Another lesson in terrorism

Flowers and candles are left Friday outside the French consulate in San Francisco after the Nice terror attack.
Flowers and candles are left Friday outside the French consulate in San Francisco after the Nice terror attack. Associated Press

By now, we shouldn’t be shocked.

After Paris in November, San Bernardino in December, Brussels and Istanbul in March and Orlando in June, we probably should be prepared for the latest terror attack to come over our TV screens and blow up our social media feeds.

And yet, it’s still horrifying, all the terrorist variations on the mass slaughter of innocents.

Thursday night in Nice on the French Riviera, as revelers celebrated Bastille Day, a 19-ton box truck plowed into the crowd. Before police shot the driver dead, he had left a trail of bloody carnage more than a mile long. By Friday, the death toll had reached 84, including a father and son from Texas. Another 200 were injured, more than 50 critically.

Now it’s not enough to worry about attackers with suicide vests or bombs or guns; we also have to keep an eye out for big trucks, which terrorist groups have suggested using as a weapon. We’re all becoming experts in the tactics and language of terrorism. So-called soft targets – like a large crowd gathered on a narrow seaside promenade – are extremely difficult to protect. And these “lone-wolf” killers are immensely difficult to stop. The killer in Nice was identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlela, 31, a dual French-Tunisian citizen who was not on any terrorist watch list.

Terrible events like these are a test for presidents, or those who want to be president.

With too much practice, President Barack Obama issued a statement of condemnation and condolence.

As usual, Donald Trump reacted with bombast and without waiting for the facts. He vowed to be tough (whatever that means), complained that leaders are being too “politically correct” (as if that’s to blame) and called for a declaration of war against the Islamic State (though it wasn’t clear it was responsible).

He went on Fox News to promote his ban on any refugees or immigrants from “terrorist nations” – an even wider version of his ridiculous Muslim ban. Taken to its logical conclusion, this ban would cover France and other European countries, since many suspects in its terror attacks have been European citizens. Trump doesn’t mean that, right? Has he even thought through his proposals?

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, was responsible, if understated. She said she would insist on full vetting of refugees but would not bar them, noting that many are women and children. She called for ramped-up intelligence gathering and sharing, but said the U.S. should not be drawn into another ground war in the Middle East.

France, Belgium and other European countries are struggling to assimilate Muslim immigrants. Several thousand disaffected young men have gone to fight in Syria and elsewhere with the jihadists, and some of those radicalized and trained fighters are returning to Europe. After Thursday’s attack, France’s prime minister warned that the nation is facing a terrorist war for the foreseeable future.

In America, by contrast, Muslims are far more integrated into culture, economy and daily life. They offer far less fertile ground for recruiting jihadists.

That’s why Trump’s vitriol is so dangerous. By demonizing Muslim Americans, he makes it more likely that troubled young men will be lured by jihadist ideology – and less likely that Muslims will help law enforcement.

That makes us all less safe. Whatever the right strategy to fight terrorism is, it isn’t what Trump is selling.