Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

4 Dumb Responses to the Paris Attacks

Panic-driven reactions to terrorism that make no sense upon reflection

The recent attacks in Paris have inspired various half-baked proposals to prevent terrorism in the United States. Here are four of the dumbest.

Collect everyone's phone records. Three days after ISIS gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in Paris, CIA Director John Brennan blamed surveillance restrictions that were imposed in response to information leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. "In the past several years," he said, "because of a number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of hand wringing over the government's role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been some policy and legal and other actions…that make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging."

The main legal change to which Brennan alluded is the USA Freedom Act's requirement that the NSA stop indiscriminately collecting Americans' phone records and instead obtain court orders seeking information about specific suspects. But that change has not taken effect yet and does not apply to people in other countries. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the NSA program ever thwarted a terrorist attack.

Stop accepting refugees from Syria. Although governors do not have the legal authority to prevent legally admitted aliens from entering their states, more than 30 have said they would if they could because they worry that some refugees may be terrorists in disguise. Several presidential candidates, including Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul, have said that danger justifies closing our doors to Syrians fleeing the chaos of their country's civil war.

As the Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh points out, the screening of refugees is rigorous and time-consuming, taking as long as two or three years. Since 2001, he says, the U.S. has admitted about 860,000 refugees, and "only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks"—all of them in other countries. Nowrasteh concludes that "terrorists who are intent on attacking U.S. soil have myriad other options for doing so that are all cheaper, easier, and more likely to succeed than sneaking in through the heavily guarded refugee gate." 

Prevent "suspected terrorists" from buying guns. Since the Paris attacks the New York Daily News has been pillorying the National Rifle Association for opposing a bill that would prohibit gun sales to people on the FBI's so-called Terrorist Watchlist. Under the headline "NRA's Sick Jihad," the paper last week complained that "over 2,000 suspects on terror watch list have legally bought firearms in the U.S. because gun nuts are blocking law that would end the madness."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which estimates that the watch list includes more than 1 million names, calls it a "virtually standardless" dragnet that "ensnares innocent people and encourages racial and religious profiling." Although the list is supposedly limited to people "reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity," something like two-fifths have "no recognized terrorist group affiliation."

Since innocent people who end up on the list have little recourse, it is neither fair nor reasonable to strip them of their constitutional rights. While people convicted of felonies or facing felony indictments are barred from buying guns under current law, not even an arrest is necessary to put someone on the watch list.

Close the mosques. Last week GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would "strongly consider" forcibly closing American mosques in response to the Paris attacks because "some of the absolute hatred is coming from these areas." Even if Trump, who is currently the Republican frontrunner, won the nomination and the presidency, the First Amendment would prevent him from delivering on that threat.

Trump, who also thinks you should lose your Second Amendment rights if you are merely suspected of being "an enemy of state," is pretty consistently authoritarian, which helps explain his appeal among Republican voters yearning for a strong hand to protect them from a scary world. Fear is his friend, and in that respect ISIS is his ally.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • d_remington||

    Courageous islamists will never be broken by your violent rhetoric, frenchmen!

  • d_remington||

    Courageous islamists will never be broken by your violent rhetoric, frenchmen!

  • BigT||

    "Fear is his (Trump's) friend, and in that respect ISIS is his ally"

    Then why isn't he on a no fly list?

  • Not an Economist||

    The no fly list is for public transportation. Trump has his own (rather large) airplane.

  • SIV||

    Cato has a lot of faith in the efficacy of government bureaucrats.

  • DJF||

    They do when it agrees with CATO policy

  • Eric Bana||

    Cato has a lot of faith in the efficacy of government bureaucrats.

    What's your point, then? Not accepting refugees won't keep the terrorists out by the same logic since they can easily infiltrate the country anyway.

  • Harun||

    While I agree with allowing in refugees, it should be noted that the terrorists seem to come from areas with high Muslim percentage population where they can blend in, be radicalized at a mosque, etc. Often they are the children of migrants, which suggests not letting their parents would have prevented them from ever attacking at all.

    Recall that Mao said about the guerrilla being fish in water, then not having a Muslim population to steep in might make it harder for terror attacks. Also, terrorists fund raise in such areas, too. I would also imagine that local Islamists are able to avoid police better, blend in better, and have more local knowledge of where to attack. Who's going to bluff their way past police check points better, a guy born in Brussels or a guy just off the plane from Lahore still wearing a dish dash?

    I still don't think this is enough to prevent Islamic immigration.

  • Jesse Locke||

    They can easily enter the country because Democrats have spent decades hindering our ability to secure our borders. Now that we're ineffective at stopping large numbers of illegals from crossing into the US you tell us there's nothing we can do to stop the terrorists from entering AND therefore it's unreasonable to stop any Syrian from entering. That is suicide. Consider that on a micro level.

