Each terror attack creates a horrifying new normal. Reject it.
Shock. Horror. And then acceptance.
“Today, millions of Americans mourned and prayed, and tomorrow we go back to work,” President George W. Bush began his address days after 9/11. “Tomorrow the good people of America go back to their shops, their fields, American factories, and go back to work.”
“We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t — where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop,” he urged in a later press conference.
Defeating the terrorists meant going on with business as usual. And we did.
Life changed. Flying became grueling. There were alerts and terror plots and we stopped paying attention to them. A generation was born and came of age who had never known another life.
It’s not so different in most countries where Islamic Jihadis perform their regular rounds of terror. Israel has been the canary in the coal mine in more ways than one. The scenes we’ve come to accept as normal in Boston, Paris or Manchester, dying flowers on streets, tearful women resting their heads on the shoulders of men while a sad song plays, assertions that we are stronger than the terrorists and will not lose our humanity were all field tested out in Israel.
The peace agreement with the PLO took Israel from a place where occasional terrorist attacks happened to a place where they occurred all the time. And when conservative governments isolated them to end the wave of urban bombings, rocket attacks became normal. And when Israel began to neutralize those, the terrorists broke through for an unprecedented massacre.
At each previous juncture, the horror became the new normal. First, it was suicide bombs on buses, body parts scraped off the sidewalks outside pizza stores, and strollers full of broken glass. Parents made sure that their children had cell phones so they could immediately check if they were all right after each terrorist attack. Then residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv came to accept running to bomb shelters as the new normal. What will the new normal be now?
Bush may have meant well, but his assertion that, “our nation was horrified, but it’s not going to be terrorized” was wrong. Being terrorized can be expressed just as much through adaptation and numbness as through fear and anger. The failure to fight back and end the state of terror is what being ‘terrorized’ looks like just as much as public outbursts of panic and hysteria.
Getting back to normal without dealing with the problem is not resistance; it’s acceptance.. Living with terror is integrated into everyday routines. What once seemed horrifying slowly becomes the new normal.
What we thought was impossible for the mind to grasp becomes the baseline for life on 9/12 or 10/7 or any of the other dates freighted with horror and meaning until they become history.
Already the atrocities of Oct 7 are being discussed the way 9/11 was: a new reality to adapt to. In America, having terrorists blow things up around us became background noise. It happens sometimes, as it recently did in North Dakota, but we try not to pay too much attention to it.
Israelis will brace for the new normal of having thousands or maybe only hundreds, of murderous savages occasionally invade their communities while out to massacre them.
The talk has already turned to “how do we stop the next one” instead of “how do we make sure this never happens again.” It’s a responsible conversation, but it’s also a sign of acceptance.
Truly resisting terrorism is refusing to accept it as the new normal.
Getting back to normal is not that difficult. It appears initially impossible, but time does its work. We grow numb, too overloaded with stress, worn out by the parade of inconceivable images and thoughts, and then, much like lost travelers trudging through the snow, we go to sleep.
And then before we know it, we’re living in a nightmare but we no longer feel horror at it. The world has monsters. We pass them on the way to work and we see them on the evening news. And we no longer react because extraordinary evil has been integrated into our everyday lives.
What’s the alternative? It’s not a constant immersion in the horrors of Islamic terrorism. But neither is it an acceptance of it as the new normal. Nothing changes when we passively go along and treat the unacceptable as the new course of things. The process of adaptation to each atrocity coarsens and lowers our standards. Slowly we lose our sense that this should not be happening and that it’s happening only because our governments are refusing to end it.
Islamic terrorism is not an indestructible monster. It exists for one reason alone. And the reason is that we tolerate it. Given a choice between two alternatives, doing whatever it takes to end the terror threat or tolerating some acceptable level of terrorism, governments always choose the latter. And when we accept terrorism as the new normal, we make the choice for them.
Big choices like these are not defined by absolutes, but by ‘gut’ feelings. They come down to asking politicians which option seems scarier, more disturbing, immoral or outrageous. We have spent generations suffering from Islamic terrorism because each time the answer is that destroying terrorists is the scarier option while letting them kill us is the least scary one.
As long as Gitmo or Muslim travel bans are scarier than the terrorist attacks, this will go on.
Politicians know how to cope with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. It’s become a new normal for them too. There are flags, tearful songs and finally a call to get back to normal. Go shopping. Laugh. Eat out. And those are all good things to do. But the unspoken passenger on these trips is Islamic terrorism. Getting back to normal also normalizes a new level of terror.
Living with Islamic terrorism should never be normalized. The answer to an enemy trying to kill you is not going through the stages of grief, passing from anger to acceptance: it’s resistance.
The only acceptable answer to Islamic terrorism is to utterly destroy it while making the terrorist-supporting populations pay the largest share of the price for that destruction. Any other answer normalizes terrorism. The failure to commit and then carry out anything short of total destruction perpetuates terrorism. The refusal to imagine that such a thing is possible makes it impossible to end terrorism. And the idea that there is any alternative to this is either a fantasy or a lie.
Refusing to accept terrorism as the new normal means confronting politicians, even those on our side, with the firm position that we will not accept anything from them short of a plan to win: not incrementally, not to establish deterrence, and not just to “show the terrorists we mean business”. We will live our lives, but we will not treat Islamic terror as business as usual.
Bombs, massacres and assaults are not the new normal: they are the new abnormal.
Our only hope for victory is to treat them as abnormal, to never adapt and accept the idea that being attacked by terrorists is just the price we pay for living in a big city, for our foreign policy, for living in the region, or for a world where madmen can get hold of weapons.
It’s easy to forget what life was like before Islamic terrorism since the abnormal world foisted on us by Islamic terrorism is all around us. The political distortion has made that world seem normal and any proposals to dismantle it appear abnormal. The chattering class rushes to shout down even the most modest proposals for stopping the terrorists because moral inversion in this abnormal world has made terrorists into the victims. And we forget that all of this is abnormal.
Our vital resistance is to define this as abnormal, not normal. It is not normal to adapt to terrorism, what is normal is for terrorists to adapt to running for their lives. A lawless society is a place where citizens are terrified and criminals are emboldened. A lawful society however is one where citizens are emboldened and criminals are terrified. Until the terrorists are terrified, we are the ones who are living in a lawless society at the mercy of monsters. We are not physically weak, but morally weakened by politicians who offer mercy to the monsters and none to us.
Failed politicians have ushered in this abnormal world in which we are afraid and our leaders negotiate with the terrorists and appease them to determine how much they can terrorize us. They worry about what the terrorists and their allies will think more than whether their citizens will live or die when the next terrorist attack rolls around. That is abnormal and unacceptable.
Muslim terrorism is a norm within Islamic societies, but abnormal in ours. If we continue to accept it, we will end up living in an Islamic society and the abnormal will become the norm.
What we are fighting for is the normalization of not only Islamic terrorism but its appeasement, any tolerance for it, any acceptance of it and any concern for its perpetrators.
All of these things must be made abnormal, from last to first, to restore a normal world.