Monday, July 2, 2007

On the lookout

One of my favorite movies is "Magnolia", an epic study of a handful of seemingly unconnected characters in and around the city of Los Angeles. To oversimply its basic theme, "Magnolia" is about coincidence -- being someplace at the right (or, more accurately, wrong) time.

I was thinking about "Magnolia" over the weekend while reading and watching reports of the botched terrorist attempts in London and Glasgow.

People were going about their business -- having fun after hours in London's West End, preparing to travel or greet arriving passengers at a major airport in Scotland.

Were it not for sharp-eyed first-responders who spotted two bomb-filled cars in London (and also were it not for the apparent amateurish efforts of would-be terrorists whose explosive devices failed) countless people would have been victims of the blasts.

Meanwhile, the next day at the airport, another failed terrorist bid - this one apparently in the form of suicide bombers driving their vehicle into the terminal expecting it to blow up -- resulted in fire, disruption and a series of arrests, but no loss of life or even serious injuries to civilians.

Obviously, it could have been a lot worse. For those who would have been victims, life goes on.

But what about next time? And who doesn't think there will be a next time? Different places, probably; different people, without a doubt. Coincidence.

As we've learned from suicide bombings from Israel to Baghdad, one minute you can enjoying dinner at an outdoor cafe, the next you could be at the morgue. Coincidence.

My memory isn't great, but other than the Timothy McVeigh case, this sort of thing is still mostly foreign to Americans on our soil. Terrorism experts, however, say it's only a matter when, not if.

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 made the big splash, resulting in heightened security that may actually prevent those kinds of deeds from being committed again here. But the exploding package in the middle of a crowded place, or the detonation of a bomb in a parked car can happen anyplace at any time and there will be casualties. Coincidence.

We're living in an era when we're constantly being advised to be on the lookout. But ultimately, whether or not we become victims of terror could have to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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