    In place of people we'll use insects. No, I'm not equating Syrians with bugs and this sort of thing shouldn't have to be explained but if not those that wish to oppose a viewpoint tend to focus on the analogous comparison instead of the point being made. I'm equating the US's inability to effectively keep terrorists out to a homeowner living in an infested house because he was unable to keep the insects out. The homeowner is having very little luck in keeping the biting ants out but it's relatively simple to keep flies and mosquitoes out, simply keep your doors closed or install screen doors. Your solution sounds like you're saying just don't worry about the flies and the mosquitoes coming into your home because after all, you can't stop the biting ants can you?

  • Jonrichter||

    So, we leave a mosque open and risk that one or two members are taught to hate the US, or close the mosque and guarantee that every single member hates the US. They never learn.

  • Dariush||

    If the mosque is being used to indoctrinate, plan, and fund the implementation of an islamofacist war with the US then yes, you close the fucking mosque down. A mosque is a place of worship and fellowship, not fucking command central for the North American chapter of the great goat fucking caliphate.

  • CatoTheYounger||

    Shutting down that mosque would violate freedom of assembly, and as Harun said piss off a lot more than simply allowing them to be would. Plus, we don't shut down say WBC, so why is this any different? Is it because they aren't gawd fearing Xtians?

  • Dariush||

    What part of my earlier post did you not understand? If a radical imam is preaching war with American infidels, using the mosque as a makeshift factory for bombs training and production and using the same mosque as a center to carry out attacks against the US, then why wouldn't you shut it down? I'm all for Freedom of Speech and Assembly but speaking out against the gov't and actively fighting the gov't are two different things. It seems to me that some people are more interested in aping their libertarian bona fides rather than using experience and reason to deal with these things. Btw, I am a muslim you shithead.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    "But"

  • Dariush||

    "But" what?

    An imam arming an insurrection and a mosque full of barbarians killing innocent citizens is okay in your book because of speech? Let me repeat myself again, if a mosque is being used as cover to kill people, you want it to remain open because of Free Speech and Freedom of Assembly? Muzzled Woodchipper my ass, more like Brain In The Woodchipper.

  • ThomasD||

    " But"

    That is a cheap shot that only sounds good at first blush. Look at the actual sentence where the word appears.

    "I'm all for Freedom of Speech and Assembly but speaking out against the gov't and actively fighting the gov't are two different things."

    That sentence could be restated as "Freedom of Speech and Assembly does not include actively fighting the gov't."

    Actively fighting the government being defined as insurrection.

    Or are you really ok with insurrection by religious zealots?

  • Jesse Locke||

    Good for you. Finally someone with some skin in the game, from the opposing view point, and some integrity to go with it. You are a credit to the Muslim faith. If there were more Muslims like yourself willing to speak, and with a sizable platform to do it, there might not be so much opposition on this issue, warranted or not.

  • Michael Price||

    First of all incitement to, or funding of, violence is already a crime, so if someone was doing that, you could ALREADY arrest them, no need to shut down a mosque. Secondly, you shut it down, SO WHAT? Do you really think that stops people communicating nowdays? It's not the 19th century, shuting down a venue doesn't stop an ideology.

    Plus if the mosques really were hotbeds of jihad then the FBI would already be in there. In fact if a mosque is such a hotbed they're probably the ones who made it so.

  • Michael Price||

    First of all incitement to, or funding of, violence is already a crime, so if someone was doing that, you could ALREADY arrest them, no need to shut down a mosque. Secondly, you shut it down, SO WHAT? Do you really think that stops people communicating nowdays? It's not the 19th century, shuting down a venue doesn't stop an ideology.

    Plus if the mosques really were hotbeds of jihad then the FBI would already be in there. In fact if a mosque is such a hotbed they're probably the ones who made it so.

  • Michael Price||

    First of all incitement to, or funding of, violence is already a crime, so if someone was doing that, you could ALREADY arrest them, no need to shut down a mosque. Secondly, you shut it down, SO WHAT? Do you really think that stops people communicating nowdays? It's not the 19th century, shuting down a venue doesn't stop an ideology.

    Plus if the mosques really were hotbeds of jihad then the FBI would already be in there. In fact if a mosque is such a hotbed they're probably the ones who made it so.

  • Win Bear||

    These aren't "fear driven responses to the Paris attacks", they are simply policies people already favor and that they use the Paris attacks to justify.

  • CatoTheYounger||

    *Jonrichter my bad

  • ||

    The best part work from comfort of your house

    Yeah, yeah, but can one do this work from a refugee camp?

  • subsisting||

    Fuckin' hilarious! I can't stop!

  • Shootist||

    stop accepting refugees?

    Good idea.

  • drmaddogs||

    ' "only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks"—all of them in other countries' It should be pointed out that in 2011-2012, Obama suspended the Iraqi immigration for six months, because the FBI pointed out a dozen Al-Qaeda terrorists sovereignty slipped through screening.
    Known terrorists.
    Constant 24 month screening statements are being made with an intent to misinform. There are no thousands of investigators taking years to investigate.
    Actually exists is a two year period to get to the front of the line... then investigated. Intentionally twisting the 'Talking Point' about a time line is so ridiculous.
    The U.N. did not send thousands of investigators into a war torn country.

