Prudence vs Fear

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. • 2 Timothy 1:7

Terrorism has become a fixture of the Modern World. Terrorists use it as a means to some political or religious end. Governments respond to it with policies of far-reaching consequences.

Terrorism is a form of asymmetrical warfare with roots in a political ideology. It seeks to destabilize a system so it can replace it with its own. Terrorist want to create wide-spread fear among a populace, who then demand their government provide safety. This usually means installing a more authoritarian regime, against which people eventually rebel, allowing the terrorists to insert themselves into the political process from which they’ve been kept out. They first are the problem, then switch colors and make themselves into the solution of the problem.

This is why terrorists have no qualms about attacking the soft targets of civilian non-combatants and their places of interaction. Their goal is to make people believe they are safe nowhere; that the government is not doing its job of keeping them safe.

The recent attacks in Paris are a prime example. Consider where the attacks took place; a concert hall, near a stadium, on the streets of France’s capital and one of Europe’s cultural centers. If these attacks are followed up by similar events in other national centers, people will lose confidence in their government’s ability to keep them safe and will demand tighter controls. All of this plays into the hands of the terrorists.

Combating terrorism requires that governments go after the perpetrators of terror while citizens resist giving in to a fear that would paralyze their society. This doesn’t mean they pretend there is NO danger. Prudence means having a realistic caution in the face of imminent danger. But if people give in to terror and lock themselves away in their homes, they effectively give in to the terrorists’ goal; the disruption of society as the first step in installing their own system in its place.

As I was on the way in to work this morning the news reported a seven-hour long fire-fight between French police and the suspected perpetrators of the Paris attacks. The same report also played a short segment of the French president’s appeal to the people of France to not give in to terror but to go about their lives as usual. This dual response to terrorism is crucial. As the military and law enforcement go after terrorists, the rest of us mustn’t give in to the fear they aim to create.

Christians can lead the way in this, modeling for others a prudent confidence in God. Our lives are in His hands, not some radical with an AK-47 or bomb vest.

Another way prudence ought to guide us rather than fear is in the current debate over the immigration of Syrian refugees that’s become a political hot topic. Some are calling for the end of accepting these refugees for fear members of ISIS are among them. Others don’t want to freeze out these refugees, but to subject them to a comprehensive screening process. Since at least one of the attackers in the Paris attacks appears to have been a recent immigrant from Syria, prudence does suggest a rigorous screening of refugees is called for. But let’s not let fear hide behind a mask of prudence and make the screening so arduous, no one could get through.