Response needs to celebrate our values

IT is natural to hope that most people we meet on our journey through this ever-changing world are decent and humane and that they do not represent a threat of any kind. 

Response needs to celebrate our values

It is natural, then, to be angry when that hope is as spectacularly dashed as it has been in Paris and, more recently in the Belgian town of Verviers, where two suspected jihadists died when police unearthed a terrorist cell.

Our own history, that inescapable legacy, shows only too well how a tiny minority can divide a society by terrorist attacks.

That history, and all its hardships and wasted opportunities, offers lessons that should be applied today. Even at the height of the murder campaigns in the North, those involved represented a tiny minority in each community and they indulged their violent fantasies without a democratic mandate of any kind.

That is also true of Europe’s and Ireland’s Muslim population today. Many Muslims may express unhappiness with how their religion is depicted — as do many Christians — but only a tiny minority will step across the line and use violence against those who criticise Islam.

We must do all we can to ensure that remains the case.

This reality must ensure that any response to the growing threat of radical Islam in Europe, or at least the perception that the threat is growing, is calm and proportionate, selective and fearlessly uncompromising.

It must separate the wood from the trees, confront evil and all the while defend the rights the zealots would deny us all.

Speaking in Riga, where Latvia began its European Union presidency, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker responded in a balanced and appropriate way, walking the fine line between between outrage and political sensitivity. Condemning the extremists’ behaviour as an “attack against our way of life”, he said Europe needed to “react in consequence”.

“In Europe, it is time now for silence, not yet for action,” he said. “One shouldn’t react immediately to such terrorist outrages with new proposals, new initiatives. You can get it wrong by going too far or not going far enough.”

Events in France and Belgium, and the thinly veiled threats made against Shannon Airport because American military use the facility, underline the need for greater co-ordination between EU states on counter-terrorism and justice measures.

This has long been a contentious area, as it intrudes in the jealously guarded areas of justice and home affairs. Recent events, and the security communities’ warnings that there are a dangerous number of terrorist cells dotted around Europe, must mean a more concentrated and continent-wide response.

The acknowledgement by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald that gardaí were aware that about 30 suspected jihadis had travelled from Ireland to join various factions involved in the Arab Spring feeds into that challenging narrative too.

It seems as if it is only a matter of time before religious fanatics launch another terrorist attack in Europe. That attack will be another assault on our values and our determination to respond in a way that celebrates those values.

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