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Now, however, the terrorists have developed a new approach, one that does not depend so much on their ability to organize, and one that hits democracies in their most vulnerable spot. Now their warfare is even more asymmetric than before. By using the Internet to disseminate teachings and methods, they have found a way to effect violence.
Once again we need a new set of conceptual and policy tools. Because if terrorists can be inspired without being organized, what makes them any different from other crazy, violent people on the left and right, from Neo-Nazis and abortion clinic bombers to Branch Davidian and Sirhan Sirhan and the Weather Underground?
You cannot single out Islamic violent fanaticism from all the rest without raising the specter of prejudicial hatred of Muslims more broadly. Because ideology is opinion, and having a right to your own unpopular opinion is the very core of our civilization. You can’t ban inspiration without turning democracy against itself.
On the other hand, we also know that jihadism is a little different. None of these other crazies is “inspired” by sophisticated, well-funded global enemies bent on attacking Westerners in any way possible — people who have deliberately developed this new “leaderless” method as part of their war. Like the old kind of terrorism, this, too, is a premeditated violent assault on our civilians from outside our borders.
So, what do we do?
First of all, we need to reaffirm the basic distinction between domestic and international that became blurred after 9/11 — the line between our internal, coherent civilization in which, the rule of law obtains, force is legitimately monopolized by government, and people have not just human rights, but also civil rights, and the rest of the world, in which enemies need to be defeated through might and diplomacy rather than policing and courts. This is crucial because the more our enemies go after the foundations of our freedom, the more we have to defend those foundations, showing both our citizens and our foes that that we will never let our government turn on its own people the way so many bad regimes do.
And so: The Tsarnaevs and London attackers are not “foreign combatants” but domestic criminals who should be given a fair trial in a civilian criminal justice system, just like any other alleged mass murderer. They may be monsters, but they are our monsters. And we should continue to be proud of a system that preserves order and rights even when there’s a war going on. Because if there’s anything that living in Israel taught me, it’s that you can’t upend your whole domestic reality because of terrorism, or you’re giving the terrorists the very prize they seek.
At the same time, the people who inspired the Tsarnaevs and the Woolwich killers are not just teachers, but also a foreign enemy, actively trying to kill Westerners, and they should be destroyed. We don’t need domestic-judicial standards of proof in order to nail them. It’s enough to trust our intelligence, our military and our diplomacy. Moreover, these enemies are located in countries with governments that must be held accountable if they allow such people to keep “inspiring.” We don’t owe them anything.
Both of these ideas — reaffirming the inviolability of domestic rights while going ballistic against foreign enemies who inspire murder on our streets — can be true if we make them true. They both have to be true if democracy is to remain democracy while effectively fighting its enemies. Inspired terror should elicit an inspired response.
David Hazony is the editor of The Tower Magazine and is a contributing editor at the Forward.