Matthew Yglesias has a post that I think deserves more attention than it’s likely to get given it’s Saturday posting date and the ephemeral character of the blogosphere in which today’s posts get the most attention. In the post he makes two points, one I think fatuous (and I suspect he thinks so, too) and the other quite reasonable:
Now if you take this [ed. Osama bin Laden’s statements of his own objectives] with the appropriate level of seriousness, it really does lead to the conclusion that there’s no point in trying to redress Muslim grievances (i.e., engage in “appeasement”) since the emergence of a pan-Islamic Caliphate organized along Taliban lines and bent on recovering swathes of lost Muslim land that include all of Israel and, from time to time, all of Spain is not going to fly. The flipside, though, is that I don’t think we really should take these particular words all that seriously.
I, personally, find this “Surely they’re joking!” notion fatuous. The reality is that nearly all human beings take some very silly things, things that the bright young people dismiss, enormously seriously. Both Christianity and Islam, for example, are profoundly silly ideas that an enormous number of people (including me) take seriously.
But he does make a point that I found quite reasonable:
If you look at who actually conducts suicide terrorist attacks — al-Qaeda or otherwise — the overwhelming common thread is a concrete desire to coerce the withdrawal of foreign military forces from someplace or another. This is not the point of al-Qaeda as such, but it’s the motive that drives the people who are essential to al-Qaeda actually being a problem. Osama in a cave is just a guy in a cave. Osama in a cave inspiring someone to crash planes into office towers is a serious threat to national security.
The question at hand, however, is whether, so long as the state of Israel exists and there’s any Western presence at all in Muslim lands, the flow of cannon-fodder for Al-Qaeda’s plans will slow enough to make its brand of Islamist terrorism just a nuisance rather than a threat?