In the wake of the September 11th attacks, it soon became clichéd — even hackneyed — to declare one’s refusal to be cowed by terrorism. “If you don’t go out and buy a Big Mac today, the terrorists have won,” the joke went. It was funny because it was absurd.
As the years after the 9/11 attacks passed and the threat of terrorist violence grew less urgent, few were altering their behaviors in response to the threat of fundamentalist violence. By the close of the last decade, that joke had been retired. Gallows humor is only biting in the shadow of the scaffold, and the danger was no longer imminent. Though the war against Islamist terrorism was not over, the tide had clearly turned in the West’s favor. But as the pace of Islamist militant violence all over the world has accelerated at a rate unseen since the start of the new millennium, that old joke is no longer all that funny.
On Saturday, Islamist militants again shattered the peace in Europe. In Copenhagen, at the scene of the “art, blasphemy, and freedom of speech event” inspired by the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a gunman opened fire. He wounded three police and killed a civilian. The attacker had likely hoped to kill the cartoonists in attendance, including the Swedish artist Lars Vilks whose portrayals of the Islamic Prophet Mohamed set the Muslim world alight in 2007.
Hours later, Danish police believe that same gunman assaulted a Copenhagen synagogue where he killed a Jewish man before finally being dispatched by the city’s authorities. Both the gunman’s methods and his targets leave little room for doubt as to what his motives were.
Europe is on edge. Following the Charlie Hebdo murders, a bloody assault on a Parisian kosher market struck fear into the hearts of the continent’s Jewish community. In the days that followed that attack, Belgian authorities rolled up a terrorist cell thought to be linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Authorities now believe those aspiring terrorists had planned a“spectacular” attack on the city housing the headquarters of international institutions like the European Union and NATO. Instead, they died in a firefight with police in the streets of Brussels.
Now, following this low-tech attack in Copenhagen, Europe is paralyzed with fear. On Sunday, the threat of a possible attack on the annual Carnival street parade in the German city of Braunschweig forced police to cancel that event at the last minute.
“Police spokesman Thomas Geese said police received credible information that there was a ‘concrete threat of an attack’ on Sunday’s parade and therefore called on all visitors to stay at home,” the Associated Press reported.