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Preempting Home-Grown Terrorists

BERLIN – Islamist terrorism has in recent years become central to security policy in Germany and many other Western countries. The terrorists’ intention is to sow mistrust and stoke fears; their aim is to weaken the democratic rule of law and to shatter citizens’ confidence in public institutions. Governments are determined to prevent this, but the reality is that frequent terror alerts tend to increase rather than reduce insecurity among our people.

The debates across Europe on new security laws to fight terrorism have sometimes created the false image that states threaten rather than protect their citizens’ freedom. In fact, the often-assumed conflict between freedom and public security does not exist.

Freedom and public security are not irreconcilable opposites. They complement and even depend on each other. Public security is a pre-requisite for freedom, and protecting freedom is at the core of a democratic state’s responsibility for public security.

A state’s monopoly on the use of force is justified if citizens can rely on it to ensure their security. The prevention of threats, along with law enforcement that involves prosecuting offenders, are crucial responsibilities, but they do not require, as a matter of principle, ever-newer security laws.