The burst of terroristic bloodshed in Spain this week should not have been a surprise. Islamic State (ISIS) seeks not only to kill dozens or hundreds by its attacks, but also to terrorize millions more. Look at the global news media coverage of events in Barcelona and related terrorist activity elsewhere in Spain. Hitting a tourist area in Barcelona has shock value in itself and makes people wonder if anywhere is safe.
Once again, ISIS has loudly declared that it can attack wherever it chooses. We might hear claims that ISIS wants to regain Andalus, the formerly Islamic region in southern Spain, but that is merely a transparently dishonest attempt to cloak terror in religious legitimacy.
Look for more such attacks. As ISIS has been pushed out of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, news reports have painted a picture of an organization facing inglorious defeat. If that becomes the dominant image of ISIS, the organization will find recruiting difficult, which would be a blow far more severe than any battlefield setback.
Apparently, the Spain attacks were originally designed to be far more deadly through the use of explosives. The perpetrators were unable to manage the logistics of creating car bombs, so they used their vehicle as their weapon. What is particularly frightening about this – as we have seen in earlier vehicle attacks in Nice, London, and elsewhere – is the difficulty in preventing such mayhem. Intelligence agencies might be able to preempt terrorists who are sloppy in their planning, but a clever “lone wolf” who is inspired but not trained or directed by ISIS or another terrorist organization is exceedingly difficult to detect.
By choosing tourists in Barcelona as their target, these terrorists reminded people throughout the world how vulnerable they are to such evil. Aside from the casualties, such attacks do broad damage. Spain will probably now divert even more resources into counterterrorism. Tourism, an important part of Spain’s economy, is likely to decline. Perhaps most important, Spaniards and others will now live under a cloud of fear that is unlikely to dissipate in the near future.
So, are the terrorists “winning”? Only if we permit them to do so. If we allow fear to govern our lives, they win. If we say, “I will never go to Barcelona,” they win. But if we say, “I will continue to live my life as I see fit, without fear,” they lose.
As awful as the events in Spain were, they will be neither the last nor the worst of terrorist atrocities. Why Spain? In the perverted logic of terrorists, the answer is “Why not?” Wherever vulnerable innocents can be targeted, terrorists will seek to terrorize. A resolute global public can withstand that.