"Je suis en terrasse!" (I am on the terrace) was the defiant slogan on the banner displayed when the Bonne Bière cafe reopened after the attack on the restaurant during the coordinated terrorist spree in Paris last November. The brasserie was the site of the first shooting which killed five patrons and injured eight others. When I was in Paris a month after the attack I heard that defiant sentiment from many Parisians: They refused to be intimidated by terrorism and continued to drink their coffee, beer, and wine seated outside (under heat lamps) at the city's cafes, bistros, and brasseries.
I spent three weeks in the city. One covering the U.N. climate change conference and two as a tourist. In the wake of the attacks, there was heightened security at most public venues such as museums, opera houses, and major churches. I did pay my respects to those murdered by the terrorists by visiting the memorials left outside Bataclan concert hall where 89 people died. But for the most part, the rhythms of the city did not seem thrown off kilter to me.
Condolences to the people who have lost loved ones in this latest atrocity. However, the notion of a city lockdown in the face of such attacks should be abhorrent to those love liberty. Residents should be free to go about their lives taking what due care they feel they must and, of course, aid the police as they pursue any remaining perpetrators and accomplices. While the evil intentionality of terrorism undeniably makes it more frightening, its effects on the lives of citizens are actually no greater than those stemming from a mass casualty accident. So far, the risk of dying in a terrorist attack in Belgium is less than 1 in 360,000; the risk of dying in a road accident is 1 in 14,000.
Recent research shows that terrorism is a near total failure as a strategy for achieving the demands of those who resort to it. In fact, it backfires and "increases the odds that target countries will dig in their political heels, depriving the non-state challengers of their given preferences."
Unfortunately, while terrorism poses absolutely no existential threat to liberal democracies, it is all too often used as an excuse to strenghten the powers of the national security surveillance state. Our civil liberties are destroyed not by terrorists, but by our own politicians.
So instead of succumbing to fear, which provokes some idiots to call for closing our borders, let us join the Parisians and toast life and liberty on the terrace.
For more background see my article, "How Scared of Terrorism Should You Be?"