Apparently, this is the new normal: two terrorist attacks on one day (London and Brussels), the day before another attack in London and a week earlier – London again. In between such events, and not long before them, the world also witnessed attacks in France, Germany, and Russia, not to mention the frequent attacks occurring in Afghanistan and other MENA countries.
Western societies were exposed to domestic terrorism in the 1970s. But since that time, terror attacks seemed to be something that happened in faraway places — until 9/11 sent home a clear message: it can (and will) happen any place, any time. And after the carnage in Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris, in January of 2015, it looks as if terrorist attacks, mostly committed by Muslim-related perpetrators, have become routine. Citizens have developed new ways of screening their environments, knowing that this can produce little more than a symbolic action.
While governments started to increase funding for police and intelligence operations, and CCTV cameras have proliferated, citizens seem to have become more fatalistic, continuing with their usual liberal lifestyles under the pressure ofincreased nervousness.
Is there anything liberal societies can do about this except adapt to new threat levels?
– Klaus Segbers
Terrorism has arrived in Europe, not as a temporary phenomenon, but rather as a cultural phenomenon that is here to stay. It can happen any time, any place.
There are certain differences between this current wave of terror and carnage, and previous incidents, like in the 1970’s: the current actions are framed mostly in Islamist and cultural terms, rather than in a political language. The actions are not state sponsored. The perpetrators are not (only) the poorest and most marginalized. Some of this terrorism is homegrown. And there is zero space for negotiating with the jihadists.
Now the obvious question is how to react. Apparently, there are two road posts that may provide orientation, but they (at least partly) collide with each other. The first principle is to not give way to terror and blackmailing – not an inch. Liberal and pluralist societies will continue with their lifestyles, without anticipating self-censorship or unacceptable compromises. And two, the perpetrators have to be found and punished relentlessly.
Yes, there are problems here. Searching for terrorists may sometimes put some civil liberties in danger. Defending and developing open societies may also offer spaces for talking, proselytizing and committing terrorist acts.
How can our societies solve this contradiction?
Al Qaeda was the meta-threat to the West after September 11, 2001. After the assassination of Osama bin Laden, this challenge has often been considered as being overcome. The ISIS (later IS) threat is different insofar as they control territory – chunks of Syrian and Iraqi land. They are media-savvy, and were successful in establishing the narrative of being particularly cruel. So how can we meet and match this threat?