The terrorist plot to destroy democracy from within.
"Britain is burning with fear and terror, from north to south, east to west," the Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe crowed after yesterday's London bombings. "We warned the British government and the British people repeatedly."
Sound familiar? In a video released four weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Osama Bin Laden boasted, "Here is the United States. It was filled with terror from its north to its south and from its east to its west."
The terror talk and the compass points are just two of the patterns in al-Qaida's post-attack messages. A third is the pairing of Iraq with Afghanistan. A fourth is the punishment theme, which deflects blame from them to us. But the most telling pattern is a constant distinction between the "people" of the West and their governments. Last year, the bombers hit Madrid, hoping to turn Spaniards against their government and force a pullout of Spanish troops from Iraq. It worked. Now they're trying to do the same to the Brits and the rest of the G8.
In April 2002, al-Qaida took credit for bombing a Tunisian synagogue. It said the attack was in part "a reprisal for [Arab] governments' refusal to allow their peoples to launch jihad against the Jews." In October 2002, al-Qaida claimed responsibility for blowing up an oil tanker in Yemen. It charged that the U.S. government and its allies had "deluded themselves and their people." A month later, Bin Laden touted "the killing of Germans in Tunisia and the French in Karachi, the bombing of the giant French tanker in Yemen, the killing of marines in [Kuwait] and the British and Australians in the Bali explosions, the recent operation in Moscow." He asked citizens of these countries, "What do your governments want from their alliance with America in attacking us in Afghanistan?"
In October 2003, Bin Laden told Americans that they were "enslaved by your richest" and that President Bush had "deceived you into invading Iraq ... Bush has sent your sons into the lion's den, to slaughter and be slaughtered ... regardless of the harm that will happen to your people and your economy." He urged Americans to "rein in your fools." Five months later, after the attacks in Spain, al-Qaida demanded, "The people of the U.S. allied countries have to put pressure on their governments to immediately end their alliance with the U.S."
In April 2004, Bin Laden told Europeans, "Vigilant people do not allow their politicians to tamper with their security" by pursuing policies that provoke al-Qaida attacks. "Injustice is inflicted on us and on you by your politicians, who send your sons, although you are opposed to this, to our countries to kill and to get killed," he said. "Therefore, it is in both sides' interest to check the plans of those who shed the blood of peoples for their narrow personal interest and subservience to the White House gang." Bin Laden even cited "opinion polls, which indicate that most European peoples want peace." A month later, his point man in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, took credit for wounding an Iraqi official. The attack "conveyed a strong political message to Washington's allies," he bragged. "Such operations have a destructive effect on the psychology and morale of the enemy soldiers inside and on their relatives and peoples outside."
Now comes the message to "the British people" that "the British government" has brought more death on them. It's Blair's fault. It's Bush's fault. Turn against them, and the pain will stop. But it won't. As yesterday's message made clear, the bombers want us out of Afghanistan as well as Iraq.
Bin Laden's whole game plan is to turn the people of the democratic world against their governments. He thinks democracies are weak because their people, who are more easily frightened than their governments, can bring those governments down. He doesn't understand that this flexibility—and this trust—are why democracies will live, while he will die. Many of us didn't vote for Bush's government or Blair's. But we're loyal to them, in part because we were given a voice in choosing them. And if we don't like our governments, we can vote them out. We can't vote out terrorists. We can only kill them.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Osama bin Laden courtesy al-Arabiya al-Jazeera/Agence France-Presse.