Islamic extremists are now so bold they enter Western media buildings and off whomever they please. The mood in America following the Charlie Hebdo executions in France is almost like that in the days immediately following 9/11. Shocked and angered, some Americans are calling for boots on the ground. But are these Americans' memories so shortened by video games and Twitter that they forget we just tried that in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how can a tank stop an idea?
People are saying maybe this Charlie Hebdo incident will finally wake the Western world up -- as though 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, the first World Trade Center bombing, the London subway bombing, the Madrid train bombing, the attack on the USS Cole, the stabbing of Theo Van Gogh, the beheading of Daniel Pearl, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, and too many plane hijackings to list -- didn't get our attention.
"If the U.S. doesn't lead a worldwide coalition to stamp this ideology out, who will?," an Atlanta radio host asked on Facebook. That it's an ideology we're fighting is the very reason military action won't work. Unlike Nazism in World War II, this ideologies' adherents don't bear uniforms, flags, and emblems to make themselves conspicuous. Instead, they hide amid moderate Muslims who disavow them. But some Westerners claim even those who disavow the terrorists with their lips support them in their minds and hearts. How can we know what ideology anyone follows, until they're blowing themselves up in our supermarket, or executing our favorite cartoonist?
Deciding the solution is to stamp out Islam itself is akin to the soldiers in Vietnam who executed entire villages. Maybe understandably, after you see a nine-year-old with a shoeshine box blow up your friends half a dozen times, the "Kill `em all, let God sort `em out" mentality arises. While we can understand the frustration, we must not condone painting an entire people with a broad, deadly brush.
This is not a war that will be won with fighter planes and paratroopers. The battlefield is not that clear, the enemy is not that obvious. This is a war that will require reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, special forces -- the things we've been doing since at least the 1970's.
The brothers behind the Charlie Hebdo attacks were already well known to French authorities, and were on the American no-fly list, just as many of the 9/11 hijackers were also known quantities. No one needed to pick up a machine gun and board an aircraft carrier to stop the threat, they only needed to act on what they already knew.
Boots on the ground is a red meat slogan that gets everyone yeehawing and flicking their Bic lighters, but this two-millennium-old problem requires modern solutions, one's that are already in motion. We just need to give them time to work.