london paris terrorist attack

What the London and Paris Terror Attacks Teach Us

Two weeks ago, three Islamic radicals driving a rental van mowed down pedestrians in London, then got out and began stabbing bystanders and pub-goers at random, killing 8 and injuring dozens more. A few days later, an Islamic radical attacked a French policeman outside Notre Dame Cathedral, getting himself shot in the process and prompting a lockdown of that area of Paris. The following day, ISIS-linked militants stormed the parliament building in Tehran and the shrine to Ayatollah Khomeini, killing at least 17 people. The brazenness of the attacks underscored the fact that terrorism can strike anywhere without warning.

The Reality of Terrorism

Regardless of whether these attackers are immigrants who hide among refugees or whether they are native-born radicals, the reality is that we face a threat from adherents of a nihilistic ideology who seem intent on killing just for the sake of killing. They don’t really seem to stand for anything, they just attack innocent people to take revenge for grievances. And their methods are nothing that can be prevented without serious upheaval to the functioning of society.

You’ll never be able to stop every guy with a bomb in his backpack at a concert. You’ll never know which of the thousands of cars that pass by every day are driven by the guy who’s intent on mowing people down. You’ll never know who will suddenly pull a hammer or a knife out of his pocket and start attacking random people.

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But neither can you dwell too much on the fact that those crimes can occur. Crime and terrorism have been happening for years and there’s always been an ebb and a flow. Right now we seem to be experiencing a new wave of terrorism in the West, and to those who have experienced the relative bliss of the quarter century of post-Cold War peace, these attacks are quite jarring.

Combating Terrorism

You’ll never be able to stomp out all crime, but you can take common-sense steps to help prevent it. First and foremost is to acknowledge that these terrorist attacks are largely carried out by young, single radical Muslim men. That’s not terribly surprising, as young men overall are more likely to engage in criminal activity. But when it comes to, for instance, immigration and refugee policy, it’s considered politically incorrect to profile immigrants and refugees, to probe their backgrounds to ensure that ISIS fighters aren’t slipping in along with legitimate refugees.

While profiling of that type might be a good first step, it can’t be the only step. Some of these attacks have been carried out by people who are on the government’s radar screen and judged to be serious threats to public order, yet they’re still able to carry out their attacks.

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We ultimately have to realize that we are responsible for our own safety and security. We can’t rely on big government to keep us safe from every danger. We can’t expect the police to stop every crime before it happens. The attacks in Iran, which many Americans believe to be a totalitarian police state, demonstrate that heavy policing and strict government surveillance won’t prevent terrorism.

The sooner we come to the realization that governments can’t fully protect us, that the world can be a dangerous place, and that we are, can be, and should be the first line of defense against threats to our well-being, the better off we will be. Being prepared to react against terrorists and not to let the threat of terrorism affect your daily activities is the best way to defeat terrorism. Terrorists can only inflict terror on people who are willing to be terrorized. Terrorism is a tactic, and if that tactic stops working, if it doesn’t get the reaction the terrorists want, if people refuse to live in fear, then the terrorists lose.