This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 15 July 2016.
The disturbing news that invaded the homes of the western world, yet again, over the past 24 hours is more than an “inconvenient truth.” It was a terrorist attack conducted by another jihadist with the intent of harming innocent civilians celebrating their own independence on Bastille Day in Nice, France.
It’s time to stop wasting our time blaming inanimate objects like guns and having cute sit ins demanding more gun control and take real action in addressing the root cause of the threat: the global jihad ideology. What Nice has in common with Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Beirut, Ankara, Kabul, Raqqa and all the other recent terror attacks is not the weapon or delivery system, but the ideology in the mind of the attacker.
Last night, at least 84 people were brutally run down by a massive truck that intentionally plowed through a crowd of innocent civilians on a street celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France.
What we currently know, is the attacker was a Tunisian-born man named Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, “a 31-year-old delivery driver, was reported to be a French passport holder who lived in the Riviera city and was regularly in trouble with the law.” He was relatively unknown to the intelligence community and was previously “known to the police for violence, and using weapons, but had no direct links with terrorism.”
In addition, the the vehicle he used as his primary weapon system, arguably as a delivery system called by some as a “weapon of mass destruction,” the police found a pistol, a rifle, and various other items of interest including fake weapons and hand grenades. After driving about a mile down the crowded street and a brief exchange of gunfire, the driver was killed by police, which are also in the process of raiding his home while they look for any indicators or leads that may speak to any potential network or cell he may have been associated with.
We also know the current death toll of at least 84 victims include 10 children and 2 Americans. This was another declaration of war meant to send a message to the western world by the global jihadists. Another direct challenge and spectacular attack that forces our society and our decision-makers to make critical decisions, which should likely involve more action rather than more rhetoric.
The question is how? Do we continue to play the game of explaining away the ideology as one of the root causes of these attacks? Do we try to seek to send them hugs and love instead of Soldiers or air strikes? And should the public not demand that we stop “white-washing” the key words and phrases that are critical to targeting this enemy. It’s not just a matter of “calling evil by its name,” it is so much more to it than that. The first pillar of an effective counterterrorism strategy is understanding our enemy and their intentions so we can “prevent the escalation of their terrorist activities.” This cannot be effectively done by calling them “violent extremists,” radicals, crazies, or savages. The enemy here is clear: global jihadists and their dangerous ideology, which to them is a very rational and legitimate worldview.
Whether ISIS was behind the attack is unclear, but we do know they are already on social media, praising the attack and the attacker and posting disgusting posters all over the Internet. Whether the attacker was part of this terrorist organization, a member of a smaller terror network, or a “ISIS-inspired” jihadi “lone wolf,” may take time. But if he is an adherent to the global jihad ideology, it doesn’t really matter, in his eyes and in the grand scheme of their strategy, whether he was a “card carrying” ISIS member or “ISIS-inspired” lone actor.
In this regard, we know his actions is consistent with their messaging, including Twitter statements and videos made by “Al-Hayat,” the Islamic State media center. In the past, they have called on all Muslims, giving them the guidance that if they cannot conduct the hijra, or emigrate to the Islamic State, they should conduct jihad where they are, using any tool they have at their disposal. This even includes the statement that they should run down Europeans with their vehicles. They’ve even alluded to their next target: Berlin. Based on their track record, should we take them seriously or dismiss it as just rhetoric? Sadly, regardless of his actual affiliation to the group, the result is the same: death and destruction in the name of the cause and the jihadi ideology.
We must take more action to address the evil that continues to metastasize like a cancer spreading across the globe and infiltrating key urban centers in the western world like swollen lymph nodes. The strategy of our response is complicated, but the the overall anthem is simple: “To not fight a just war against Islamist transnational terrorism is to allow evil to chip away at the sanctity of humanity.”
Right now, we must be willing to properly identify our enemy so we can then build an effective strategy to address it. Targeting their operational capability, as we are currently doing does not go far enough, that is only part of the equation. For terrorism to be stopped, we just also go after their motivation.
For them, it is the global jihadist ideology that seeks to destroy our way of life and replace it with a Salafist view of the world where a global caliphate is established, sharia law is instituted, and a clear option is provided to each individual worldwide: fight or submit. If this were a competition of marketing and business strategies, right now the Islamic State is Coca-Cola and we are RC Cola. They are not only winning in many aspects with their violence, but also in the information domain. They are like a bad fad or fashion that refuses to die.
Therefore, I recommend we, as an international community, set aside our differences when it comes to red herring arguments such as gun control, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, and possibly even our nationalism when it comes to combating this common enemy. The inconvenient truth is the global jihadi terrorist does not care what you think about guns, whether you think Orlando was a “hate crime” or not, whether or not you like soccer, or what nationality you claim to be. Right now, you’re a human being that has, over the past year, witnessed the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians in the France, Belgium, Lebanon, Israel, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, and the United States, among others and in no particular order of prioritization. In this circumstance, when the most basic inherent right of every individual is the right to life, it is an undeniable fact that all lives should matter.
It is time to escalate our actions and leverage our Arab partners to defeat the ideology that is truly at the heart of the matter. Whether it is an “assault rifle” or a pistol, a lorry truck in Europe or a “franken-truck” in Iraq, a suicide vest outside a stadium or a butcher knife at a bus stop, the global jihadist will use every tool at their disposal to inflict as much harm as they possibly can. Take away their tool and they will find another one, alter your tactics and they will change their ways.
We must acknowledge they will not stop until they have achieved their goal of establishing a global caliphate, and we must accept the fact that the attacks will continue until we stop this disease from spreading, specifically with military action in their key safe havens, but also globally by targeting their ideology.
This will be a generational fight, one that will take a long time, a lot of resources, and a resilient population to win. In response, shouldn’t we use all of the tools that we have at our disposal, within the bounds of our legal limits and values as a liberal democratic society, to attack every facet of the enemy as well, including their motivations and ideology? It does not matter whose “narrative” this fits, it’s fact, and it’s an inconvenient truth we either accept now. How many more messages, trucks, bombs, or shootings must occur before we acknowledge it and move forward? Why? Because even indecisiveness is a tool currently being exploited by the global jihadist terrorists.
Mike Kelvington is a US Army officer with experience in US special operations and counterterrorism operations. He is currently in the advanced civil schooling program as a Downing Scholar. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of the US Army.