Now we have a terrorist attack in Mali – 27 dead including one American. That African nation has a connection to the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015. As a former French colony, French troops have been there helping that government in the fight against Islamic rebels. As they say, here is where the plot thickens.
Or perhaps, we should say, this is where the characters start showing their true colors. First we have the antagonists. Make no mistake – ISIS and other terrorist groups are the worst bullies imaginable. Bullies work to foment fear and to provoke knee-jerk reactions, and they are doing their job and then some right now. Chalk one up for ISIS.
The Mali attack – attributed to Al Qaeda and not ISIS – proves that terrorism can rear its ugly head anywhere in the world. This attack in Mali in a fancy hotel guaranteed headlines – something the ISIS attack in Beirut initially failed to do (at least here in the U.S.). Each attack is gauged to hurt as many innocents as possible in places they normally would be able to go and enjoy themselves. That is what terrorism is all about.
The fear part is another aspect of the terrorism playbook. They hope that people will be so afraid that they will not go about business as usual – that includes air travel, tourism, theatre, dining, and shopping. This is good for terrorists and bad for everyone else.
Here in New York City and other major cities such as Paris, Brussels, Washington D.C., and London, the sight of heavily armed police and soldiers is becoming the new normal. While Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton say everything is under control and tourists and New Yorkers seem to be going about business as usual, there is an undercurrent of fear everywhere you go. No matter what the official line seems to be or what people are telling interviewers, there is a palpable sense of something coming – or more precisely impending doom.
People worldwide are on notice that terrorism can strike anywhere, and the United Nations Security Council did nothing but send that message home by unanimously voting for member states to take “all necessary measures” to defeat ISIS. While this is alarming in and of itself, one look at recent terrorist attacks – Tunisia, Turkey, Beirut, Paris, and now Mali – and the bombing of a Russian airplane over Egypt – and we know that this is a worldwide matter that concerns every nation.
Then we have the presumptive protagonists – U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, and the rest of the leaders of the world who are combating this ever-growing threat. These people are faced with an enormous challenge in dealing with a foe that has no regard for human lives, including their own. As they try to come up with a game plan to defeat a monster, the fear is that they will become as bad as the opponents. If that happens, chalk another one up for ISIS.
On the fringe are the other players like the Syrian refugees and the U.S. presidential candidates. With the refugees we have desperate people who are fleeing an unimaginable horror; with the presidential candidates we have people sometimes reacting horribly. It is a combustible mix that must be delighting the ISIS leadership every time someone like Ben Carson or Donald Trump speaks.
The problem here is that not only are terrorists causing fear and reactions of world leaders, but they are making regular citizens forget their better selves and inspiring the presidential candidates to respond in sometimes absurd ways. The bottom line for Americans is that we need to look in the mirror – do we see the Statue of Liberty staring back at us or jack-booted monster? I believe that some of us should not like what we see.
If you are an American citizen and not a Native American, chances are your ancestors were refugees of some kind escaping something, fleeing oppression, or wanting to live life freely. The whole notion of placing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor to greet foreigners from all over the world coming into Ellis Island was to welcome them.
There are truly absurd things happening here – with Ben Carson calling for “a database on everybody” and Donald Trump saying American Muslims should be forced to get I.D. cards and that some mosques should be closed. This only encourages anti-Muslim elements in the U.S. and justifiable concern about an ugly backlash against law-abiding Muslims in this country reaching a height unknown since 9/11. Chalk another one up for ISIS.
If our main problem with terrorists is that they threaten our way of life, how can we fray the fabric of that existence in an effort to combat them? If we no longer uphold the values and the freedoms we are fighting for, then are we as bad – or in some cases even worse – than the pernicious foe we are fighting?
If we are honest with ourselves, the answers are going to be upsetting. If we keep lying to ourselves, then we are headed in the direction that ISIS and other terrorist groups hope we take – a downward spiral that will destroy us much more thoroughly than any attack they can spring on us – in essence taking away the way of life we are now trying to defend. In the end for the terrorists that will be the greatest victory of all.
Photo credits: ABC News, NY Daily News, CNN[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1455585661]