7/7 Changes Nothing

History did not turn on its hinge yesterday. 7/7 will simply become another stanza in the litany of atrocities that go back to 3/11, to Bali, to 9/11 — when history did turn on its hinge and our perception of the world changed. It was London’s worst day since the Second World War, but I don’t think anyone’s mental frameworks were rocked. In the end, these bombings will have only confirmed people’s ideas about the world: Al Qaeda and its cognates are a cancer in the world and must be eradicated, or Bush/America is at fault for Iraq/Afghanistan/the imperfection of the world at large (people who are exquisitely tuned to manipulation by their government but are utterly unsuspecting that media-savvy terrorists may be manipulating them, too). And so we muddle on until the next time.

And there will be a next time: London is used to terrorism and is perhaps the most surveillance-dense city in the world, with a security camera for every several dozen residents. But this wasn’t enough. The cameras may help in finding who bombed the city, but they did not deter nor prevent. Defense is in a free society not possible: the attackers only have to get through once to cause havoc. This calculus becomes grimmer as weapons become more powerful, and we do not want to be a closed society. I believe that our “offense” — clearing the way for liberalism in illiberal lands, to strike at the ideological center of gravity of the death cults — will win through in the end, but it will take decades and generations. In the meantime, we will again be horrified when we turn on the news in the morning, some day after tomorrow.

There are some rumors of change, though. The NYT Op-Ed pages have this piece by Thomas Friedman, where he sounds a bit like Paul Berman, though years late and without taking the further intellectual steps towards how we may help Muslim societies extirpate their cancers. I’ve seen a few pointers to this Christopher Hitchens interview. The crevasse is a good metaphor, but I’m not sure how many have yet crossed over into this new mental landscape. And so we wait for the next time.

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