On Nov. 13, at least eight terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State attacked several locations in Paris, killing 129 people and injuring 352 others. Seven of the terrorists were killed during the attacks. Ten observations on this incident follow.
1. Who dies matters more to the media than how many die. The day before the Paris attacks, a similar event was perpetrated in Beirut, killing 43 and injuring 239. The media coverage of this event was disproportionately less than that of the Paris attacks, even though Lebanon had also gone ten months without a terrorist attack just as France had.
2. Immigration policy is partly to blame. In a community founded on libertarian principles, immigration would be on an invite-only basis, regardless of who the immigrants are. Someone would have to sponsor an immigrant, have lodging set up for them, have employment set up for them unless the immigrant is wealthy enough to live without working or the immigrant is fleeing an immediate danger, and perhaps have some vicarious liability should the immigrant turn out to be a criminal. Unfortunately, the immigration policies of nation-states do not remotely resemble this standard. They overrule the desires of property owners through their monopoly on initiatory force and exercise exclusive control over who may enter and/or remain within a geographical area. This is bad enough, but to violently monopolize a service and then fail to provide it is even worse. Had France and other European nations refused to allow the terrorists to enter or remain inside their territory or allowed private property owners to impose the same, then the Paris attacks could not have happened.
3. Anti-discrimination laws are partly to blame. Like most Western nations, France violates the private property rights and freedom of association of its citizens by enforcing laws against discrimination. In France, there is an “independent administrative authority” which “has the right to judge all discrimination, direct or indirect, that is prohibited by law or an international agreement to which France is a signatory.” With this sort of interference, the French people are disallowed from asserting their individual preferences and working out their biases in action. This not only deprives them of recourse against an invasion of immigrants that they do not want and that their government forces upon them, but will contribute to the backlash that is sure to follow an event like the Paris attacks.
4. Gun control is partly to blame. France’s gun control laws are not quite as oppressive as those of some other countries, but carrying a firearm in public essentially requires one to be a government agent or a criminal (but I repeat myself). This meant that the only people who had guns in Paris during the attacks were the terrorists and the police, and when seconds mattered, the police were hours away. Gun control did nothing to prevent the Paris attacks, nor will it do anything to stop the next attack. It will only disarm the victims and keep them from defending themselves. The politicians prefer it this way, of course; a well-armed populace has little need for the state to protect them and is much harder for the state to victimize.
5. The attacks were an example of blowback. Syria was a colony of France from 1923 to 1946. France has also been a participant in the War on Terror since it began in 2001. More recently, France has intervened in the Syrian Civil War, providing air support for the Kurds and providing training, funding, and non-lethal military aid to rebels opposed to both Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State. This intervention is known to have motivated at least one of the terrorists in Paris, who shouted, “This is for Syria!” The Islamic State claim of responsibility for the attacks says in part,
Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris. Indeed, this is just the beginning. It is also a warning for any who wish to take heed.
6. The terrorists have blood on their hands, but so does the French government. The French government let the terrorists in and failed to expel them, banned discrimination against them, disarmed the French people so they could not defend themselves, and conducted an interventionist foreign policy that motivated terrorists to retaliate. While the ultimate responsibility for evil acts falls upon those who commit the acts, there is a vicarious responsibility upon the French government for taking actions which made the attacks possible and likely.
7. A backlash is likely to follow. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National party, has seized upon the opportunity presented by the Paris attacks to push for a more nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Islamic policy. Her vice president and close adviser, Florian Philippot, and her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen have also spoken out to link immigration with Islamism and terrorism. An anti-immigrant protest organized by far-right groups in Germany has occurred since the Paris attacks, and a more anti-immigrant government is taking office in Poland. Like most emotional outbursts, the backlash is likely to be against anyone who appears to be similar to Islamic terrorists, which will cause problems for peaceful Muslims.
8. The state will never let a good crisis go to waste. Since the Paris attacks, the French government has ramped up police state measures, such as the first nighttime curfews and border closures since 1944; curtailment of free assembly, freedom from search and seizure, and the right to keep and bear arms; and the ability of government agents to act without judicial oversight. To exert such control over the domestic population is the dream of many who wield state power, but only in a crisis can they get the people to accept it with applause.
9. Nation-states do not learn from the mistakes of other nation-states. French President Francois Hollande has said that “France is at war,” that “France will be merciless,” and that “Terrorism will not destroy France, because France will destroy it.“ This is highly reminiscent of then-President George W. Bush’s statements following the September 11 attacks, and it appears that France may make the same mistakes that America made after 9/11. This should not be a surprise, of course. Nation-states do not learn from the mistakes of other nation-states because they do not have to. When a group of people face no competition in the provision of military defense services and may force a population to pay for said services, there is no incentive to improve quality of service or be economically reasonable about it.
10. Terrorism cannot be solved by more terrorism. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Oxford defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” A government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographical area. In other words, a government uses violence and intimidation to keep its population obedient and manage external threats to its operation. This leads to an important truth that few wish to speak: every government is a terrorist organization. For decades, Western nations have attempted to defeat Islamic terrorism with more terrorism in the form of military interventions, to build Western democracies among populations whose cultures are incompatible with such an apparatus, and to arm one faction against another even though such weapons frequently fall into the hands of the most evil and destructive groups. What Western leaders fail to realize is that in the irrational game of Middle East politics, the only winning moves are to withdraw from the game or to knock over the board. For the sake of avoiding unimaginable destruction and needless genocide, let us demand that they choose the former.