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.
Braunschweig’s Carnival parade is the biggest one in northern Germany and draws around 250,000 visitors each year.
Geese said the parade was canceled only 90 minutes before its scheduled start and that “many people arriving at the train station were already dressed up and very disappointed — but we didn’t want to take any risks.”
Carnival is celebrated in many regions of Germany with parades, music, revelers dressing up in costumes and dancing in the streets.
It is hard to think of anything more offensive to the bloody Islamist scolds who seek to subjugate Europe one bullet at a time than revelry like this. Nor is it possible to imagine a more human desire than that which compels us to celebrate life amid the heightened fear of death. It is a tragic shame that this event was canceled when those who planned to attend perhaps needed it more this year than ever.
It’s hard to criticize local authorities for their decision. Braunschweig police determined that they could not meet the challenges posed by a credible security threat, and they did the only thing they thought might mitigate the risk to civilians. But the determination by German authorities that the only way to keep its citizens safe is to submit to the terrorists’ demands is nothing short of a tragedy.
No, the Islamists have not won. The West remains resolved to combat their murderous ideology, and there are still those willing to risk their lives in order to stand up for the liberal values of free expression and religious liberty, even at great personal risk. But the old joke just isn’t funny anymore.