While some people devote their mental energy to going insane with fear and retreat into the belief that any problem can be solved with enough money and Anglo-Saxon masculine Toughness, the rest of the world begins to realize that living with the permanent, inescapable threat of terrorism is just the new normal. We are seeing why terrorism is so effective and so popular as a tactic – it works. It creates a state of constant fear driven home by the realization that it can't be stopped. It can be fought against, curtailed, and kept in check, but it can never be stopped. As long as there are a handful of people who can get their hands on guns (and god knows anyone can) and think of some brilliant strategy on the order of, "Let's go to the mall / airport / train station and shoot a bunch of people!", terrorism will continue. There is no way around it. High tech, expensive plots can be foiled because there are so many things that have to go right to make them work. Low cost, crude plots like the kind seen in Paris, Orlando, or Istanbul. It's some guys with homemade bombs and cheap guns. No perversion of the balance between freedom and security can account for that, provided they're not dumb enough to do things like call information and ask for the number for ISIS.

You can kill as many terrorists as you want, pass a bunch of laws that create the illusion of security, and vote for as many right-wing xenophobic ultra-nationalists as you can find, and ultimately it won't bring the one thing everyone seeks: peace of mind. The feeling that one can live and work and travel and play without the risk of some idiot with a small arsenal bursting in and blowing himself up or firing off a few hundred rounds. The risks can be minimized but never eliminated, which is slowly driving older, more reactionary cliques in the Western world insane. This isn't The Commies who could be kept at bay with Deterrence and saber-rattling, nor the Nazis or Imperial Japan who could be bombed and burned and shot into submission. It's a new, persistent threat that our aging leaders are trying to counter with strategies from a different era.

Europe and the US are starting to experience a state of affairs that is already quite familiar to states with weaker central governments. Take your average poor or moderately developed country and the power of the government doesn't extend much beyond the borders of major urban areas. With rural areas not under effective control, the urban population gets used to living with endless, percolating insurgency in The Countryside. And every once in a while a car bomb explodes or a mortar shell lands in the suburbs or someone wearing a vest of cheap plastic explosives blows himself up in a market. That's just life.

This is what happens now. Get used to it. Anyone who claims to know how to stop it either doesn't understand the nature of the threat or is lying.

58 thoughts on “NEW NORMAL”

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Trump's appeal on the issue is that the solution he proposes is the solution that our right-wing nationalists actually believe WILL work: Keep Out The Brown People.

    Muslims are all potential terrorists – ban Muslims and you end terrorism. The fact that this requires us to shred the first amendment is of no consequence; they never particularly liked that amendment anyway.

  • There is a partial solution, but it's hard. And unpalatable to worshippers of Toughness.

    Help everyone feel secure economically and socially, and physical security will follow. After all, it's pretty fucked up to kill a bunch of strangers and probably yourself in the process. People won't do this unless they feel they have nothing to lose. So make sure they have things: Decent health care, food and shelter, education and opportunity. For everyone, not just the rich.

    Is it foolproof? Of course not, nothing is. Norway is one of the most secure societies on Earth in this sense, and still produced Anders Breivik. But there's a reason why political mass murderer is a freak event in Norway and sadly routine in Iraq.

  • I deployed to Turkey several times in my career. My last time there was in 2002. We were afraid of terrorism back then, primarily from Kurdish separatist groups like the PKK. Those groups weren't actively targeting Americans at the time, but we were warned to steer clear of Turkish government buildings in case they were targeted.

  • @Major Kong: I was in Ataturk Airport in 2014 with my (then pregnant) wife. Very grateful the worst we had to worry about was finding our prebooked taxi.

  • @Talisker, just so, universal health care, education, basically DR's economic bill o rights would be the best answer. The amusing bit is, it makes "Austerians" a security threat.

  • I don't buy it. We all get into cars without "a state of constant fear," despite the fact that the carnage on our roads makes the toll of terrorism seem pretty paltry. Our country opts to be terrorized because our leaders and our media and our grassroots reactionaries like it that way, not because terrorism is somehow uniquely effective and unstoppable.

