Editorial: Smart bombs and satellites cannot beat this enemy

Editorial: Smart bombs and satellites cannot beat this enemy


By New Scientist As every hour passes, the smouldering remains of the World Trade Center look more and more like some terrible burial mound. Not just for the thousands of people – the sons and daughters, mums and dads, husbands, wives and lovers – crushed by last Tuesday’s avalanche, but also for all our old certainties about the world. What we have learned, in the starkest way imaginable, is that a human being on a crusade can be deadlier than any laser-guided missile. And now, rightly, we are battening down the hatches. But as we do so, we must not make the mistake of thinking we can ever make the world impregnable to such attackers. Yes, we can secure cockpit doors and doggedly confiscate knives and nail files. We might even get better at spying on the shadowy networks that train these attackers – especially if we stop fooling ourselves that technology alone can do the job. But in the end, there is no comprehensive security fix, no foolproof defence that can work against terrorists whose preferred reward is their own instant, violent death and the subsequent certainty (as they see it) of an eternity in paradise. We can make life harder for suicide bombers. But as long as they, and the groups that indoctrinate them, exist we will not keep them out of every crowded train, mall and restaurant. So how do we defeat terrorism? The frenzy of political arm-twisting and diplomacy resulting from the attacks reveals all too clearly how hard it is to get credible evidence on the bin Ladens of the world, and persuade nation states to hand them over. Cruise missiles are useless if you don’t know where to aim them. Waging all-out war on countries like Afghanistan risks huge loss of life and destabilising an entire region. The last thing the world needs now is a Taliban-style regime taking over neighbouring Pakistan and its nuclear weaponry. Appeasement is not an option either. The US and its allies have to take tough action. But each move will have to be precise and measured if they are to avoid the type of escalation the extremists must be hoping for. And in the long run, the most effective way to eradicate suicide attackers is to eradicate the causes of terrorism. This is a sensitive issue. Nobody – repeat, nobody – could ever deserve what happened to the people in New York and Washington, and nothing excuses the attackers. But that does not mean we must submit to the fundamentalism which says that merely to suggest terrorism is rooted in political and economic factors is anti-American or an offence to the victims. Not a bit of it. The Middle East is full of terror groups and full, too, of poverty, suffering and political repression. To say the two are unconnected is fanciful. Downtrodden, uneducated Arab boys on the street are far more likely than their comfortable, educated counterparts to see suicide bombers as warrior heroes and role models. Somehow – and it won’t be easy – we must ensure that they acquire a stake in the world. Only then will they stop seeing the West as an enemy intent on exploiting them. And to do that, of course,
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