Last Friday, 25-year-old Moroccan-born Ayoub El-Khazzani allegedly boarded a Paris-bound Thalys train in Belgium with a Kalashnikov rifle, nine magazines of ammunition, a pistol and a box cutter. Had he not been disarmed by passengers, including two traveling American military servicemen and their childhood friend, the incident could have easily become another terrorist bloodbath, barely seven months after the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris.
"The lesson to be learned is in times of terror, to please do something -- don't just stand by and watch," said American college student Anthony Sadler as he and his friends received the Legion of Honor from French President Francois Hollande for their bravery.
Sadler nailed the crux of the problem: complacency.
I was subjected to an attack on a French subway train in January 2011. It was what the French police called an "aggravated mugging" by two young men who appeared to be of Arabic descent. I chased them out of the subway car, through the station and down the busy Paris streets, and when I caught them, they threatened to shoot me in the head. Since they lacked a visible weapon, I just told them to shut up, and they did. The police took so long to arrive on the scene that I had to eventually abandon them, along with any hope of retrieving my iPhone, which one of them had shoved down his pants. I was promptly chastised by French police for having chased them and was advised that inaction is the preferred course of action.
Inaction is effectively nonchalance -- and El Khazzani's entire story exemplifies it.
According to French media reports, El-Khazzani was free to score himself a Kalashnikov in Belgium. Earlier, he was free to be radicalized in a Spanish jail after being arrested for selling hashish. Flagged by Spanish intelligence, who informed their French counterparts of El-Khazzani's high-risk status, he was free to land a job in France for a few months -- that is, when he wasn't also free to float around Turkey, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Syria. It's hardly shocking that someone with such a profile would attempt to wreak havoc on a passenger train.
El-Khazzani reportedly told his defense attorney that he just wanted to rob train passengers so he could get a bite to eat. That's where his freedom ended, thanks to some fellow passengers. Brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it? I mean, aren't most armed robberies of civilian targets committed by guys on trains with a case of the munchies?
The ridiculous excuse says a lot about what's perceived to play well in the court of French public opinion. Anyone who feels victimized by life gets a lot of leeway, which is why the prevention of terrorist incidents via discreet and effective intelligence work and the diligent application of existing regulations is so critical. Because once there's even a hint of a crackdown -- even if terror suspects are the target -- the French tend to get nervous. Such was the case in late 1993, when French authorities rounded up dozens of suspects in Operation Chrysanthemum amid a rash of killings and kidnappings by Algerian militants.
Far-leftism -- the quintessential ideology of the spoiled brat -- has long been terrorism's reliable accomplice in Europe.
The communist guerrilla organization Action Directe was responsible for a series of attacks and assassinations across France in the 1980s, echoing the work of Germany's Red Army Faction terror group. The renowned Marxist terrorist Carlos the Jackal is still holed up in a Paris prison, years after a terrorism spree that began when he became the head of European operations for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1973. Italy's far-left terrorist group Red Brigades found refuge in former French Socialist President Francois Mitterrand's doctrine of non-extradition.
While far-left ideology is nowhere near as prevalent today, it has nonetheless taken on new life in the form of nanny-statism that continues to pollute the European mindset, and particularly that of Europe's elites.
That's why a terror suspect can end up believing that he's entitled to his Kalashnikov, his radicalization while in state custody, his jaunts across Europe, and a case of the munchies that only nine magazines full of ammunition can resolve. No one is calling for a fascist crackdown, but there's a lot of wriggle room between that and a Gallic shrug.