Terrorist Attacks are Strategic

The Response Should Be, Too

A bullet impact is seen in the window near the Le Carillon restaurant, one of the attack sites in Paris, November 16, 2015. Jacky Naegelen / Reuters

The wave of horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Sinai have defined an important part of the international agenda for the next year. Western societies must face fundamental questions: Is it possible to be open and safe? When does pluralism become separation, separation beget alienation, and alienation turn into violence? And, above all, what is the best way to respond to the current tragedies and lower the chances of future ones?

The attacks have also called into question, notably but not only in the U.S. presidential campaign, the wisdom of Western commitment to the rights of refugees. As Congress considers measures that would effectively end refugee resettlement from the Middle East (including of oppressed minority communities like the Yazidis in Iraq), it is important to address this head on.

For terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam, death and destruction is only a secondary goal. The carnage is an end in itself but it is also a means to a larger end, which is to provoke or further a defining, multi-generational conflict between those committed to violent jihad and their enemies (both Western and Islamic). Every aspect of the response needs to be informed by the challenge of frustrating this larger goal.

A mounted policeman leads a group of migrants near Dobova, Slovenia, October 20, 2015.
A mounted policeman leads a group of migrants near Dobova, Slovenia, October 20, 2015. Srdjan Zivulovic / Reuters
When terrorists bombed the London transportation network in July 2005, killing 52 people and injuring more than seven hundred, I was serving as the United Kingdom’s Minister for Communities and Local Government. I remember well the searching self-criticism triggered by such home grown terrorism. "Keep calm and carry on" was the widespread popular mood, even as policymakers across the political spectrum recognized that we had to do a better job with intelligence, homeland security, and the integration of minorities more fully into the national community, steering a course between the false choices of complete assimilation or separation.

As the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary from 2007-2010, I spent a lot of time thinking about how the fight against international terrorism could be conducted in a way that

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