There are a couple things that strike me as chilling after watching yet another terror attack unfold in Europe last week, one that thankfully killed no one despite injuring 22 people.
First, the target was once again a highly trafficked, highly difficult area to police: the subway transit system. The strategy of President Bush following the 9/11 attacks was simple to understand: fight terrorists on their home turf so we aren’t fighting them in our skyscrapers and streets. It’s logical and reasonable. But there’s always the unintended consequence.
In this case, what happens when terror cells are driven from their homeland and home bases, but not killed or completely destroyed? You’re seeing that happen in Europe. Please know that I am not blaming President Bush or his successors for the terror unfolding in the subways of London or the streets of Paris. This is more about the long-seated fear among counterterrorist officials that they would abandon spectacular attacks (think 9/11) for practical ones (think a subway).
The brilliant Andrew McCarthy writes,
[W]e can say that it doesn’t require any training to, say, plow a car into a crowd of people. Terrorist organizations like ISIS have encouraged sharia supremacist Muslims to attack in place – i.e., where they live in the West – rather than come to Syria. We are thus seeing more of these ad hoc strikes that require little or no expertise to pull off. In the Nineties, we used to be ironically relieved that the jihadists always wanted to go for the big bang; 9/11type attacks are horrific, but they are extremely tough to pull off, and there are usually opportunities (as there were with 9/11) to disrupt them. That’s why they so rarely succeed. We worried that someday it would dawn on these monsters that there is a great deal of lowhanging fruit out there (virtually indefensible targets, like subways and crowded streets) that would be easy to attack, almost no preparation or coordination required. Now, they’re going for the lowhanging fruit.
To combat this terrifying prospect, now more than ever the West needs pro-active, resourceful, honest leaders. And that’s the second chilling reality about this recent attack.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan issued what has now become the frequent, standard political response to the attack:
“London will never be defeated. As London has proven again and again, we will never be intimidated or defeated by terrorism.”
Sometimes those words sound as hollow as what they are. If no policies are being implemented to deal with this ongoing and growing threat of “lowhanging fruit” attacks, this kind of a statement amounts to walking in front of a podium and saying, “Hey terrorists, no matter how many times you do this to us, we will change nothing. We will just keep walking right back into the same places so you can do it again. Take that!” If any politician thinks that will deter rather than motivate these terrorist jihadists (assuming for the moment the recent London attack is the next in the ongoing series of jihadist attacks in Europe), then they fundamentally misunderstand our enemy worse than we even thought they did.
I get that this is uncomfortable to admit in an era of pluralism, tolerance, and inclusivity in the West, but we must. Our enemy is defined clearly by a particular and flagrantly conspicuous religious zealotry of fundamentalist Islam. That radical faith is not compatible or associated with any other religious fundamentalism. It is different; it is deadly; it is unimpressed with tolerance and uninterested in peace. If we can’t elect people who say that, we have no hope of stopping these attacks.
It may be that we have now entered a waiting game. Terror attacks like London’s will continue to increase in frequency, they will begin to spill over onto American streets with greater regularity, and a frightening number of innocent men, women, and children will have to die in the West before our fear of seeing our babies blown to pieces will exceed our fear of appearing nativist or xenophobic. How many bodies it will take remains to be seen.
But for the moment, the West still appears paralyzed by the fear of admitting what we’re facing.