  • Well, one thing we haven't tried is that we could stop dropping bombs on their countries. The Internet doesn't "radicalize" people. Blowing up their friends, relatives, countrymen, and co-religionists sure does.

    Just look at how many Americans were "radicalized" after 9-11. Holy crap. They were ready to shred anyone who even looked like a "Mooslem."

    How many US troops went off to invade Iraq to avenge 9-11, even though Iraq had nothing to do with it. All "radicalized" and lashing out. I saw one soldier interviewed on TV. He had a photo of the WTC in his locker to remind him why he was killing Iraqis.

    There are people in my neighborhood who are still driving around with the American flags they put on their cars after 9-11. All our fire trucks fly giant flags, which appeared after that.

    Just a month or so ago, some "patriot" firebombed a local mosque.

    Now, imagine that someome was pulling a 9-11 every week in the US. There would be lots of "radicalized" Americans willing to shoot up or blow up just about everything.

    So why not try stopping the killing of people in the Middle East and see how that works?

  • @AB, yeah, I don't get it either. Turkey is obviously in the middle of (and next door to) a civil war. The attacks in France and Belgium seem to have been made by homegrown (but actual) terrorists. Since 9/11 we in the US have had what? The Orlando, San Bernardino, and Fort Hood shooters were all Americans, and it seems to me they were more batshit crazy than politically motivated. (Even leaving off my tinfoil hat, the Boston Marathon bombing is kind of a strange outlier.)

    If fear didn't sell tv and radio advertising (and right wing candidates) we wouldn't be having this conversation. I

  • philadelphialawyer says:

    I'm with the skeptics.

    I live in NYC, and I am not in the least bit afraid of terrorists. And neither are most people I know.

    Also, terrorism doesn't just happen. The West in general and the US in particular long ago chose to take sides in favor of Israel, and, more recently, among Muslims. We started it. We, as in our governments and militaries and proxies and clients, are all up in their faces. And we can't expect there to be no costs for all that.

    The home grown crazies? Reasonable gun control would prevent most of them from doing much. Perhaps harboring revenge fantasies and such like is part of the human condition. But access to the kind of guns used in Orlando is what makes it all too easy to enact those fantasies.

  • @Skipper re: radicalization of Americans after 9/11: absolutely. Leaving aside the whole Muslim-as-enemy thing…Remember the dumping of good French wine into the gutters and the hysteria over demanding "Freedom Fries" because the French dared say, "You react to the members of one country blowing up stuff in your country by…attacking and destabilizing a completely different country? A country that's keeping a facsimile of peace in the whole region? No, thank you, we'll abstain from getting our own troops killed and/or maimed over this stupid scheme." Remember Ann-the-Man Coulter braying that John Kerry "looks French"?

  • We're funding both sides of the war on terror because it pays substantial dividends on sovereign wealth funds. What the citizens don't know, the business sector un-der-stands.

  • Emerson Dameron says:


    The point, I read it, isn't that it's unstoppable; it's that our current approach is as futile and embarrassing as wearing red coats against the Viet Cong. Our Leaders have banked on feel-good manly-man nostalgia and the world has left us behind. We can't handle it because no one is trying.

  • Talisker, Anubis, and Skipper have already said most of what I would have. Late to the party again; I'll only add this…

    Terror is the weapon of the weak and disenfranchised, those who lack the means to resort to "real" warfare. It is in use right now because the "arab world" is composed of hollow states that none the less have plenty of firepower to use against their own subjects. Anybody remember Bahrain?

    That violence is turned against the west not only because we razed Iraq, but because those hollow states were created and are kept in power by the western states. OBL's goal was to bring down the corrupt and heretical al Saud – attacking the US was intended to end our critical support for that family. Israel was a problem of the previous three decades; the gulf states are the problem of today.

  • defineandredefine says:

    @ Major Kong –

    What is your opinion of the PKK (and the Kurds more generally)? Is it fair for the Turks to condemn them as terrorism? Or is it fair to be critical of the Turks (e.g. Armenian Genocide part II: Kurdish Boogie)?

