Our response to ISIL must be equal across the world

Calling the Manhattan attacker an “enemy combatant” lends credence to ISIL’s claim to be warriors

New York City turned into a scene of carnage this week when the driver of a pickup truck ploughed into cyclists and runners.    AP Photo / Craig Ruttle

New York City turned into a scene of carnage this week when the driver of a white pickup truck ploughed into cyclists and runners along a bike path in Lower Manhattan. Eight people were killed and nearly a dozen more were injured. This was the third vehicular atrocity in the United States alone this year. A woman was slain in Manhattan's Times Square in May when a mentally ill man barrelled his car into pedestrians, and a car was deployed in August by white supremacists to terrorise anti-fascist activists in Virginia. Europe has witnessed at least eight acts of violence carried out with the aid of a vehicle.

As The National noted after August's terrorist attack in Barcelona, the weaponised automobile has become the modus operandi for killers of all hues. Yet the outrage occasioned by such attacks seems to be dependent primarily on the identity of the attackers. If they happen to be deranged or lone men – and most agents of terror in the US fall into one of those categories – they are treated as common criminals. If, however, they happen to be Muslims, their crimes are instantly labelled "terrorism". Pundits and politicians barely skip a beat as they rush to exploit the moment and an entire community is tarred with collective guilt.


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What's unfolding in the US right now is an example of this. Because the alleged attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, arrived in the US on a diversity visa, President Donald Trump is threatening to terminate the diversity visa lottery programme. About 50,000 people receive this visa annually. Is it reasonable to abandon it altogether because one recipient committed an act of terror? Mr Trump's argument seems to be that anything that prevents the loss of American lives is reasonable. But by this standard, why not ban the sales of guns? After all, easy access to guns is what enabled 64-year-old Stephen Paddock to kill 58 people and injure more than 500 at a concert in Las Vegas. Yet the president thought it disrespectful to discuss guns in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting event in US history.

When it comes to protecting ordinary citizens, there can be no disparity in response to the loss of human lives. Moreover, to elevate men such as Saipov to "enemy combatant" status is to lend credence to ISIL's claim that they are warriors, when what they are is murderous misfits who deserve to be met with the full force of the law. For all its successes, ISIL is unlikely to defeat the West. But its rampages in parts of the world neglected by the West ought to trouble us. In the same week as the attack in Manhattan, ISIL used a child as young as 12 to mount a suicide attack in Kabul's heavily fortified diplomatic zone. This attack, which claimed four lives, received little attention. ISIL threatens all of humanity. And its barbarity, regardless of where it occurs, deserves a proportionate response.

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