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Muzzled in the Name of Freedom

NEW YORK – Acts of terror can inflict terrible damage. But they cannot destroy an open society. Only those who govern our democracies can do that, by shrinking our freedoms in freedom's name.

Shinzo Abe, Japan's right-wing nationalist prime minister, does not need much encouragement to tighten up secrecy laws, give more powers to the police, or make it easier to use military force. The grisly executions of two Japanese citizens caught by Islamic State terrorists in Syria have provided precisely the encouragement that Abe needs to pursue such measures.

But Japan has never been seen as a bastion of free speech, nor did it ever make great claims to be. France does. That is what the demonstration of solidarity in the face of last month's terrorist attacks in Paris was surely all about. France, of all countries, would avoid the trap that snared the other great Western republic claiming to be a beacon of freedom in the world.

Fear of terrorist violence after the 9/11 attacks did more damage to freedom in the United States than the suicidal murder of thousands of its citizens. Because of that fear, Americans allow themselves to be spied on indiscriminately by their own government, and permit terrorism suspects to be tortured and locked up indefinitely without trial.