Monday, July 25, 2016

The Long War on Terror

David Rieff, NYT

In the wake of the mass casualty attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Orlando, Fla., and Nice, France — as well as numerous smaller ones by so-called lone wolves — it is simply a fact that no public space anywhere in the world can be considered safe. To the contrary, the tempo of these attacks is rising. President Obama may have been right when he said in February 2015 that terrorism did not pose an “existential threat to the United States or the world order.” But this is cold comfort. People are afraid, and they have every reason to be. At the same time, this legitimate fear seems to be poisoning our politics both in the United States and in Europe, feeding the demagogues and shaking our institutions.

What can be done in response? To answer that question, it is first necessary to face what can’t. Not all these attacks can be stopped. It is one thing to increase security at ports and airports — and even there, as the attacks on airports in Brussels and Istanbul show, such measures are hardly foolproof. But there is simply no way to police every subway station, cafe and public square from Berlin to Honolulu. So the one sure thing is that these attacks will continue. Even assuming that the Islamic State can be defeated in Syria and Iraq, the group’s efforts to inspire people via the internet to carry out attacks on their own are likely to continue to resonate.

This is not something to which people are going to simply resign themselves. To the contrary, every attack makes the demagogues’ arguments seem more credible. It seems only a matter of time before one of the extreme right-wing populist parties in Western Europe comes to power. (Arguably, one already has in Hungary.) To be sure, the danger of terrorism is not the only thing that has fueled their rise. But whether terrorism does or doesn’t represent an existential threat, it has engendered a level of existential dread that, mixed with the dislocations of mass migration in Europe and the discrediting of the political elite throughout the developed world, cannot be wished away.

(More here.)


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