There has been a change in the ideology and practice of radical Islamic terrorists. Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups put a strictly economic and political spin on their jihad, seeking revenge for the economic and political policies of the United States in the Middle East. In return, they attacked targets that stood as symbols of economic and political power -- the World Trade Center (big business), the Pentagon (military / government), the Charlie Hebdo magazine (media / fourth estate), and the subway systems that get employees where they need to go to work for these institutions of power, wealth, and influence.
Their leaders are primarily Baby Boomers; whether or not that has the same larger meaning over there that it does here, the point is they belong to the same generation.
The generation after them -- the ones who would be Generation X over here -- have shifted to put a more cultural and lifestyle spin on their jihad. Millennials are following their lead. They are ISIS and affiliated groups. They are much more puritanical, attacking icons, graven images from ancient civilizations, churches, and other cultural sites throughout the Middle East. In Paris, they attacked a concert hall, a sports stadium, and restaurants, cafes, and bars.
They were also planning to attack a shopping mall in Paris. They have already brought down one airliner, and have been planning to attack other airports. For the most part, people fly in order to vacation or pursue leisure, rather than for business and workplace reasons (unlike a daily commute on the subway).
In their propaganda, ISIS did refer to France's political and military role in bombing Syria, but they also heaped scorn on Paris for being the "capital of prostitution and obscenity" (other translations say "capital of abominations and perversion"), clearly more in line with their general focus on attacking leisure, lifestyle, and culture that they find religiously objectionable.
Their new threat against New York City does not point to the United Nations building, Wall Street, or any other political-economic power center. Rather they show Times Square, a hub of tourism, shopping, dining, theater-going -- and in the not-too-distant past, drug deals, prostitution, and pornography (although today there are topless women who you can take your picture with for a small donation). It's a lifestyle and leisure target.
Both Al-Qaeda and ISIS are fine with killing civilians, but the basis on which they are judged guilty is different: for Al-Qaeda, it's being complicit in the power structure, whereas for ISIS it's taking part in decadent culture and lifestyles. There is a strong dispute between the two groups about targeting, say, pedestrians in a cultural center of a city, with ISIS finding it perfectly legitimate, as they have begun to make abundantly clear.
I think this shift in the propaganda and practice of Islamic terrorists is going to profoundly change how Westerners, particularly those under 50, are going to react. Recall the generational difference in status contests, with the Silents and Boomers focusing on career, wealth, power, and influence, and the X-ers and Millennials focusing on lifestyles and personas.
When the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked on 9/11, people who are a part of the career-and-power contests would have felt a greater shock. To this day, it seems like Silents and Boomers are angrier about 9/11 than Gen X and Millennials are (not to say that the younger generations were not disturbed, just less so than the elders). Perhaps the same is true of the Madrid and London subway bombings (disrupting business-as-usual for commuters), and the Charlie Hebdo killings (attacking the fourth estate), but I'm not in Europe and couldn't say.
With the attacks on a concert hall, sports stadium, and nightlife spots -- on Friday night, no less, when everyone is going out to have fun -- the more lifestyle-focused X-ers and Millennials are going to feel like it's now their domain that is being attacked. No more shopping, no more traveling, no more dining on the outdoor patio, without feeling targeted. This is a level of free-floating anxiety that these generations did not feel when the targets were office buildings and military bases, which younger generations do not hold very near and dear to their hearts. Now that terrorists are targeting foodie spots and indie rock venues, it's a whole 'nother ball game.
Non-hipsters will not feel any safer in their lifestyles either, once ISIS begins to attack churches in the West like they have already been doing in the Middle East. Going to church on Sunday is a regular practice that falls under lifestyle, not something that connects one to the greater power structure.
Furthermore, the demographics of the new victims make them far more easy to relate to for X-ers and Millennials, especially white ones, than the victims of 9/11. The earlier victims were demographically diverse in age, class, and race. The new victims, at least judging from the pictures available, are much younger, whiter, and middle-class. They are probably also more liberal than the victims who worked in the WTC or the Pentagon. Their clothing and hairstyles are more hip. For that matter, there are loads more pictures of them from their social media accounts, which did not exist back in 2001.
All these differences mean that the lifestyle strivers, who are expressing solidarity with France in order to grab quasi-French cultural identity, are going to be less inhibited than earlier about Doing Something about the Islamic terrorist problem. Yet this will extend beyond those who are changing their Facebook profile picture, to anyone who values lifestyle and culture concerns over career and political concerns. If Islam, whether radical or mainstream, destroys Parisian culture, it would be akin to us dropping a nuke on Mecca.
This may make it easier than you'd think to get moderate young people to agree that Islam is not compatible with preserving the culture we treasure. The romance of Paris is not based on halal meat shops, burqas, and mosques -- but on wine, unveiled women, and Notre Dame cathedral. Once they agree, it's no great leap to conclude that Islam ought to be kept back where it belongs -- without needing to hate it, or to drop bombs on its adherents, but still needing to exist over there while we Christians and agnostics exist over here.
Such an approach also obviates the need to talk about whether Islam is inherently violent or peaceful. The terrorists of today are only a violent expression of the overall puritanical view of Muslims toward us, and their behaviors and practices in our societies. Even if they peacefully transformed Paris into New Baghdad, or London into New Karachi, it would be a profound loss to the lifestyles and culture that we cherish.
This strikes me as a much easier conversation to start and maintain, as opposed to talking about political, economic, and military matters like we did when the earlier terrorists attacked the institutions of the power structure. Not only is lifestyle-and-culture more what they orient their lives around, it's just more tangible than economics and politics. You can almost hear the nervous chatter among the shoppers at H&M:
"Having to wear a bullet-proof vest every time we go to Starbucks? I don't think so -- muzzies out!"