Keeping Our Perspective

It is difficult to follow news of the recent Paris terrorist attack without having our own negative emotional response. We feel anger, disgust at the barbarity of the event, helplessness, and yes, even fear. We again must face the fact that life is truly fragile and terrorism is a concrete threat to all no matter where we live. Personal security is no match for a well planned terrorist attack.

We have these thoughts, these natural reflections on the event, but at the same time we need to realize what is in our minds is exactly what the terrorist wants us to dwell on. The goal of the terrorist is to create terror in the public mind in order to counter and defeat a representative government’s will to oppose their religious, economic, or political demands. A terrorist is a school yard bully on steroids seeking his or her 15 minutes of fame using a gun, a bomb, or presenting a scene so grisly as to disgust any viewer. What are we to do?

I was gratified to see the spontaneous reaction to this terror attack by citizens of many cities across the world. They came out in large numbers to give witness to their positive beliefs forming a counter response to this attack. Their message was clear. “We refuse to be intimidated by you; we are confident in our ideals; we reject any form of terrorism; we will work within our social and political systems to insure your failure.”

If you look up the ten most corrupt countries in the world, as measured by any of the groups that monitor the efficacy of governments, you will note among the most corrupt are those harboring, directing, or are actual architects of state sponsored terrorism. The least corrupt countries are those that have an open political and budgetary process, accountability in government functions, and freedom of the press both in theory and in practice. This is not exactly what is going on today in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and the list goes on.

Many Islamic imams denounce terrorist attacks like Paris as being against Islam and the Quran. Of course the Islamic fundamentalists have their own imams who justify these same terrorist attacks and killings. Hanging in the future balance are the disenfranchised youth of either camp. Whose point of view will they adopt? Will they be swayed by the power of the gun, the threats, the bullying or will they be part of an open society that respects the rights of all? Are we in a position to influence that outcome no matter how small or insignificant a role we might have? What will these youths see in our response to these cowardly attacks?

The US government has clearly told terrorists leaders we will immediately seek you out, put you in our cross-hairs, and kill you. You have declared war on us. The US has successfully denigrated the al-Qaeda leadership and is seemly effective with this same approach towards ISIS leaders. This course of action has raised the specter that we may not see the large scale attacks such as 9/11, with this denigrated and scattered leadership. What we are more likely to see are “lone wolf” or local militant group attacks following the same jihadist thinking. There are plenty of opportunities for citizens of European or Western countries to participate in terrorist military training and even to acquire actual combat experience. After they can return to their country of citizenship and mount active terrorist attacks requiring very little outside support.

This is why it is imperative governments continue to conduct active counterintelligence campaigns and penetrate these terrorist circles and communication systems both abroad and at home. The most effective defense to a terrorist attack is to apprehend the terrorists before they can execute a planned attack. Yet all of this must be done within the letter and the spirit of the law. To do otherwise would lead us down the slippery path of selectively ignoring our own established democratic values.

When Hitler sent his V-2 rockets over London in 1944, they had little military value. Their purpose was to instill fear and to retaliate for Allied bombing of German cities. The German name for the V-2 was “Retribution Weapon 2.” They were a last ditch effort by Hitler to instill fear and cower British citizens into forcing their government to accept Hitler’s view of a new Europe with him as its leader. Hitler was trying to force the English into seeking a less stubborn Prime Minister. Instead Hitler was stuck with Winston Churchill who had the public confidence and adjured Londoners during this most difficult time to “Stay calm; Carry on.”

This seems like good advice for us to consider today.