By now, everyone has had a chance to analyze, and in some cases drastically over-analyze, the series of gruesome terror attacks that struck Paris last week. In the aftermath, a vast outpouring of support for the city has brought together much of the Western world and drawn the declared solidarity of a host of world leaders.
While Charlie Hebdo is a magazine that delights in offense and obscenity, their right to offend deserves defending, and the bravery of the publication’s men and women is to be commended. Americans should stand in unabashed solidarity with freedom and against Islamist thuggery.
It has been encouraging to see such an outpouring of cultural confidence from the French people, though I doubt that its warm glow will persist beyond these next few weeks. Soon, France and the rest of the weak-willed West will retreat back into the now-comfortable defensive crouch of multiculturalism.
For now though, the attack has offered us a glimpse at the new face of terrorism. Most experts knew that the war on terror would be a different type of military engagement, but the Paris attacks reveal just how difficult the way forward will be. Defining terms has been one of the most frustrating aspects of this new long war. The very name, “War on Terror,” has serious shortcomings (terror attacks are a tactic, not an enemy: The war in Vietnam wasn’t a “War on Guerrilla Warfare”). The language of 20th century warfare doesn’t apply nicely to the type of war we find ourselves in today.
Take the term “lone wolf,” for example. The popular perception of a lone wolf attacker consists of a brooding male in his twenties doing his best De Niro Taxi Driver routine. The lone wolf label has been used to alert Westerners to the possibility of small-scale terror operations. Unfortunately, some have employed the term to deflect blame from the larger radical Islamist movement worldwide.
There is no single enemy camp in our current war. Just because an attacker isn’t an al-Qaeda lifer doesn’t mean he’s a mere psychotic drifter looking to live out a personal fantasy. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls noted as much in a recent interview. Those inspired by global jihad have attacked Ottawa and Sydney in recent months, and invariably the media has reached first for the lone wolf label, even when the Sydney hostage-taker displayed an ISIS flag.
There’s something comforting, I suppose, about believing that terrorist acts are being carried out primarily by “lone wolves” in the post-bin Laden world. But this security blanket is full of holes. It turns out that many of the attackers who have launched or attempted mini-strikes against the West over the past few years have been trained, financed, radicalized, or all of the above by more prominent terror networks (notably AQAP, al Qaeda’s Yemeni chapter). Charles Krauthammer got it right: “The great new specter is the homegrown terrorist. But he is less homegrown than we imagine. He is fed from abroad. Which is where, as ever since 9/11, the battle must be fought.”
With the emergence of the Islamic State, murderous Islamists of all stripes have a welcoming home base and an infrastructure to support their plots. Indeed, the radical girlfriend of one of the Paris attackers may have escaped into ISIS territory this weekend.
Charlie Hebdo-style attacks are the new modus operandi for global jihad. This isn’t because radical Islam has been weakened into a state of dependence on lone wolves. On the contrary, terrorists are stronger and more agile than ever. They have established new beachheads in West Africa, the Maghreb, and the Levant from which to launch attacks and terrorize locals. (The plight of local populations is too often overlooked: For evidence of this, compare the global outcry over the Paris attacks with the silence that has met the slaughter of 2,000 in Nigeria by Boko Haram.) Equally worrisome, radicalization brews unimpeded in the arrondissements of Paris and the row houses of east London. ISIS recruits brazenly across the Western world.
Our enemy is not going away, and the rise of small-bore but brutal attacks, from Boston to Sydney, should bolster rather than undermine our commitment to their destruction. We must give our military and intelligence communities the resources they need to protect our nation, and to counter the global scourge all free men now face. As a nation, we must re-commit to the cause of liberty. Otherwise, our solidarity with Charlie will prove hollow and insulting.
— John Henry Thompson is Editor-in-Chief of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE
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