  • @Skipper… I was active duty Coast Guard from 99-03. We got a bunch of freshly enthusiastic recruits coming in after 9-11 that wanted to BE INVOLVED in whatever was going on. Mostly we just had tons of extra hours spent guarding bridges and beaches in front of oil refineries, inspecting dockyards and harassing boaters. I did a lot of sweating and shivering while wearing kevlar and a 9mm. All these new recruits were pretty disappointed when their patriotic duty was to wash dishes and clean the shitters, sleep in a sweaty metal box in the bottom of a ship and shave their face every morning.

    As to fear of terrorism, my sister works the front desk at an athsma clinic. She just transferred from an office in the big city to one in a trailer-park podunk town to the north, her new office is across the street from Planned Parenthood. A PP in my college town here in another part of the state was recently set on fire.

    A few months ago a naked weirdo attacked a Sikh temple here. Not sure what his motivations were.

    Here (Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho) we pretty much assume that any man is wearing a handgun, and many purses too I suppose. It is the land of bumper stickers and suspicious scowls.

  • @defineandredefine

    Excellent question. Wish I had the answer.

    The Kurds feel that they should have a homeland and the Turks basically say "why should we have to give up territory?"

  • Let's Roll With It says:

    Monday I received an hour-and-a-quater "training" session on what to do during an active shooter scenario. It was delivered by an ex-military ex-cop who now works for Public Safety and Institutional Assurance on campus. After a lot of lip service about how floods and lightning and car crashes kill more people than guns, and after the bald white male trainer joked about how "bald white male" is kind of the stereotypical shooter in most training materials — we watched a duck-n-cover-style vid on how to "Run – Hide – Fight" in an active shooter scenario. We were assured this is just like the fight attendant showing you where the emergency exits are on a plane: you may never need them, but don't you feel safer knowing they're there?

    The difference is we were also assured that our active shooter training could apply to any setting: restaurants, places of worship, public events, "Walmart" (our trainer said, specifically — Hail Corporate!).

    I've also had CPR training through work and we run regular tornado and fire drills. So yeah, definitely the new normal.

  • I don't know if this is normal now: it's certainly common. I kept thinking of the1972 Olympics in Munich while reading this: Forty-four years ago. That was hardly the first incident. Maybe we've had a year since then without a repeat – doesn't seem like it. What can we do? No doubt the reactionary instinct points in exactly the wrong direction. Some people feel profound grievances, some just like to blow shit up. Sometimes those happen inside the same cranium. Those folks are called terrorists. I'm far from understanding all the issues. But those busy crapping their pants in fear or anger (the flip side) are unlikely to figure much out. No one with messy pants thinks very well. Maybe apply a smell test to potential leaders: if things smell a little rich around them, let's move on.
    Hey, Donnie – is that you? Whoa!

  • Let's Roll – That sounds exactly like the active shooter training we got at my office recently (except for the Walmart comment).

    I can't help thinking how John Kerry was raked over the coals a while back for basically making Ed's point: that we will probably never eliminate terrorism but can at most hope to reduce it to a "nuisance" level. Maybe "nuisance" wasn't the best choice of words, but I couldn't believe (actually I could) the backlash from the Fox News types. "Terrorism only a nuisance? HARRUMPH! John Kerry must be French or something!"

  • We're only spared of worse in the western world because we don't glorify martyrdom. Yet.

    Then again, if you drain the financial lifeblood out of flyover country, what exactly is the point of living?

  • I believe this is like so many other things in America. Let these events happen in country clubs, posh golf resorts, the Hamptons, etc.. And then watch the problem get actually addressed rationally. This shit is happening in some mall theatre or night club? Who cares…

  • @Isaac: Looks like we're neighbors; I'm in Moscow.

    @Philadelphialawyer: That's the discussion we should be having. We should be able to look at our policies, discuss the costs, and then decide if that's what we want to continue doing.

    Instead we act as if history began on September 11, 2001, and nothing of significance happened before that day. "They hate us for our freedom." No, they hate us for our policies. But for lots of reasons our Decision Makers don't want to discuss those.

