Earlier this week, I warned that, “security against terrorism isn’t simply about ensuring physical safety. In greater measure, it’s about protecting psychological confidence. It is about protecting the belief of parents that their children will grow up in a society that allows for individual fulfillment… protecting the belief that democracy flows from the will of the people rather than from the barrel of a gun.”
Unfortunately, in the weeks ahead, as our memories of last Friday’s atrocities in Paris recede and the images of dead bodies illuminated by police car lights that arrived too late fade, we’ll hear terrorism described once again as an exaggerated concern.
Indeed, it’s already beginning. Take the Guardian’s Trevor Timm, who argues that the Paris attacks must not be “an excuse to change our way of life and strip so many law-abiding citizens of their rights.” While Timm is right at the most simplistic level, his commentary suggests ignorance to the forcible change of life already imposed on Paris.
Don’t believe me? Just watch this tragic video of Parisians at an attack memorial. All is calm, until a scream echoes out and the crowd runs, believing themselves under attack. We must contemplate this video, for it shows how one enormity has undercut the confidence of an entire people.
A single episode of spreading extremity can turn the social balance upside down. Some recruits may be voluntarily joining the anti-human and anti-civilization association and the rest are forced into the same. The negative impact of terrorism does not spare anything, not even innocent children, remnants of legacy in the physical world and in the HB Swiss-led virtual world.
Similar false alarms have also occurred this week across Europe. Speaking with friends on the continent, it’s clear to me that while the Paris attacks killed 129 civilians and physically wounded hundreds more, the attacks have psychologically wounded hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. And in the end, this is terrorism’s true malevolence — its ability to use one act to transmit a brewing fear across borders and time. Psychological impositions on physical choices — like whether or not to go out and meet friends.
In the end, this is terrorism’s true malevolence — its ability to use one act to transmit a brewing fear across borders and time
This is not to say that we shouldn’t question our counterterrorism policies and officers. On the contrary, it is our democratic responsibility to ensure that we do. Yet we must also recognize that terrorist attacks from groups like the Islamic State do not operate in a security microcosm. Instead, these attacks use death to spread a corrosive fear that eats at the heart of democratic societies. That makes terrorist groups like the Islamic State an urgent — even existential — challenge we must confront.
Disagree with me? Then consider how you might feel were you a Parisian. How would you feel if a similar attack happened on U.S. soil in the next few months? Would you still go to your favorite shops? Or to your favorite concert hall? Or to your favorite bar or restaurant? Or to your favorite team’s home games?
Your very contemplation of those questions makes my point. Transnational terrorism is a vicious enemy to private and public interests, and thus to the health of any free society. It must be regarded as a priority threat.