Civil Liberties

Bastille Day terror: you can't counter Jihad with a Twitter Crusade


Here we go again. You clearly don’t need a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle or a suicide belt packed with explosives, ball bearings, nails, screws and bolts to massacre 80-odd people. A lorry will do. They’re easier to come by than Boeing 757s. And a partying crowd along a promenade in the heat of summer festivities is an easier target than a skyscraper. Video footage of the attack in Nice is just appalling: broken bodies strewn everywhere; blood pouring out of twisted limbs. Men, women, children – all mowed down and murdered indiscriminately by one man driving a lorry along a mile-stretch of the Promenade des Anglais. Yes, it could have been Brighton.

French President François Hollande said the country was “under the threat of Islamic terrorism”. You don’t say. European Council President Donald Tusk said it was “a sad day for France, for Europe”. Yes, thanks. Sad indeed. China’s Premier Li Keqiang commented: “We strongly condemn terrorism of all forms. We express our condolences to the victims and we will fight all kinds of terrorism.” Which is very reassuring, from a country which views Christians as enemies of the state. Our new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and saddened by the appalling events in Nice, and the terrible loss of life.” Justin Trudeau told us, too, that “Canadians are shocked”. The United Nations Security Council called the attack “barbaric and cowardly”, which it was. And US President Barack Obama said America’s “thoughts and prayers are with the families and other loved-ones of those killed”, which is comforting.

And thousands upon thousands took to Twitter: the hashtags started right away: #JeSuisNice #PrayForFrance etc, etc. Then came the images: a picture of the Eiffel Tower in red, white and blue is a surefire deterrent against jihadists; almost as effective as banning burqas. “It’s all very well offering platitudes & prayers about terror attacks but what are we going to DO about the murderous lunatics in our midst?” asked Julia Hartley-Brewer. It’s a good question. We can light a few candles and tell everyone it has nothing to do with Islam, and just hope against hope that it won’t be us next time. Political platitudes offer nothing: prayers can be effectual, but the Twitter hordes are too swift to blame prayer (ie religion) for causing the problem. So what do we do?

Potential social-media solutions are flooding in: racial profiling; more stop-and-search; internment; ban political correctness; abolish liberalism; ban Islam; deport all Muslims; lock up all suspected Islamists; ban Sharia; stop bombing the Middle East; bomb ISIS; declare war again the “murderous lunatics”…

Aren’t people stupid?

A man living legally in Nice, unknown to the security services, not on any terror list, not under any surveillance, legally hires a lorry and ploughs into a crowd of people on Bastille Day. How, exactly, can you prevent that?

Whatever the terrorist claims to have inspired him to carry out this atrocity, we hand victory to the jihadists if our response is to stigmatise an entire group of people – ethnic or religious – for the actions of a few. Hate is a universal feeling. A single man intent on driving a lorry into a crowd of innocent revellers is unstoppable, unless we are to ban the hiring of lorries and prohibit all revelries, or impose such conditions on our civil liberties as to render them no manner of liberties at all. You don’t help the cause of liberté, égalité and fraternité by clamping down on freedom, making some more equal than others, or rupturing the brotherhood of man.

The only way to counter jihad is with a crusade of political liberalism and very tough love. Islamists can hate all they want. They can try to engineer whatever apocalypses they dream of; whatever death and destruction they are intent upon. The solution is not to plant more trees of authoritarianism, but to till the soil of of our spiritual democracy. We haven’t spent centuries struggling against the omnipotence of the state only to see that glorious order of liberty destroyed by the nihilistic actions and proclamations of evil restrainers. Christian civilisation must reassert its values – purity, truth, trust, moderation, loyalty, constancy, patience, discipline, humility, modesty, contentment… It must demonstrate to moral relativists, scientific positivists, humanist non-believers and politico-religious idolaters that there is a better way.

Democracy is not a system of government, but a continuing moral quest. This is our ethos and godly vision. The building of a strong civil society takes considerable effort, and entails contending constantly against the forces of religio-political tyranny. If we don’t keep the flame of freedom alight, we will extinguish the spirit of democracy, and so all the people will perish. So cut the pious platitudes, ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’ (Eph 6:12). And you can’t defeat demons with Twitter.