Editorial: Terror, the new normal? Never.
A truck. A van. A knife. A hammer. Those are some of the low-tech weapons wielded by terrorists in London, Paris and Berlin. While the Islamic State and other networks still aspire to larger, more sophisticated and deadlier attacks, the pace of smaller-scale assaults grows.
Terrorists choose soft Western targets. They seek to murder innocents in public places that ordinarily are safe. The death toll matters to these thugs, but so does the collateral psychic damage from images of mayhem in public places — bloodied young girls at a British concert, body bags outside an Orlando nightclub.
The goal is to make people reconsider that night on the town, the ballgame, the concert, the open-air market.
Today, Londoners mourn the victims of the last attack. Tomorrow, Americans could mourn, or French or Germans. But what follows grief and mourning should not be acceptance — not a doleful shrug that the occasional terror attack is the new normal. Unfortunate, yes, but the death tolls are small, and what can you do?
Answer: Build on successful laws and procedures that already thwart many attacks.
Of scores of attempted attacks on American soil since 9/11 — several in Chicago — authorities prevented more than 90 percent, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley of Chicago reminded us in a recent Tribune Editorial Board visit. One reason is strong surveillance laws that help officials detect plots in early stages.
One of those laws is known as Section 702. It allows U.S. authorities to work with telecom companies to secretly gather phone and electronic communications between foreigners outside the United States. How valuable is it? Very. "...In one instance that is public, intelligence collected under Section 702 helped prevent al-Qaida's Najibullah Zazi from conducting a suicide bombing on the New York City subway," writes Thomas Bossert, homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Trump, in a New York Times op-ed.
The law is up for renewal in Congress this year. Lawmakers, don't rob law enforcement agents of this vital tool.
Terrorists constantly probe for vulnerabilities. Laws and procedures need to evolve to fend off attacks. That's why authorities have considered, for instance, banning laptops on airplanes. If that's necessary to stop an attack, then the inconvenience of air travelers unable to watch movies or do work while airborne is a small sacrifice.
How the West responds to a terror attack matters.
Terrorists have "the impression of living in a weak society that will be easy to destroy, so that their acts are not in the least nihilistic or pointless ... " British physician Anthony Daniels writes under the pen name Theodore Dalrymple in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. "They perceive ours as a candle-and-teddy-bear society (albeit mysteriously endowed with technological prowess): We kill, you light candles."
Some people put themselves at risk to make a statement. We cheer pop singer Ariana Grande for defiantly taking the stage again, just days after the Manchester bombing, for a benefit concert. And we smile at the viral video of the Londoner retreating from the recent London Bridge attack, carefully holding his pint of beer steady, intent on not spilling a drop. He thereby earned his 15 minutes of fame as a national symbol of the World War II British slogan: Keep calm and carry on.
A New York Times headline described London as "reeling" from the latest attack. London, which endured The Blitz of Nazi warplanes, scoffed. "We will never be afraid," one Londoner tweeted. "We keep calm and carry on. Our love of life will always defeat their love of death."
This fight against evil continues until it is won. Not abandoned, lost or accepted as some grotesque new normal.
— The Chicago Tribune, June 9