The events surrounding the Paris massacre have sparked an international debate on the right to free speech. While there is widespread consensus over the unspeakable tragedy of these events, reactions over the political implications have varied; free speech champions have lauded Charlie Hebdo for its brave stance, others have criticized its actions as a double-standard, and still others have expressed concern over the broader implications for Muslims living in Europe and the rise of right-wing nationalists such as Marine Le Pen.
Tied to the issues of free speech and multiculturalism is a growing anxiety about the rise of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks that is causing governments to reconsider their security and counterterrorism strategies. Over the past 18 months, a series of small-scale, loosely-connected terrorist attacks have taken place, including the attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi, shooting in Ottawa, the hostage crisis in Sydney, and the attack and hostage crisis in Paris.
Max Abrahms, a terrorism expert and professor at Northeastern University, explains why the robust security measures implemented in the U.S. after 9/11 to prevent a similar large-scale attack may have caused terrorist organizations to shift strategies. “[The U.S.] made it risky for groups to dispatch operatives from conflict zones to the West because they would be intercepted. When governments put in place counterterrorism measures, terrorist leaders devised alternative methods for circumventing them.”
Instead of “direct” terrorists- so dubbed due to their personal connections to organization leaders- who carry out large-scale attacks, “networked” or “inspired” jihadists are becoming more prevalent. These terrorists are inspired by online propaganda or are connected to organizations but are limited to small-scale, albeit frequent, attacks.
US Attorney General Eric Holder was asked about the potential for these smaller-scale attacks in the US on CBS’s Face the Nation. He responded, “It is something that we worry about all the time… It’s something that frankly keeps me up at night. Worrying about the lone wolf or a group of people, a very small group of people, who decide to get arms on their own and do what we saw in France this week.”
The nature of these attacks makes monitoring and counterterrorism efforts more difficult, and there is no silver bullet or easy solution. The reality of evolving terrorism demonstrates that while counterterrorism efforts must progress, we should also focus our efforts on diplomacy and peace-keeping. We should help foster democracy in places like Tunisia. We should support efforts to oust organizations like ISIS and build stability in the Middle East. We should urge a dialogue of tolerance and embrace multiculturalism, rather than responding with hate crimes and nationalist policies. The world is experiencing the largest wave of migration since World War II, and we must recognize that all these events are intertwined. The solution we seek should be finding a way to promote peace in a multicultural world.
Interested in discussing this issue further? Come to next week’s event, “The Paris Massacre: What are the implications for the US?”