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Civil Society Against Terrorism

Relentless populist fear-mongering, fed by genuinely terrifying attacks, is making Europeans irrational. Instead of demanding a return to a time before terrorism, Europeans must become more alert to the risks they face – not just to their safety, but also to their values – and work to minimize them.

PARIS – After the terror attacks in Paris last November – a carefully coordinated series of assaults carried out by multiple attackers, resulting in 130 deaths – there was intense pain and fear, but also a spirit of unity and resilience. By contrast, since the Bastille Day massacre in Nice – where an attacker, having received help from five men better described as criminals than as radical Islamists, barreled a truck into a crowd, killing 84 people, many of them children – the dominant feelings seem to be impotence and anger.

The French are now frustrated and anxious. They are used to some semblance of security in their cities, which have long been bastions of knowledge and art, not sites of relentless terror. They want to feel safe again – whatever it takes. These feelings are entirely understandable, but they don’t necessarily contribute to effective decision-making.

The “whatever it takes” is the problem. If people feel that their leaders are failing to protect them, they may turn to more radical alternatives; already, populist and even overtly racist political parties are gaining traction in France and elsewhere. Urged on by such forces, people may even decide to take the law into their own hands.

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