    'the FBI's 'Terrorist Watchlist', is not completely under control of the FBI, many departments can get a person onto a, 'the Terrorist Watchlist'. A vast opening for over-reach, there are possibly a hundred thousand people that are not in the FBI that can get you on a, 'the FBI's Terrorist Watchlist', not the least would be ten thousand politicians whom might not like your point of view... look what happened when Obama said in public, that the 'dark money' had to be looked into and the IRS machinations with help from leftist Congressmen.
    Can a 'FBI watchlist' be created without threatening all Americans? Perhaps, but not as the proposals or existing models stand today.

    "closing American mosques" may sound like restriction of religion, but a higher order exists.. Soverenty.

  • CN_Foundation||

    If Trump is the front-runner, I will vote Democratic as will all I can persuade.

  • mswen||

    Personally, I haven't ever seen a Republican that wasn't an Authoritarian, no matter how much they would have you believe otherwise. The only freedoms the GOP give a damn about are the Right to Life (aka- A few fetal cells Superseding the Rights of an Adult Woman), and the Second Amendment, and neither has anything to do with concern for our Rights. The latter has everything to do with money from the NRA and the Firearms Industry, while the former takes advantage of an emotional issue to bring voters into their camp.

    The main two axes on the political spectrum are the one we hear about constantly- Liberal/Conservative, and the one the right-wing pretends to care about, the Authoritarian/Libertarian axis. And you don't win the South by standing up for the Rights of immigrants and Muslims. Our Two-Party System gives us a choice between the Authoritarian Right or the Authoritarian Left. It's going to take third and fourth parties before we see politicians with true Libertarian values.

  • Dunehunter||

    Outside of the sordid business of NSA snooping--currently being grandstanded by Marco Rubio (et al.)--what other examples of authoritarian behavior do you see that define the conservative side? Even with this example, two of the remaining Republican presidential candidates (Cruz and Paul) have found this an abuse of federal power.

  • ThomasD||

    I've never met a progressive who wasn't wholly dishonest with their rhetoric. Like trying to paint government actively spending resources to selectively resettle chosen groups as "immigration" or "open borders."

    When it's really another expansion of the welfare state.

  • Arthur45||

    Jacob Sullen has hit a new low in profound ignorance. So, naturaly, Reason gives this guy space to spout his know-nothingness. He apparently believes that Governors don't have the authority to prevent Muslim refugees from entering their states, but that the President has the authority to admit anyone he wants to into this country, no questions asked, no guarantees that there are not thousands of ISIS members amongst them. As you can see, Jacob is not a logical thinker. He also apparently is unaware that govt officials have sworn that theere is no way to vet these migrants. Jacob Sullen is one of the most dangerous idiots around, I would say. Thanks for allowing this mountain of ignorance to endanger lives, Reason.

  • Dai wie||

    We are under no obligation to admit anyone. Period. We, that is, the civilized part of the world, have been fighting off muslim douchebags for 1,400 years. When are you islamo-fluffers going to get that through your empty skulls?

  • ThomasD||

    It's not even an issue of 'admitting' them. I'm ok with people who come here on their own dime, and can pay their own way. These people can only come here at added expense, and based on what they are doing in Europe, they also appear to expect added assistance even after arrival.

    It also appears that there is a certain religious selectivity already going on.

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015.....in-asylum/

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015.....-sam-boot/

  • dconlaw1||

    Sullum's spin is getting old. He says it it "dumb" to "Stop accepting refugees from Syria. " but that presupposes we ought to ever START accepting refugees from Syria or Rwanda or Mumbai or Khartoum or WhereTheFuckEver.

  • Locris||

    And looking at all the taxes that come out of my check, which could also be argued as a measurement of mortality, as that time spent working is not retrievable, it is now said I should also contribute to another group.
    And have no say in the matter.
    To take or not to take? How about all those in favor of taking in refugees from anywhere, pack up their stuff, pick a country, and go there. Work to make it a better place. Or donate the money themselves if they feel that strongly towards it.
    "They" all can't be supported here. The math doesn't support it.

  • Cloudbuster||

    French government has used police powers granted in the wake of the Paris attacks to put green activists under house arrest before the Climate Summit.

    France puts green activists under house arrest ahead of climate summit

    Is this a record for police state powers being used to silence groups other than the "intended" ones?

    I put "intended" in quotation marks, because I think we all know the powers were always intended to silence whoever the state wants silenced.

  • Alan@.4||

    The 5th and most likely is the following.Enact some additional gun restrictions. The more ridiculous the proposal, the more likely it will be enacted.

    As for "Chuck" Schumer, Gun Controller Extraordinary, perhaps he could answer the following question. Respecting the fact that France in particular, Europe in general is and has long been awash is Gun Control, how did the bad guys obtain real "assault rifles", they being selective fire capable weapons? The question having been posed, I expect the ensuing silence will be deafening.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online