Curtailing Liberty Provokes Terrorism

There is no trade-off between freedom and security



How should liberal democracies respond to terrorist attacks like the horrific series of murders on Friday in Paris? By re-emphasizing their liberal values such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion suggest a couple of recent studies. In a recent article in Conflict Management and Peace Science, State University of New York at Brockport political scientists Nilay Saiya and Anthony Scime using the Government Regulation of Religion Index analyze terrorism incidents in 174 countries found in the Global Terrorism Database between 2001 and 2009. In 2009, the Pew Research Center issued a report that found that 70 percent of the world's population lives in countries that impose high or very high restrictions on the practice of religion.

The two researchers conclude:

The question of the relationship between religious liberty and religious terrorism carries significant policy ramifications: is fighting terrorism best accomplished through religious restrictions or religious freedom? This article has made a simple but important claim: the denial of religious freedom increases the likelihood of violent religious forms of political engagement; paradoxically, the best way to combat religious terrorism is not by restricting religious practices but rather by safeguarding their legitimate manifestations. Regimes that repress religion invite the very belligerency they seek to thwart through such restrictions. These ideas are not necessarily intuitive, but neither are they new. Similar claims were made by prominent intellectuals like John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, James Madison, David Hume and Roger Williams hundreds of years ago.

New York University political scientist Tiberiu Dragu has just published an article on "The Moral Hazard of Terrorism Prevention." His analysis uses game theory to ask if restricting freedom of expression will more likely prevent or provoke terrorist acts. From the abstract:

Since 9/11, democratic governments have responded to terrorist attacks with antiterrorism measures curtailing freedom of expression and other fundamental rights and liberties, all in the name of terrorism prevention. How does a policy of reacting to terrorist attacks with restrictions on free speech protections aect the likelihood of terrorism?…The paper shows that in a world in which democratic governments respond to major terrorist attacks with restrictions on freedom of expression and other rights and liberties, such policies have a moral hazard effect, which can make a terrorist attack more likely. The analysis suggests that a commitment to respecting fundamental rights and liberties in times of duress can be security-beneficial: if liberal societies were to remain faithful to their fundamental values in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, such a strategy possibly decreases the probability of a terrorist attack.

These studies suggest that giving up our freedoms in response to terrorist attacks will more likely make us less, not more, secure. As Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." If these two studies are right there is no such tradeoff: not only won't people deserve either; they will, in fact, get neither.