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Individual Liberty: The Greatest Remedy for Terrorism

USA Today reports that lines at airports are getting longer and people aren’t signing up for the registered traveler program, TSA PreCheck, in sufficient numbers. Given what happened in Brussels last week, we can expect those lines to get longer and more people to suffer government intrusion into their lives when they want to travel peacefully. This is precisely what should not happen.

Shortly after the attacks, Sascha Tamm of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation wrote an article (in German) on the universal risks of terrorism and the important implications they have for individual liberty. Tamm believes that the most likely reaction to these attacks will be greater restrictions to individual freedom, increased monitoring and a gross expansion of state power. But as Tamm notes, history demonstrates that such a clamping down on individual liberties never leads to greater security, but simply creates the illusion of such safety.

Overreaction is a hallmark of political reaction to such atrocities. The screaming demands of politicians for greater security measures and increased surveillance result in a loss of civil liberties. It may actually be the case that the most effective counterterrorism measure is to not overreact. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t react at all, but that we should seek solutions for public safety that deal with the problem as we deal with other public safety problems. Belgian authorities should devote their energies into breaking up these terror cells and bringing these terrorists to justice, but this should be done in a discrete and not an alarmist fashion.

But more than this, as Brendan O’Neill of Spiked Online noted in his article on the attacks, our response should be to “carry on as normal” with a “keener determination to partake in and celebrate the openness and the freedoms . . . that these terrorists so clearly hate.” The goal of the terrorist is to see us quiver, to change the way we go about our lives. So, the best response to those who loath our free and joyous modern lives should be to refuse to feel that fear and to live our lives more freely than ever before, demonstrating defiance to the terrorists.  

The solution to the public safety threat of radical Islamic terrorism is not found in greater restrictions on personal freedom, but rather in an open marketplace of ideas where all individuals are free to express and debate their personal faiths and religious practices. What is most fundamental in this debate over terrorism, security, and liberty is that we must seek to preserve individual liberty as a central tenet of living in a free society, while being extremely wary of the deceptive notion of favoring security as a means to safety.

The Roman statesman Cicero said that the safety of the people should be the supreme law of the land. Perhaps in response to that Latin maxim, Thomas Jefferson remarked, “Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.” Roughly translated, that means, “I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude.” If we live in tumultuous times, best that they continue to be free.