- - Monday, June 5, 2017


If you were to ask Jane Q. Public, she would probably say, “All we want is to be left alone. We want to live in peace. But when evil is dedicated against us, we have no choice. We must act.”

That, I believe, is what Theresa May meant when she declared “enough is enough!”

The latest terrorist attack against Britain was very low-tech but very high in symbolic impact. Striking at the heart of London once again with car ramming and stabbings, the gruesome language of terror proclaimed, “London Bridge is falling down.”

I believe Ms. May’s promise of improved counter-terrorism activities will take aim at various parts of the problem – including incitement, intelligence and law enforcement. So much counter-terrorism effort is aimed at prevention, and British authorities say they have thwarted many potential recent attacks beside the three that have taken place in the past 3 months. The bad guys can lose dozens of times, but if they get just one break…mayhem ensues.

What are we to do?

Although at first glance it might not seem so, counter-terrorism is a culturally specific and highly psychological enterprise. Countries can certainly learn from one another, but ultimately each country has to choose its own response, suited to its own culture.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Red Brigade terrorists – a Marxist group - held Italy in its fearful grip with thousands of acts of violence and murder. They were notorious for kidnapping and brutally murdering Aldo Moro, Italy’s former leader. Italy responded with the usual law enforcement approaches, and found one tactic that worked for them in those circumstances. Italian authorities reduced the sentences of convicted terrorists if they volunteered information about Red Brigade leadership and plans. Perhaps the concurrent decline of the Soviet Union played a role, too…we will never know for sure…but by the mid-1980s, the Red Brigades were nearly extinct.

It’s called “terror” because the goal is to spread fear. According to Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND think tank, some Scandinavian countries counter that fear by assigning every adult member of the community a role in civil defense. Even if never called upon, having a useful role reduces anxiety.

Israel recently cracked down on social media as part of its response to a wave of car rammings and stabbings. Joshua Mitnick in the LA Times reported (May 11, 2016) the story of a young man who, along with his friends, routinely praised Palestinian terrorist stabbers, and was arrested. He spent two weeks in jail, was fined $1,000, which his parents paid for him. Now, he said, he wants no more trouble. He and his friends stopped sharing social media tributes to “martyrs.”

We should take a closer look at the custom of turning the site of a terror event into an instant memorial, with flowers and candles and teddy bears. It meant to honor the dead - but it also memorializes their murderers. Video of the grieving visitors to the site travels around the world, demonstrating the killers’ effectiveness. To Islamists and others who idealize violence, those images must be a source of perverse satisfaction. We should deny them that satisfaction.

The all-star Manchester concert that took place to a packed house Sunday night was counter-terrorism at its best. It sent a loud message.

Although at the moment we may have to live with terrorism, we do not have to live in terror.

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