Fighting Terrorism

A Tough but Measured Response

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    It is crucial that Germany act decisively and learn quickly from previous mistakes that were made in the fight against terrorism. But this also means avoiding counterproductive, knee-jerk reactions.

  • Facts


    • Several perpetrators of recent terror attacks in France, Belgium and Germany, had already been monitored by the intelligence services of one country or another prior to the attacks, but the lack of Europe-wide data sharing enabled them to slip through the cracks.
    • Over 5,000 Europeans, including 800 Germans, are thought to have traveled to Syria and Iraq and are suspected of joining the IS terrorist network.
    • Between 25 and 40 percent of these radicalized young men have returned to Europe.
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France and Germany are struggling in different ways to face new kinds of terrorism. Source: Getty

In the November issue of its propaganda magazine “Rumiyah,” Jihadi organization Islamic State (IS) called for attacks on festivals, markets and pedestrian zones.

“A vehicle can be rammed at a high speed into a large gathering of infidels,” is how IS described the plan. Trucks with double axles were said to be particularly suitable because the injured would have little chance of survival.

It is difficult to remain calm in view of the contempt for human life that has been seen by France in Nice and by Germany in Berlin. Germany can learn from France in the fight against terror: Adopt sensible approaches but avoid ineffectual knee-jerk reactions.

Terror cannot be used for party politics the way other problems are. French President François Hollande tried just that after the November 2015 attacks. He proposed amending the constitution to allow the revocation of citizenship. That would have had no impact on fighting terror, as he himself had to admit; the sole intent was to cause tactical confusion among the conservative opposition.

The initiative failed, but not without consequences: The president wasted time and political energy for nothing and weakened the trust of the population in state organs.

The five million Muslims in France and the four-and-a-half million in Germany are allies in the fight against IS.

We have already repeated one of France’s mistakes: Individuals posing a threat aren’t really being taken seriously.

At least three of the assassins in France were known to the security services – just like the terrorist Anis Amri was on the radar screen in Germany. Now in Germany as well, we are hearing the lame justification that it isn’t possible to keep several hundred potential assassins under surveillance around the clock. This paves the way for radical demands: If you can’t keep an eye on dangerous people, then you have to lock them all up! This is what some politicians are calling for in France, too.

But that would restrict the rule of law. Our highly modernized states should come up with a better idea. There are effective ways to keep track of potentially dangerous people, through a combination of requiring them to report regularly to the police, electronic shackles, video surveillance, telecommunications monitoring, automatic image recognition and analysis of movement profiles.

What is the right path between naiveté and counterproductive overreaction? If the perpetrators subscribe to Islam, shouldn’t all Muslims be surveyed more intensely? This discussion has yet to be resolved in France. The assassins are lost souls; some of them are mentally ill, like the murderer in Nice. The men behind them are cold-blooded strategists. They don’t have a military but a political goal: causing turmoil in liberal democracies.

Parties like the National Front in France or the Alternative for Germany that make verbal attacks on Muslims and migrants are useful idiots for IS because they help to drive a wedge into society. In fact, the five million Muslims in France and the four-and-a-half million in Germany are allies in the fight against IS; we cannot separate ourselves from them by even a single millimeter.

But we must also involve Muslim communities much more. They were initially silent in France; but in the meantime, they have become active participants in the political fight against the jihadists. Dialogue between religions has opened up ever since a suspicion against Muslims in general was renounced here.

Open society will ultimately win what could be a long confrontation with the terrorists, because it is the most attractive form of communal life.

French intelligence services had to reorient their personnel. In Germany as well, it must be asked whether all 16 states should conduct their own anti-terror campaigns. Is that the be-all and end-all, or did the case of the NSU – an extremist German right-wing group that orchestrated murders but flew under the radar of police for years – not prove the opposite?

Depriving the jihadists of their fame is a small but sensible step. Many French media no longer show photos of the perpetrators. We have unintentionally made ourselves propagandists for terror by displaying its henchmen in an endless loop. We should no longer do them that favor.

It was already possible to prevent some of the attacks, but even more could have been avoided if the European intelligence services had finally begun to cooperate better. Some jihadists used the influx of refugees to reach Europe. However, this is not the fault of the refugees but of the national agencies that sit on their information.

Open society will ultimately win what could be a long confrontation with the terrorists, because it is the most attractive form of communal life. The constitutional state is not an expendable luxury but the core of what we love and defend in our countries.

Keeping a measured attitude in the fight against terror, however, doesn’t mean conducting it only tepidly. The time for working by the book has passed.


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