  • "We are seeing why terrorism is so effective and so popular as a tactic – it works. It creates a state of constant fear"

    It works if one assumes that creating fear is the end-goal of the terrorists. But it's not (usually). Most terrorists have concrete goals–independence for Kurds, etc–and fear is a tool they use in order to advance their aims. Assuming that creating fear, or hating freedom, is their prime motivation is the framing used by those who would rather not talk about the underlying causes.

  • Monte Davis says:

    cromartie: We routinely glorify martyrdom *in the context of armed combat*: Horatio at the bridge, Roland at Roncesvalles, Dan Daly rallying a charge at Belleau Wood with "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?" It's just that when civilians are more or less randomly targeted outside of declared wars, we privilege the "not fair, they weren't soldiers" context rather than the "noble self-sacrifice for a cause" context.

    As for getting used to the new normal, I recommend "The World That Never Was" (2010) by Alex Butterworth, a good semi-pop account of "anarchist" or "nihilist" terrorism from 1850 to 1914…. a span more often remembered now as a "Long Peace" or a comparatively golden age before WWI, with only the occasional cloaked, mustachioed guy carrying a round iron bomb with a fuse. They got used to it. We will, too.

  • Terrorism is a tactic that may have all sorts of goals. Sometimes it is just the terrorism of personal expression. Look at Baader-Meinhof or that idiot in Orlando. Sometimes it has an explicit political goal as in Northern Ireland or Kurdistan. Sometimes the goal is simply to induce fear to destabilize civil society or get the ruling class to make bad decisions.

    The current era really reminds me of the Edwardian era, pre-WWI. We have a comfortable, corrupt, self-assured elite sitting on top of a crumbling world political and economic system. The early 20th century was sort of a golden era of anarchists and terrorists. I think George Orwell likened it to the time when a building is torn down and before another replaces it and all the rats and other vermin get some time in the sunlight. This kind of chaos seems to ebb and flow with the generations. Look at 1848, the 1870s, the early 1900s, the 1930s, the 1960s and 1970s, and now more recently.

    History, of course, doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.

  • Seconding Talisker — if people have secure enough lives to have something to lose, most of them won't act like they have nothing to lose — and Anubis Bard:

    We all get into cars without "a state of constant fear," despite the fact that the carnage on our roads makes the toll of terrorism seem pretty paltry. Our country opts to be terrorized because our leaders and our media and our grassroots reactionaries like it that way, not because terrorism is somehow uniquely effective and unstoppable.


    But, Ed, you're the political scientist here. There have been periods in history and some countries where people have managed to live in realtive peace. The example of Norway was mentioned earlier. So, do they share something? Is it something people would want to apply? I'd sign up for living in Norway in a heartbeat if it wasn't for the climate and the SAD. Iraq under Saddam was also fairly peaceful, wasn't it? Would not sign up to live there.

  • Re the Kurds. Bit of background. They're ethnically related to Armenians and Iranians They're not Arabs, and they're not Turks (who originally came from Central Asia and are ethnically in a group with Uighurs).

    So, very, very different people. All three language groups are more different from each other than, say, English and Russian.

    The Kurds were sort of the montane Iranians who managed to stay separate from Iran. A bit like the German-speaking Swiss perhaps.

    Except the Brits and I guess the French (?) apportioned the land where they lived to Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

    And there's been nothing but trouble ever since. Sounds oddly familiar for some reason.

  • "It's a new, persistent threat that our aging leaders are trying to counter with strategies from a different era."

    Indeed it is, and indeed they are. And call me a conspiracist, but I suspect they know full well that these strategies are ineffective.

    Sure, security checkpoints may be warranted and effective (to some degree) in certain settings. But all we get out of the massive proliferation we're seeing now (baseball games in flyover country? The county courthouse in East Jesus, Arkansas?) is a multiplicity of new soft targets as people are forced to wait en masse.

