What does the West do now?


First Posted: 1/12/2015

JANUARY 9, 2015 — With last week’s vengeful attack, add one more entry — in French — to a terror timeline scripted in blood. For two decades these militant Islamist assaults on liberal Western lands and their freedoms have raged: The Paris subway bombing of 1995. The conscription of U.S. airliners as jet fuel missiles in 2001. The Madrid train bombings and the murder of a Dutch filmmaker in 2004. The London transit bombings in 2005. The Molotov cocktail immolation of Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo’s office in 2011. The slaughter of Jews and French soldiers at Toulouse in 2012. And the trio of murderous assaults in 2014 — at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, at Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa and most recently a 16-hour siege at a cafe in Sydney. These are only the major onslaughts; the list of less lethal incidents, and of plots blessedly thwarted by national and local anti-terror squads, would fill a Tribune printed page.

The assailants are a maniacal minority, working alone or in small cells. But their diligent war on the West is indisputable — and arguably intensifying. Militant Islamists’ assaults against schoolchildren in Pakistan or village girls in Nigeria similarly horrify us, yes, but our distance and disconnectedness from those nations leaves us blissfully unable to respond. How, though, should those of us who live in liberal democracies of Europe, North America and parts of Asia and Africa react when the militants deliver to our vulnerable midst their campaigns of deadly, and deadening, intent: The terrorists want not only to kill those with whom they violently disagree, but to bleed lifeless the irreverent ideas and individual liberties they find so threatening.

In the hours after Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo, we wrote of the overarching imperative: Free populaces cannot appease their attackers, cannot surrender the free expression that — sometimes crudely — distinguishes and enlivens them.

Today we write about what ought to come next:

—First, acceptance of these attacks as a lengthy campaign. Andrew Parker, chief of Britain’sMI5 Security Service, punctuated this point Thursday, warning that al-Qaida militants in Syria are planning to cause mass casualties in the West, perhaps by attacking transit systems and “iconic targets.” Parker said an attack in the United Kingdom is highly likely. We understand that many Americans, wary of overseas commitments, want the world to go away. It won’t.

—Many of these attacks are creative. So should be our intelligence-gathering response. We don’t know with certainty what French authorities knew about the suspects in the Charlie Hebdo massacre — only that, within hours, French law enforcement was confident that it knew their identities. That news, bulwarked Thursday by reports that one suspect had trained with al-Qaida in Yemen, suggests that Western intel agencies continue to make inroads on jihadist networks. More of this, please. We won’t shrink from the inevitable debate about national security and civil liberties. As we’ve often written, strong surveillance and interrogation are lesser intrusions than the calls for draconian restrictions on groups, and on civil liberties, that would follow another major attack in the U.S.

—We have to assume that Islamic State radicals in the Middle East are, at minimum, inspiring the current wave of incidents in Europe. Bloomberg News reports that, in mid-November, French members of Islamic State issued an eight-minute video urging Muslims to conduct terror attacks on French soil: “If you are unable to come to Syria or Iraq, then pledge allegiance in your place — pledge allegiance in France. … Terrorize them and do not allow them to sleep due to fear and horror.” The video’s title: “What Are You Waiting For?” That’s one anecdote, but it gives the West reason to double down on combat against Islamic State fighters: If they’re inspirations, viciously defeating them should be an even higher priority. Here, too, we expect pushback from Americans who want no foreign entanglements. But the West didn’t invite this war. It’s flourishing.

—Europe in particular will have to work more aggressively to resolve increasingly bitter policy fights over immigration from Muslim countries and thus far mixed results to assimilate that population. Incidents such as Wednesday’s surely will strengthen political parties opposed to immigration. In France, that means more trouble for President Francois Hollande, already badly trailing Front National leader Marine Le Pen in national polls; as Hollande pleaded Wednesday for national unity, Le Pen greeted the Islamic fundamentalists’ intolerance of French freedoms with … her own intolerance of Muslim immigration. Somehow, Europe has to settle issues of assimilation and immigration that threaten to boil out of control.

—That said, assimilation isn’t a one-way street. More Westerners would be open to calls for tolerance of Muslim immigrants if more leaders within Islam would publicly, and vigorously, denounce jihadist sentiments that attract some Muslims to religious extremism.

—All of us who value freedoms that others abhor have to keep calm and carry on. We offer in conclusion a point we made after the transit bombings of 2005, in an editorial headlined, “A letter to London”:

“We know that there are those in many lands who yearn to shrink from this battle, as if there is some safe place for civilized nations to hide from zealots who see democracy, economic liberation and civil rights for women as mortal threats to their agenda: hatred, appetite and domination.

“Terrorists walked free in your midst, enjoying the openness, the liberties, of your society. … They will do so again, on your streets or ours. … As you move beyond this moment, we will watch and learn, knowing that the today we glimpse may well be the tomorrow for which we must prepare.”

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