Mark Collins – Fighting Islamist Terrorism: A Darker Future for Freedom?

Excerpts from an article in the NY Times by the liberal American  David Rieff:

The Long War on Terror

In the wake of the mass casualty attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Orlando, Fla., and Nice, France — as well as numerous smaller ones by so-called lone wolves — it is simply a fact that no public space anywhere in the world can be considered safe. To the contrary, the tempo of these attacks is rising. President Obama may have been right when he said in February 2015 that terrorism did not pose an “existential threat to the United States or the world order.” But this is cold comfort. People are afraid, and they have every reason to be. At the same time, this legitimate fear seems to be poisoning our politics both in the United States and in Europe, feeding the demagogues and shaking our institutions…

One does not have to be a populist to see that the elites have much to answer for. When the crowd at a commemoration of the 84 victims of the Nice attack booed the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, it was not just because the French government’s response to the terrorist threat has been inadequate. Behind that may have been the sense that across Europe, the political elite has ignored the festering social environment in which a large cohort of badly educated, despairing and often violence-prone young people born of immigrant parents came to adulthood. The alienation that makes a small minority of these young people ideal candidates to serve as cannon fodder for the Islamic State is obvious to anyone who spends any time in the suburbs of Paris, Brussels, Berlin or London.

The stark truth is that the Western political elite remains in denial, and not just about terrorism but about the anger and frustration over the effects of globalization, which have nourished xenophobia in most if not all rich countries…

The stark truth is that the number and lethality of terrorist attacks are far likelier to rise than to diminish for the foreseeable future. But there is a duty to try to stop them. In that, the West faces a choice: either the walls Mr. Trump wants to build and the mass deportations that many right-wing European politicians have begun calling for, or a vast expansion of the national security apparatus. That would require serious increases both in budgets and personnel and in the methods at their disposal.

For what the attacks at the Brussels airport, at the gay club in Orlando and at the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice demonstrate is that the measures taken to date, however far-reaching (some would say dangerous) in terms of civil liberties they seem, are not working. At present, we have the worst of both worlds, a secretive and worryingly unaccountable intelligence establishment that at the same time simply does not have the manpower or the technical capacity needed to keep close tabs on the thousands — if not tens of thousands — of terrorist sympathizers in Europe and in North America who have been radicalized through social media.

This prospect is awful but is there an alternative? The war on terror is a strange, asymmetrical war, but it is a war just the same. In any war — including a just war — we lose a certain amount of our humanity…

…absent some miraculous end to terrorism, in fighting it we are going to compromise some of our values. The best we can hope for is to hold on to enough of our humanity to have a chance of clawing back the rest when the war ends, as all wars do.

Mr Rieff tweets @davidrieff. For a democratic government’s taking serious legal measures compromising civil liberties and human rights, just consider what the British did to combat terrorism in Northern Ireland during the Troubles–see, e.g., here and here. Is the United Kingdom (for now), is Ulster itself, no longer democratic and respecting rights and liberties?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


One thought on “Mark Collins – Fighting Islamist Terrorism: A Darker Future for Freedom?”

  1. The other troubling question is, to what extent are terrorist acts disturbing the peace of more repressive (‘Second World’) regimes. We are award of a certain level of it in China. There have been occurrences in Russia but not recently. Is authoritarian populism successful in (a) decreasing incidence, and (b) in suppressing information concerning what acts do occur?

    Worth noting: some of the worst acts in Russia in the early 2000s (the apartment bombings) remain doubtful as to provenance. Gessen believes that they were instigated, Kinsman denies it. For what it may be worth, this commentator tends toward Gessen’s view.

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