With the recent shooting of dozens of people in southern California, ISIS has made its debut in America. There remain a great many details to be sorted out, but news has emerged that one of the attackers pledged her allegiance to the terrorist organization on social media before conducting the attacks.
Before this attack, terrorism was understandably defined for many Americans as something resembling 9/11 – a major attack on a major city, and one designed to draw the world’s attention in the most bloody way possible. This concept was reinforced by what happened only last month on the streets of Paris, when a large team of terrorists launched numerous coordinated attacks on targets ranging from a high-profile soccer match to restaurants and a Jewish-owned concert hall.
But as the San Bernardino shootings have tragically reminded us, Islamic terrorism is much more than big attacks in big cities. While there is something important in the symbolism of attacking a capital city, not every terrorist or organization is capable of such a plan. The result is a variety of threats which go beyond 9/11, the Paris attacks, or the London transit bombings of 2005.
The shootings in California appear to be the work of one married couple – not a network of trained jihadists. Two people would never be able to hijack planes or spread out across an entire city, but they can create a similar effect from shooting people in a single building. If we forget about these smaller attacks, then we will be leaving our communities in unnecessary danger.
When ISIS struck Paris, it was the largest terrorist attack in Europe in over a decade. In the meantime, terrorists from various Islamist organizations had conducted fatal attacks in Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Sweden, and two other cities in France. It is ture that the death toll from these smaller attacks is far fewer than for those in major cities, and these kind of attacks may become harder to pull off as Americans become more vigilant. But as terrorists increasingly try to strike America and spread fear throughout our communities, the pattern in Europe of hitting smaller targets may be repeated here.