Terror attacks have been on the rise in Europe and the Middle East. The last weeks have seen some 500 deaths and more than 1,000 injured. The recent massacre in Paris has received the most attention, but Turkey, Lebanon and a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula were also the targets of this depraved violence, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
The response from the United States and Europe has been typical – an enormous uproar. Thereafter, fear sets in. Security measures are tightened at huge cost in terms of both money and individual privacy. Governments are allowed more room to monitor private communications, transactions and physical movement. This is a deep breach of core European values.
As American and European leaders grow hysterical with fear, the terrorist groups cheer their success. The orgy of press coverage, delving into all details of the attacks, feeds right into their perverted desires.
The numbers of police and clandestine security forces are increased on the streets of countries such as the UK and Germany in order to ‘strengthen surveillance,’ as if the swarm of agents already employed were somehow insufficient.
Meanwhile, refugees from Syria are refused shelter, potentially forcing them into destitution or back to their home countries to serve radical, even pro-terrorist movements. What a shameful picture we are painting of ourselves.
Nevertheless, governments feel entitled to implement such policies because the illusion of security they provide brings them greater public support. But they weaken Europe’s values of freedom and solidarity, spread fear and mistrust, and burden societies with huge financial costs.
For the terrorists, this is a wonderful incentive to commit further atrocities. They have become famous, inspired fear, harmed the economy, undermined social cohesion and convinced governments to bend their own laws.
After 9/11 the US introduced the Patriot Act, which gave authorities tremendous powers to invade citizens’ privacy and limit other liberties. The National Security Agency was expanded at huge cost; plenty of doubt remains as to whether that cost was justified.
European countries, for their part, have gone far in their use of technology to spy on their citizens, curtailing their right to privacy. They must take care not to abandon other freedoms in their post-attack hysteria.
The Paris massacre was a hot topic at the recent G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey. The ‘leaders’ gathered there claimed they would further increase and coordinate intelligence gathering. The question is whether this is really necessary or a purely populist move. Or, perhaps, the opportunity to monitor their own citizens was too tempting for a majority of the governments, and the remainder were simply too timid to resist as their peoples demanded increased security.
The old refrain that countries would do more to restrict the flow of financing to terrorist organisations was also sung at the summit. It is disgraceful that after more than 20 years of ever-increasing restrictions, leaders have not realised that terrorists do not obtain their funding through conventional systems. Further controls will have a zero effect on the financing of terrorism. Instead, it will obstruct legitimate transactions, which are already hampered by excessive regulation. More inefficiency, more rocketing costs. Terrorist financing is very diversified and flexible. ISIS, for example, finds its funding through taxation of locals, blackmail and simple pilfering, as in Mosul. These are channels that the international community cannot smother.
Europe should learn from the US’s experience after 9/11 and not overreact. The Swiss army employs a philosophy that Europe as a whole could find useful: When confronted with a new problem, work to understand it and take the necessary emergency measures. Then, carefully analyse the situation, noting potential consequences to any actions. Finally, take the necessary decisions and implement them. This is the rational approach.
Though in such times it is difficult, Europe should dispassionately review its options to counter the problem of terrorism. Taking such a view, it becomes clear that one of the crucial underlying causes is the profusion of radical movements flowering in Europe’s Middle Eastern and North African neighbours. A coordinated foreign and security policy towards these regions, taking into account regional conditions rather than ‘politically correct’ dogmas, is essential.
In the end, the terrorists typically die, either by suicide or shoot-out. But to frustrate their efforts, we must ensure they die without publicity, and without altering our core values and freedoms.
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