Earlier yesterday, terrorists in France killed 12 people in an attack on a satirical newspaper called Charlie Hebdo. That makes for a terrifying sentence, and my heart goes out to the families of those affected.
What is more terrifying is this: understanding that this is the role of terrorism in the modern day. An attack on free speech is not a new thing, so to speak – the offices of TV show South Park were targeted by a botched bombing back in 2010; more notably, one may point to the Sony hacks pertaining to the notorious film The Interview.
The Sony hacks make the entire notion of terrorism that the West and America has been force-fed since 9/11 a little bit hazy. The only difference between the Sony hacks and the travesty in France today is how direct the terrorists were in their viciousness. Because the terrorists in France fit the story nicely—they are radical jihadists – they allow Ted Cruz to go on Facebook and condemn “radical Islamic terrorism.” They allow Lindsay Graham to talk about a “religious war.”
The only problem? That is absurd.
The Sony hackers—whether they were the North Koreans or what-have-you—have the same ideal: to stop the freedom of speech. They were offended just as the terrorists in France were, and even promised 9/11-style violence if The Interview were shown. Sony caved, allowing terrorists to win (only to release it online two weeks later).
Because here is the thing: there is no holy war. The Sony hackers, the France terrorists, and the South Park bombers are simply representing the next stage in terrorism. It is not about flying a plane into the tallest building anymore; our TSA procedures have seen to that.
This type of evolution is not new; this tale is old and sprawling and ancient. The dynasties of Old Europe used to meet in the open fields with horses and swords for battle, until one side wised up and built a castle with huge walls. Their opponents then realized they could not win, so they too built a castle with huge walls. One of those armies then bought a cannon, and they beat the other side senseless until the other side got two cannons and so on, until our TSA scans make it so hijacking a plane is just not feasible anymore. So the terrorists—with no adjective attached—find some way to hurt us somewhere else.
And so the question comes to, what is our next counter? Honestly, I do not know. One of the biggest problems in the War on Terror is that if it is an existential battle, as our leaders often say it is, how can we fight it tangibly? The question becomes this: is freedom of speech something tangible or existential? And is it something we can answer and solve before another travesty occurs?