Wednesday’s terrorist attack on the offices of a French satirical publication was another shock taste of the future that confronts liberal and not-so-liberal Europe and other open societies.
By the afternoon there was a flood of robust commentaries agreeing with French President François Hollande, who said such attacks were aimed at destroying liberty. With the freedom of the press clearly at stake, many western journalists and editors declared they would not be cowed by such tyranny.
Although many of the stories and cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were ridiculous and highly offensive, it is impossible to argue against such sentiments. But righteous proclamations journalists will not be intimidated by terrorists must be taken with many grains of salt.
The harsh fact is the barbarism of al-Qaida and its even more virulent stepchild, the Islamic State of Iraq & Al-Sham, has already terrified western media to the point almost no journalists have tried to bear witness to the outrages being perpetrated by ISIS and like-minded groups in Syria and Iraq. Nor are their equally sane editors pushing them to go there.
As understandable as such decisions are, the upshot is there is virtually no independent information about ISIS atrocities as the jihadists seek to establish a medieval caliphate. What is available is their vile propaganda videos and the experiences of those who have fled areas they occupy.
This has not their only victory. Some western embassies have closed because of the high likelihood they would be attacked. Others remain nominally open, but only by becoming armed fortresses. They are of symbolic importance, but can achieve little because the diplomats are too scared to go out to collect reliable information about what is happening or to speak with the authorities.
Radical Islam is winning in another way. From Sweden to Spain, Italy and Britain, terrorist strikes are purpose-built to provoke a public backlash that adds additional fuel to what is the first seminal confrontation of the new millennium.
One grim paradox is that tough laws restricting freedom are introduced to protect it. One reason is to confront the threat. Another is that countries such as France, Austria, and Belgium have elected illiberal politicians who vow to further restrict freedoms in the name of freedom if they gain power.
This war within the war has been taking place for some time now in some of Europe’s most open and permissive societies. Extreme religious intolerance was equally evident in a blitz of recent attacks by Islamic terrorists on synagogues in France and Christian terrorists on mosques in Sweden.
Over the past decade, the Swedish city of Malmo has taken in many refugees from Iraq and Syria who do not feel welcome. Paris and Birmingham are now so riven by Islamic radicalism, parts have almost become no-go zones for the authorities. Disputes over Islamic clothing, Shariah courts and what should be taught in schools are commonplace.
An underlying cause is that much of Europe is in a ruinous state economically, with Muslim youths finding it harder to get jobs than anyone else. Germany, with its uniquely evil history, prospered after Hitler and the Nazis were defeated, and became an international beacon of freedom. But much of that thinking has eroded since the turn of the century.
A battle for German hearts and minds is now under way, with rallies being held by progressives and hardliners arguing for and against immigration that has mostly been coming from Islamic countries.
Despite its own brush with terrorism, when demented men with Islamic connections murdered unarmed soldiers near Montreal and in Ottawa, Canadian society has not yet ruptured the way European society has. One of the reasons is undoubtedly because the Canadian economy has performed far better than those in Europe, with Norway and Germany perhaps being the exceptions.
Without question another factor is that Canada is a nation of immigrants. Having digested generations of immigrants, newcomers are generally not regarded with as much suspicion as they are in the Old World.
Until now Canada has probably managed to strike a slightly better balance than its European allies, but there is nothing to be smug about. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of young Canadian Muslims have been seduced by the idea of global jihad. Some others who still live among us undoubtedly agree.
Although far more intimidated than we wish to admit, we must try to understand as best as we can this evil and figure out ways to confront it without making things worse. Above all else, we must remain tolerant of all ideas except those that involve the kind of violence that poisoned France Wednesday and could poison Canada again at any moment.
Preserving liberty is a tricky business. In the face of such bloody provocations, there are no easy or obvious solutions.