in many cultures, a manly embrace is a time-honored tradition for warriors before they go off to face death. Thus, many suicide bombers never even make it out of their training camp or safe house, as the pressure from these group hugs triggers the explosives in suicide vests. According to several sources at the United Nations, as many as six would-be suicide bombers died last July after one such embrace in Paktika.”

And yet, this is scary stuff nonetheless. It may be a comfort to think of these wannabe murderers as inept, but it’s a small comfort. When you stop laughing, you might start crying. These (mostly) young men hate Westerners and Jews so much they want to kill themselves just so they can take some of us with them.

A photo in Saturday’s New York Times also lends itself to an easy laugh – followed by acute discomfort. Originally posted on a Website, it is of a man in full Arab gear during a 2008 protest outside the Israeli Consulate in New York. The sign he’s holding reads “DEATH TO ALL JUICE.” The photo, according to the Times, is said to be of Carlos Almonte, the 24-year-old from Elmwood Park who was arrested earlier this month, together with Mohamed Alessa of North Bergen, as they allegedly were heading to Somalia to join militants there and kill non-Muslims.

They came from just around the corner – and it’s likely they were attracted to the outlaw life by the swashbuckling image terrorists try to project.


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