    Well… that and a huge change in the public psyche. Checkpoints are a constant visual reminder of the world's threats (both the real ones and the tendentiously-exaggerated overall prevalence), as well as of state power. Result: the installation of fear as people's master emotional status — and, with it, a quicker and less-questioning compliance.

    I don't think it's an accident that this has all fallen into place just as the US has begun to experience massively widening economic inequality; the decreasing accessibility of self-improvement basics (e.g. affordable health care or education); the fundamental corruption of our political process; and the willful starvation of our public coffers (to which, we're told, austerity is the only tenable solution, because damned if we're ever going to make the Jerb Creators do something so plebeian as [i]pay taxes[/i]).

    Checkpoint oversaturation is nominally about safety, but it's really about reminding us that we're the elites' bitch.

  • Well, in the U.S., we get to not only fear terrorists going on a rampage, but just your garden variety loose hinge grabbing a gun and spraying up a place. Yay, USA!

    The only tactic one can employ against terrorism is to live in a place that is so fucked up and politically unimportant that terrorists wouldn't bother attacking it–someplace like Detroit or Albuquerque, NM. Then never leave.

  • Skepticalist says:

    We hear bad news instantly. Not so in the 19th and even early 20th centuries. Stories had to be "fit to print" and not especially not unhealthy for "Christian" readers. Family abuse stories were left out. Of course it wasn't necessarily considered newsworthy back then.

    International atrocities made the news but there was a kind of buffer because of the nature of news gathering. Grisly details were often confined to a few magazines. Things were farther away. This made things even more dangerous because of it.

    Going after somebody with a meat cleaver or getting rid of a lunatic Uncle was a local event and not necessarily reported. It certainly did not make national news.

    I really don't think things are worse, just repeated over and over to sell erectile dysfunction pills.

  • @Isaac – Semper Paratus, shipmate. '69-'74. Our most hazardous assignment was chasing Russian trawlers out of U.S. waters in an ancient HU-16e Albatross. Exciting times.

  • Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb. Mike Davis

    It's an armed conflict fought by one side with an air force and one or more sides without. 'Cause there's no boundaries around an "idea". Ideas don't have an air force.

    Wars/conflicts don't have millions of casualties nowadays. Nothing gets settled either. FARC and Colombia just faded away.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    The historical situation that today's terrorism reminds me of is the anarchist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. Anarchists were terrorists with many similarities to today's Islamic ones: fanatical, contemptuous of life and decency, utterly decentralized (making them very hard to eradicate), and believers in a farcically impossible fantasy world. Plus they were terrifyingly effective, assassinating several heads of state, including a U.S. president.

    They inspired exactly the same kind of hysteria and overreach that today's terrorists do. And they were defeated by the only means possible, and the only way that today's will be defeated: being surpassed by history and gradually exposed as frauds with nothing to offer.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Bitter Scribe: I need a website plugin that replaces the word "Islamist" with "anarchist" and "Syrian refugee" with "German immigrant": every story would be ripped straight out of the New York Times ca. 1901.

  • Skepticalist says:

    Designating our more unlikable miscreants as "anarchists" was handy too.

    Less attention could be paid to civil rights.

  • Bitter Scribe:

    One difference, of course, is that 19th century anarchists did not have an insane oil-rich monarchy funding their recruitment efforts and training camps. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan)

  • FARC and Columbia may have faded away (some of the "revolutionaries" have apprantly devolved into basic criminal gangs without even a fig leaf of politics)

    EL SALVADOR is the disaster zone now. Basically a failed state verging on Somalia.

  • Anubis says, "We all get into cars without "a state of constant fear," despite the fact that the carnage on our roads makes the toll of terrorism seem pretty paltry."

    Not all of us. Every time I get in a car, I feel quite acutely the risk that I may not get out alive. Is that really just me?

  • Dan – I think that realization is part of what has kept me from getting an automobile license. FWIW, that's somewhat anomalous here in California. I have been licensed for two wheeled vehicles, because I'm very unlikely to kill anyone other than myself while riding a Honda Elite scooter. Since moving to Oakland, it's been bus-BART-walk all the way. I do still experience a frisson of dread when I know my husband is driving, despite him being an excellent driver.

