In recent weeks, the word terror has been in headlines every day and the lead story of almost every newscast.
The shocking attacks at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine and the related hostage incident at a kosher grocery store were subsequently dubbed the “three-day terror siege” by some Canadian media outlets.
In the wake of the violence, French politicians repeatedly voiced their intent to wage war on radical Islam. To demonstrate that resolve, France has mobilized thousands of soldiers and police to protect religious sites and popular tourist attractions.
To further emphasize France’s commitment to battle radical jihadists, French President Francois Hollande was on hand to personally dispatch the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Persian Gulf to assist the United States-led coalition in the battle against ISIS in Iraq.
In the streets of Paris, more than an estimated one million citizens marched, brandishing “Je Suis Charlie” placards, while dozens of world leaders linked arms in solidarity and support of free speech in the face of Islamic extremism.
While this is certainly a heady and emotionally charged global reaction, one has to ask: What makes this particular series of incidents so spectacular?
If one looks past the media hyperbole and lets the dust settle, Paris was never really under siege. There were four violent incidents in four locations in the northeastern quadrant of Paris and its suburbs. In total, 20 people died. Once security forces were put on full alert, Paris may have appeared to be an armed camp in full combat mode, but the enemy was just a few individuals.
The same word — siege — was used repeatedly to describe the 17-hour hostage drama that began on Dec. 15 and lasted into the early morning hours of Dec. 16 in Sydney, Australia. We were supposed to believe that one man in that café, armed with a single shotgun, holed up and surrounded by police, was somehow shutting down an entire metropolis?
“Ottawa under siege” was also flashed across news reports Oct. 22, after Michael Zehaf-Bibeau gunned down Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and then made his lone rampage toward Parliament Hill.
Although the time between Cirillo’s shooting and the death of Zehaf-Bibeau was less than five minutes, thanks to the power of Twitter and multiple false leads, the drama lasted more than 12 hours.
It was wrongly reported that there were numerous accomplices, that others had been shot and killed, and that high-speed police chases were taking place across Ottawa. Public servants were locked down in their offices, while their children were locked down in their schools. Fear, panic and misinformation spread like wildfire, but the city was certainly never under siege.
There is also the matter of the scale of the Paris tragedy, compared with other major terror attacks since 9-11.
The 2002 Bali bombings left 202 dead and 291 injured. The 2004 train attack in Madrid took the lives of 191 and wounded another 1,800. The 2005 London bus bombings killed 52 and injured more than 700.
All those attacks were more sophisticated and complex than the Paris shootings. Despite the much higher death tolls and the severity of the threat they posed, these incidents did not generate million-person marches, gatherings of world leaders or the dispatch of aircraft carriers.
Why is it that after the attacks on the World Trade Center and these other significant terrorist strikes around the globe, we seem more frightened by far smaller threats? It is like an elephant once startled by a mouse going into complete panic over an ant.
There is no better example of this than France’s objection to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The American public believed their own government’s lies that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and felt as though they were embarking upon a campaign to save the world, while the French were publicly decried as being “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”
In the U.S., they even briefly banned the import of French wine in some states, and many fast-food outlets renamed their side dishes “freedom fries.” That was then, and this is now.
Despite the fact there was no link whatsoever between the Charlie Hebdo attackers and ISIS, French combat ships and aircraft are headed to join the coalition in the fiasco that has become Iraq.
Since their goal is to generate fear, the terrorists have clearly won this round with the help of our hysteria-generating media.