Several hours ago a truck drove into and through a crowd of people gathered to celebrate Bastille Day in Nice, France. At least 77 people were killed according to the latest figures on TV, with at least 50 more injured. The driver was reportedly “zigzagging” (for up to two kilometers) once he’d driven into the crowd, in order to run over as many people as possible. He was also, again reportedly, firing a gun at people in the crowd as he plowed through them, before he was himself shot and killed by police. More firearms and grenades were found in the truck, suggesting that as horrible as this attack was, it could have been even worse.
It seems pretty apparent that this was terrorism, and it is being treated that way by French authorities though they haven’t released any information about the driver yet as far as I know. ISIS supporters on Twitter seem to be describing this attack as revenge for the mostly confirmed killing of Georgian-Chechen ISIS commander Omar al-Shishani. Shishani may have been killed in March in Syria or more recently than that in Iraq depending upon whose account you believe, but either way he’s pretty conclusively dead (once the organization itself announces a high-level death like that, it’s almost certain that the person in question is actually dead). There’s no indication yet that the driver had any accomplices but French authorities are certainly working on that angle as we speak.
I don’t like to get over my skis when writing about stuff like this. The next few days will bring a lot of information about what happened, who was behind it, what role ISIS played, if any, beyond offering this murderer a convenient excuse and slogan to explain his act of murder. People are already using this attack to justify their favorite anti-Muslim fixation, from banning immigration to kicking them all out of wherever to nuking Mecca (I wish I were making that last one up), and I understand the psychology. Attaching an attack like this to a larger phenomenon that you think can be “stopped” somehow allows you to imagine that attacks like this can also be stopped. But the bottom line is this was a murderer murdering people with his car, something that happens multiple times a day all over the world. It was a crime, and crime has always been with us and always will be with us–only the way criminals dress up their crimes ever changes.
But that’s scary, because it means something like this is going to happen again, and we don’t want to imagine that. It’s much more comforting to pretend that They did this, because They are different from Us, and if we can just keep Them away from Us it will all be OK. But if you’re going to go down that road, be very careful how you define Them. Many of the terror victims in Nice this evening were Muslims, as was the case in Paris, and Brussels, and Istanbul, and as is the case in Baghdad nearly every day, up to and including yesterday. It’s cliche at this point to note that ISIS’s primary victims have always been other Muslims, but it’s still true and still worth remembering.