To be effective, terrorism has to be shocking. For better or worse, bombing attacks, except when they occur in major Western metropolises, have lost much of their power to shock Western audiences. There have simply been too many of them in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan in recent years for another one to make much of an impact. The fiends behind the Mumbai attack no doubt realized this. They therefore staged a different kind of atrocity that has managed to rivet the entire world’s attention for the past several days. Mission accomplished.
What makes the Mumbai attacks particularly scary is that they are so easy to replicate. Bomb-making requires a certain amount of technical know-how. Much less knowledge is required to slaughter people at random using assault weapons. The guns are readily available through the legal marketplace; they do not even have to be fully automatic, although automatic weapons aren’t hard to procure either. Then all it takes is assembling a dozen or two fanatics willing to die for their misguided cause. Send them with weapons into a major hotel, train station, or other gathering spot, and watch havoc ensue.
After 9/11, many observers, including me, expected that we would see such attacks in American malls and other areas where security is negligible. That did not occur for reasons that remain unclear: speculation ranges from the effectiveness of U.S. counterterrorist efforts to the weakness of the Al Qaeda network in North America. But we need to be concerned that some jihadists watching what has just unfolded in Mumbai will be tempted to stage a copycat attacks. Our increasing complacency – many dare not even call the war on terror a war anymore – only increases the danger.