Terrorism Is a Tactic, but Osama Made It a Goal

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My friend Brendan Greeley has written a blistering leader for Businessweek that explains why, in the end, the terrorists were never going to win.  To excerpt it is to do it an injustice--you should read the whole thing--but here's one of my favorite bits:

On Twitter on May 2 a Bahraini named Mubarak Mattar, in a translation from the Arabic by Global Voices, wrote, "With all our differences with al Qaeda, we are proud of the death of a Muslim man who was able to shake the world at a time all the Arab armies united couldn't do that. ... You are the only one who said 'No' in an era where the Arabs said 'Yes.' "

In a spectacular, bloody way, Osama bin Laden said, simply, "no." This is not the philosophy of a new prophet in a clash of civilizations; it's the word of a nihilist. We feared the compelling power of his ideology, but what actually resonated was his raised fist. That's why it gives him too much to call him a monster. Remember him as a thug and murderer, but also as a self-obsessed diva with a gift for timing and spectacle. Bin Laden was a trust-funder who took up performance art.

Again, this is easier to understand when we are not numb with rage. You don't have to be an Arabist to see that "no" is not an idea that can outlive its youth. It's not a governing principle, nor is it an economic strategy that could deal with jobless rates that have averaged about 12 percent in the oil-free states of the Maghreb and the Mashreq. It's a pose.

The worst thing about the past ten years: to the extent that he "won", it's because he tricked us into scoring a bunch of own-goals, not because he was a better player.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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