Protecting lives

To defend Western societies from Islamist terrorism, more powers must be given to counterterrorism authorities.

A policeman stands guard outside the French satirical weekly "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris, February 9, 2006. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A policeman stands guard outside the French satirical weekly "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris, February 9, 2006.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
France is not the only European country where Jews feel threatened.
Almost half of Britain’s Jews believe their community has no future. That was the astounding finding of a survey conducted by Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a new grassroots organization created to fight anti-Jewish hate crimes. Forty-five percent of the 2,230 people surveyed by the organization said they are “concerned that Jews may not have a long-term future in Britain.”
Some, such as Jonathan Boyd, executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a London-based independent think tank, have questioned the veracity of CAA’s findings.
Nevertheless, Boyd, writing in The Jerusalem Post, noted that “British Jews... perceive a change in discourse about Israel in politics and the media that feels uncomfortable and threatening, and they see too many examples of murder by Islamist extremists... That the Jewish community, which is often held up as the example par excellence of integration into British society, is feeling apprehensive should ring alarm bells across government circles – not just in Britain but throughout Europe.”
We agree with Boyd. But the question is whether Europe is capable of taking the steps needed to combat anti-Semitism, particularly the kind that has proved to be the most rampant and murderous – Jew hatred inspired by Islamist extremism.
The first step would be for the British, the French and other European nations to recognize that fighting anti-Semitism goes hand in hand with combating the danger presented by radical Islam.
Historically, the Jews have been the first to suffer from a deterioration in the broader moral and ethical climate.
Like a moral barometer or a canary uniquely sensitive to the proverbial coal mine’s ethical atmosphere, the status of Jews serves as a register of the general health of society.
The next step is to recognize the unique vulnerabilities of open societies and how these vulnerabilities are exploited by terrorists. Islamist extremists in Europe, the US, Australia and elsewhere take advantage of the West’s protection of freedom of expression to spread their message of hatred on the Internet. They exploit freedom of assembly to organize hate rallies in mosques. They utilize freedom of movement to travel to Syria and Iraq, to receive terrorist training and indoctrination which are then put to use in their host countries to murderous effect.
To defend Western societies from Islamist terrorism, more powers must be given to counterterrorism authorities.
On Tuesday, in an address to parliament, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed to do just that, so that these authorities could “accomplish their mission.”
Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party strongly supports a number of measures – such as gaining access to Internet and cellular phone data – that would allow British intelligence to crack down on terrorists.
“The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe,” he said.
However, the British prime minister is being strongly opposed by Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, Cameron’s junior coalition partner, who are concerned about encroachment of the freedom of British citizens.
All liberal democracies face a dilemma when fighting terrorism. On the one hand, terrorists must not be allowed to exploit the freedoms they enjoy,. On the other hand, values such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression must be protected; otherwise, the West risks forfeiting the very values that give it the moral high ground.
But faced with the choice between encroachments on certain freedoms – such as the right of European citizens to return from places like Syria and Iraq after extended stays, or the right to full Internet privacy – we would prefer upholding the right of citizens of liberal democracies to be protected from violent, anti-Semitic, nihilistic terrorists.
During a meeting Sunday with 11 interior ministers from the European Union states, US Attorney-General Eric Holder told them they were not doing enough to combat terrorism. We hope they will heed his warning.
Free societies have an obligation to protect their citizens against homicidal violence inspired by Islamist extremism.
Being overly cautious out of an exaggerated zeal to protect the rights of those who, given the chance, would undermine liberal democracy, risks undermining the very underpinning of the democratic social contract – the right to life.