    HoosierPoli, I intend to spread that image of the website plugin. Would you like attribution?

  • @Skepitacalist:

    And Cyndi Lauper (well, Tom Gray of "The Brains", actually) said "Money Changes Everything:.

    They're both right.

  • @Dan, every fucking time. And every time I'm home, removing the key, grabbing my bag, I relax, just a bit.

  • @Dan, not so much afraid for myself, but for my kids. One is working 23 miles from home this summer, all but 3 miles of which are on open highway; an average commute home is an hour. One banner day it took 2.5 hours. The problems include no public transportation and distracted drivers causing wrecks, which then turn into parking lots because everyone's gotta stop and gawk. I would love to live in a place with public transportation or a place where it was safe to ride a bicycle.

  • Skepticalist says:

    Way before Ralph Nader, in 1953, I got to know a lot about the dashboard of the 1951 Packard my father was driving when a tree slowed us down. No seat belts back then. All I have is a little scar but my father broke his sternum. Most cars are safer today.

  • We've been through this before, which I sometimes mention to college students when they talk about The State Of The World in the library in which I work: early 20th century anarchists, the Tylenol scare, increased violence during economic downturns…and Ebola. We wait for the wave to crest, and most of us are still breathing when it does. Hell, at least we're not being stalked by polio and smallpox, and most of us live past age 2!

  • philadelphialawyer says:

    Brian M.:

    "One difference, of course, is that 19th century anarchists did not have an insane oil-rich monarchy funding their recruitment efforts and training camps. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan)."

    I find the whole "funding" of terrorism issue to be way overrated. Terrorism is cheap. The West supplies all of the recruiting needed, for free, with its racist, neo colonialist policies, and the tactics used are incredibly crude (go shoot up an airport, place a bomb at the finish of a Marathon), and therefore quite easy to learn. Money is really not all that necessary. The way to reduce terrorism is to change the policies of domination that create the conflict of which terrorism is merely a tactic.

    The 19th Century anarchists, as you say, did not have a rich Sugar Daddy, but, as Bitter Scribe points out, they were able to inspire the exact same kind of "fear" that today's supposedly "well funded" terrorists do. So, your distinction, while real, is, I think, without a salient difference. The cause, not cash, is waht makes the terrorism…in the 19th Century, capitalist and imperialist oppression supplied the cause, and, guess what, they still do today!

  • Terrorism is a totally created concept, in existence because the western world would not keep its collective noses out of middle eastern affairs. Going back for decades the west (United States) has poked its finger in the eye of the middle east and meddled where it should not have meddled. Perhaps if we just left them to their own devices "terrorism" would no longer be a worry.

  • So, step one (this is a long process) is a Manhattan-Project-sized effort to develop affordable, renewable replacements for oil. When we stop wanting the stuff, and stop buying it, places like Saudi Arabia collapse back into the impoverished starving backwater sand piles they were in the 19th century. At that point, we'll have no reason to interfere in their efforts to kill each other over the diminishing food supplies, and they'll be able to work out their own countries and their own borders along ethnic and religious lines.

  • we've got all kinds of terrorist behavior from our changing society. the money made on keeping us "scared" aka the MIC, proves it works. Plus all the right wing loonies get to kill people under the alias of "God." with an ample supply of guns. Step right here, folks. any weapon you like.

    Right wing Christians kill Pro Choicers, Right wing Muslims kill gays. America we have the right of all religious fanatics to "impose" their beliefs on others, using guns or state laws, like our wonderful Right wing Souther States. lol.

    It's not like the original sin of supporting Israel didn't start the Arabs hating America. we had to go over there and destroy the Fertile Crescent. Help the war between the Arabs and spread Wahabbi Right Wing Fundies all over the World.

    while Saudis and the Israelis benefit of keeping the Arabs divided and conquered. Just like the divide and conquer works over here with the Red Blue divide over abortion, society and guns.

    works so effectively, no need to change it. that is until it breaks down.

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