Many Israelis are hurting with the French people over the terrorist attacks in Paris, and are sorrowful that French citizens, some of them Jewish, lost their lives. The horrors of terrorism strike in different places and in different ways, but in most cases these attacks have one thing in common: radical Islam.
Europe is struggling to deal with this threat in terms of awareness as well as organization. Europe is likely to find it difficult to counter such threats because of its innate reluctance to sober up to reality and accurately define the problem, Islamist terrorism. These terrorist elements fight against their countries, whose cultures they spurn; against their brethren, who do not share these radicals’ contempt for Western democracies; and against the Jews, regardless of the State of Israel.
Europe’s reluctance to call a spade a spade makes it impossible for it to properly define its objectives, and therefore it makes it impossible for it to focus on the real enemy. No one dares say, for example, that at airports it is acceptable to be more suspicious of a Muslim man than of a Swiss girl. Why? Because Europe opposes profiling entire ethnic groups based on the actions of a few individuals. This may be a moral guideline, but it undermines intelligence gathering efforts, and while it is tough on random, unlucky passengers, it is lenient on those who potentially have terrorist ties.
Exercising effective counterterrorism measures is very complex, because it demands fundamental legislative changes, as well as changes in the way civil rights are perceived. Most terrorists are citizens of the country that suffers their attacks, so as far as the democratic rule of law is concerned, they must be afforded the same rights and privileges as all other citizens.
Those who understand the true meaning of terrorism have made civil rights concessions to fight this threat. It is clear that special intelligence gathering efforts must be made, for example, among those whose religious beliefs make them prone to join terrorist groups. Such efforts should include wiretaps and surveillance, mostly on innocent civilians, simply because they could potentially have ties to a terrorist organization.
However, in most Western countries, and especially in Europe, such surveillance, such an invasion of privacy for the sake of intelligence gathering, is considered blasphemy. The criticism leveled at the United States’ comprehensive, international wiretapping apparatus is tainted with hypocrisy, since this apparatus has thwarted its fair share of terrorist attacks.
Invasive intelligence gathering efforts among Muslim communities, whose members are, for the most part, law-abiding citizens, is necessary albeit virtually impossible in today’s Europe. It would entail surveilling millions of people, only a handful of whom would ever be involved in terrorism. Still, without such invasive measures, the intelligence community is doomed to be taken by surprise time and time again.
Moreover, even if intelligence indicates that a certain individual has ties to a terrorist organization, as long as he has not broken the law he cannot be detained. “Preventive arrests” are rarely used in the West, and the measure is exercised only to when there is accurate intelligence suggesting an imminent attack. In most cases, intelligence suggesting a terrorist plot is in play does not meet these criteria, so no one is ever detained.
Even when a suspect be arrested, if the case against him is based solely on intelligence sources, it is clear that he cannot be indicted and must be released. The administrative detention system employed in Israel, which allows authorities to detain suspects without necessarily having enough evidence to bring them to trial, does not exist in Europe — its laws are meant to fight crime, not terrorism.
When you are reluctant to see reality for what it is over the need for political correctness, when you are unable to profile interest groups and set intelligence priorities based on those profiles, you will be unable to receive future terror alerts. The terrorism being waged by Islamist groups the world over, from Nigeria to France, from Iraq to Bulgaria, and from Bangkok to New York, requires a tougher hand than the one taken against regular crime.