Fighting Terrorism Democratically

Bombings in London and Turkey have brought to the fore the old ideas that authoritarian regimes are better equipped than democracies to combat terrorism, and that such attacks are the price we pay for liberty. For some, that is a price worth paying; for others, the costs seem too high.

But a look at the record shows that democracies possess more effective weapons to fight terror than do authoritarian regimes. Indeed, it is when democracies abandon their ethics and fail to resist the authoritarian temptation that they become weaker. 

Of course, the logic behind calls to restrict our freedoms has a simplistic appeal: extremists use our freedoms to commit their crimes, so preventing the abuse of freedom requires curtailing freedom’s scope. The mistake, however, is to assume that open societies are more permissive and vulnerable to terrorism than those who live under authoritarian regimes. One need only look at today’s Russia, or recall Algeria in the 1990’s.

True, democracy and the rule of law provide no foolproof security guarantee. But such a guarantee is a mirage anyway, whereas respect for basic freedoms and due process when repressing terrorism is a powerful instrument to isolate extremists and diminish their legitimacy in the eyes of those that might identify with their cause. It is because Britain is a democracy that respects the rule of law that it has been able to mobilize vast sectors of its Muslim community.