Guest Commentary

Brian L. Steed: London attack exposes the reality about ISIS recruiting

London Police confirm four dead in attack on Westminster

Four people, including an armed police officer, have been killed after a knifeman, who was armed with two large knives, mowed down pedestrians with his car on Westminster Bridge.
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Four people, including an armed police officer, have been killed after a knifeman, who was armed with two large knives, mowed down pedestrians with his car on Westminster Bridge.

London under attack. An apparently disgruntled and violent man with a history of public misbehavior let loose as he drove along one of the most famous bridges in the world. Many have seen it in movies and television programs. The driver jumped the curb and rammed pedestrians at 70 mph. He killed a tourist and a mother on her way to get her kids from school. He continued to the Parliament complex, where he rammed a gate and stabbed a police officer before being fatally wounded. The attacker killed four, before being killed by police at the scene.

ISIS has claimed the attacker as a soldier of the caliphate and now the search is on for the culprits in radicalization. This happens with each attack. The questions begin. Was it a lone wolf or was the perpetrator acting in concert with a terrorist cell?

Most people reading this are probably aware of these details and have heard these questions raised. Were you also aware that on the same day 10 Egyptian soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb? Or have you heard about the progress of fighting around Raqqa or in the city of Mosul and the potential civilian casualties from airstrikes and ISIS actions? All on the same day.

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Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people died in Iraq and Syria and all one hears about is the tragedy in London. What led the news on Wednesday evening? It was a story about a driver killing four and wounding dozens. This is a tragedy, but why not report the tragedy in proper context? The story of the mother, the tourists and each of those whose lives have been forever changed is tragic. Aren’t the stories of the soldiers in Sinai or the civilians in Mosul or Raqqa tragic as well? Why are their stories not being reported at the top of the news broadcast?

The answer to these questions is usually the common trope about man bites dog trumping a story about dog bites man. There comes a time when a man biting a dog is not as important as a pack of rabid dogs attacking an entire community. The people in Raqqa and Mosul do not deserve their tragedies any more than do the people in London. We need to stop normalizing the violence in the Middle East as if that is just what those people deserve. There is a war going on. Sometimes that war travels to the West, but every day that war is happening in Iraq and Syria.

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Now for some brief answers. Though the man probably had friends with whom he shared interpretations of faith, gone are the days when long-term recruiting and grooming of attackers are necessary. ISIS has established a business model whereby it catches the angry and spiritually vulnerable and puts them to use at the moment of their vulnerability and anger. They have crowd-sourced terrorism such that anyone can become ISIS for the day and can gain salvation (according to their definition) this hour. Police may find email chains and travel to a faraway training camp, but it’s more likely they won’t. Those cases are the minority today and are not necessary for the attack to happen.

The call from the British prime minister was to never give in to terror. I agree, but I also suggest to the media and to readers to become more informed and not simply focus only when a shiny object of tragedy appears in a Western capital.

Brian L. Steed is an author and assistant professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.

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