Terror in Europe The Need to Protect Our Freedom

What lessons can be drawn from the attacks in Paris? Simple answers will do little to help at the moment. What is needed is a new, Europe-wide security debate.
Von Florian Harms
People light candles during a vigil in Kathmandu following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.

People light candles during a vigil in Kathmandu following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.


The events in Paris, the shaky mobile phone videos of the shootout in the Bataclan theater, the explosions during the football match between the French and German national teams in Stade de France have shaken the world. Conversations in homes and workplaces, among friends and acquaintances, about the scenes that unfolded Friday night and into Saturday morning have shifted from disbelief to disgust, and from mourning to uncertainty. Was this an attack against all of us and our way of life?

Once again we are experiencing moments like the one that followed Sept. 11 or the attacks on London and Madrid -- moments in which we are forced to remind ourselves our true values: An open, democratic society defined by pluralism, equal rights and freedom of expression, belief in the rule of law, respect for our fellow people and the protection of life.

In such moments, it isn't helpful when harebrains on the Web, in some media and within Germany's own conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, use the terrorist attacks in Paris as an instrument to agitate against the influx of refugees to Germany and to stoke hostilities against them. By doing so they do more to harm free society than to help it. Placing thousands of innocent refugees in the same context as the Paris murderers is disgraceful.


Photo Gallery: Anger and Sadness in Paris

Foto: Christopher Furlong/ Getty Images

On Saturday, one of the more outspoken voices against refugees in the CSU, Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, tweeted that the Paris attacks change "everything. We cannot allow illegal and uncontrolled immigration."

A Time for Nuance and Calm

Particularly in times of chaos and uncertainty, it is more important than ever to view and analyze events in a nuanced manner and to remain calm despite feelings of dismay that are, of course, understandable.

Yes, the terrible images coming out of Paris have shocked us, in no small part because they are pictures that are not typically part of our free society. For us as Europeans, it is self-evident that streets, stadiums, restaurants and concert halls are safe places. This fundamental trust is the foundation of our public life. In Paris, this foundation has been shaken. It is only natural that people begin doubting the efficacy of our security.

And therein lies the long-term danger. If we allow ourselves to limit the scope of our public life, then the terrorists will not only have achieved their short-term goal of murdering and spreading chaos, but also their long-term goal to damaging the foundations of our public life. We cannot allow this to happen.

The Paris attacks underscore the fact that we need a new security debate in Europe. But this debate shouldn't begin and end with the invocation of the NATO mutual defense clause, with the rhetoric of a "world war" or with giant headlines on front pages. The louder the war cries, the bleaker the outlook will be. This is a time for keeping cool. We need to examine things very carefully and ask some tough questions.

A Need to Reflect

How is it possible that Paris could be attacked twice in one year by terrorist groups? What went wrong with the French security apparatus? What lessons can we draw from this -- in France, but also in Germany and other European countries? Have we only been spared of attacks and dozens of deaths in Germany because we haven't dispatched any fighter jets to Syria, or do our intelligence services and police somehow work more effectively? If the latter is true, then how can European countries work together in order to provide better support to improve security? Which instruments are needed to prevent further attacks without damaging public life? And, yes, also: How can we quickly and more intelligently organize the influx and registration of refugees while at the same time making it possible to identify threats among the vast majority that is simply looking for refuge.

It appears that trans-national terrorist structures took shape right in the middle of Europe. If it is proven that the some preparations for the Paris attacks took place in Belgium and that they were orchestrated by strategists with the Islamic State, then it is true that all of us in Europe are threatened by this terror. But it will not be possible to find the correct response in a matter of just a few hours or days. And it also won't be a solution that can be described in a few short sentences.