I am fascinated to read the latest comments and I certainly want to contribute to the Edge discussion. I am planning something more elaborate but this will do for now. For the moment, my principal concern is that the war rhetoric supported by 80% of Canadians polled (in this morning's National Post) is dead wrong in this situation. What it has provoked is clearly a polarization between Islam and the West. The problem with that is that this is not the kind of convenient polarization of East versus West under the cover of the nuclear threat. It is an ubiquitous polarization where your next door neighbor was your friend yesterday and wakes up your murderous enemy this morning. We have known this situation before in the 16th and 17th centuries with the religious wars. We talked yesterday of the infamous massacre of Saint Barthelemy where protestants were executed by posses of Catholics in a Church and in private houses. Even in a country as far removed from the centre of action as Northern Nigeria, that kind of behavior has already begun.
The other biggest mistake made by the same token is to have given bin Laden a huge PR effect by affording him the dignity of the enemy. Declaring war — even on "terrorism" was disastrously wrong, not only at the military level (how do you fight an enemy without an army?), but much much more at the symbolical level (the one that counts for the perpetrators of the September 11th massacre) because it immediately elevated a bunch of criminals to a heightened status, and provided Bin Ladin with the only military power he and the Taliban have, that is to be recognized officially as an opponent worthy of huge media attention and also have access to the minds of millions who see him as a hero and not as a terrorist.
The proper way to deal with terrorism is not war, but police action. The Americans are learning to really cooperate with the international counter terrorism forces for the first time (they used to snub them) and the payload has been immediate, as for instance, locating the cells in Germany and identifying several attackers. The police everywhere in the world is, in principle, paid to protect citizens precisely against this sort of harm. It may not always do its job well. Police states are not pleasant things, but these are not pleasant circumstance. The difference between asking the army to get into this instead of asking the police is that, while the police actions are largely underground, thus meeting the terrorism on their own terrain, so to speak, the effect of military attacks (and especially largely useless air strikes piling rubble on rubble and occasionally killing innocent Afghans) is to change the nature of planetary space itself, to divide it into two irreconcilable and unrelated entities.