Over the past week, the news media erupted with reports from France and Belgium, citing incidents of terror against free speech and the Jewish people. Foremost, I express my condolences for anyone who has suffered as a result of these incidents. Still, the unified response against this affront, even as it is symbolic today, will only serve to divide Jews and Muslims and the East and West. Media attention, or rather sensationalism, and widespread reaction towards this event detrimentally affect prospects of world peace, global security, and the basic principles of democracy.
Right now, the world appears aligned with the victims of the attack. What happens, though, as both politicians and radicals capitalize on the world’s attentions for their own ideological gain? Already gaining strength in recent weeks from anti-immigration sentiment, the reactionary, neo-Nazi National Front party surged in French polls this week. The party whose leader previously described the Nazi invasion of France as “not particularly inhumane” is favored by about 30% of the electorate. Likewise, the attack allows Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to emphasize the need for greater security and occupation as we approach Israeli elections in March.
Acts of terrorism, in their current fashion, require policy change in the eyes of the public and politicians alike, but by reacting in such a way, we engage in irrational thinking. Even though an enhancement of airport security might protect the American public against a potential threat, terrorists constantly work outside of established barriers to accomplish their goals. Security and intelligence, for the most part then, are more elusive constructs than logical measures to protect the American people.
Perhaps most ironically, this type of response actually empowers terrorists to accomplish their goals throughout the world. New policy measures (i.e. greater Internet surveillance, more TSA full-body searches) can not only elicit widespread “Islamaphobia”, which extremists use as propaganda for new recruits, but also attack the same freedoms targeted at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Terrorists win not by destroying buildings or killing civilians. Rather, they force us into an ideological box, parameters for which ideas are to be accepted in a democratic society and which are to be considered a “threat.”
After these attacks, however, the expansion of this “box” serves the long-term interests of the West. Today, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron jointly spoke to the press. They challenged the European continent to confront nativism, adapting to an integrated, pluralistic future. In this sense, the leaders responded to grievance and destruction with creative reconciliation. Rather than positively reinforce the accomplishments of terrorists with additional policy, Obama and Cameron laid the foundation to work within the balance of security and liberty, shaping European society into one that is unprecedentedly inclusive to Muslims, Jews, and the like.
On the contrary, the Prime Minister and President adjoined this sentiment with plans to embattle extremism that has become typical in the post 9/11 era. As Cameron expresses his intention to fight against “poisonous ideology”, I would warn him to reconsider the criminalization of ideas. All ideas, from the benign frustration of The Lego Movie’s Oscar snub to hate-inciting approval of a neo-Nazi agenda deserve a place in a democratic society. Although Nazism and terrorism prove to be extreme, the presence of these ideas enables active discourse and a societal progression of belief that is truly the will of the people. To truly protect the American and British people then, these governments must pursue threats and actions rather than subvert belief.
Admittedly, this system may allow for terrorism to persist well into the twenty-first century, but in the larger course of history, humanity will have protected itself against preemptive intimidation to preserve or pursue a particular idea, also known as terrorism.