ATbar Fighting Terrorism: The Democracy Advantage

Fighting Terrorism: The Democracy Advantage

17/01/2018 | by Magen, Amichai (Dr.)  

First published in the Journal of Democracy


Barcelona, Berlin, Boston, Brussels, London, Madrid, Manchester,
New York, Nice, Paris, Stockholm, Sydney—over the past several years
these and other cities of the democratic West have become places widely
identified with terrorist attacks involving suicide belts, rammings by
cars or trucks, improvised bombs, mass shootings, or stabbings. Outside
the West, meanwhile, groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
(ISIS), Boko Haram, and various al-Qaeda affiliates—in the Caucasus,
the Arabian Peninsula, Sinai, and parts of Africa—have seized tracts of
land in fragile states1 as homes for “emirates” and “caliphates” whose
political ambitions are as vast as they are inimical to the liberal international
Offering their acolytes religious purpose, financial gain, sexual
slaves, and the unfettered exercise of sadistic violence, jihadists have
recruited more than forty-thousand foreign fighters from 110 countries.
Of these, about six-thousand have been U.S., Australian, Canadian, or
European Union (EU) nationals traveling to the conflict zones in Iraq
and Syria, both before and since the ISIS caliphate declaration of June
2014. With ISIS suffering battlefield losses at the hands of the global
coalition against it—the onetime ISIS strongholds of Mosul, Iraq, and
Raqqa, Syria, fell in late 2017—security officials across the free world
worry that what had been a steady trickle of battle-hardened returnees
will now grow into a deluge.
Not surprisingly, these trends have sparked public anxiety and sown
fears in many countries that open societies have become the favored
targets for both homegrown and foreign terrorists. These fears are not
groundless. In November 2017, the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) com-

piled by the Institute for Economics and Peace in Sydney, Australia,
found that while terrorism-related deaths had fallen 22 percent globally
in 2016 from their peak in 2014 (the year that ISIS exploded on the
scene), they were up in Europe across 2014–16 to their highest level
in nearly three decades, with 75 percent of the deaths from terrorism in
Europe attributable to ISIS.
Despite this worrisome development, the compilers of the GTI also
find that Europe’s democracies have been foiling a higher proportion
of attacks, thereby forcing ISIS to focus on “lower-level” tactics that
involve fewer resources and less planning. Meanwhile, data from a longer
term—going back nearly two decades rather than just a handful of
years—show that when it comes to terrorism, reasonably high-quality
democracies enjoy a vital, and seemingly growing, “triple democracy
advantage.” That is, such democracies suffer fewer attacks than do other
regime types, with a lower rate of increase, and fewer fatalities.
Terrorism is the deliberate use or threat of violence against civilians
by a nonstate entity (individual or group) in pursuit of a political or
religious goal. Terrorism—or, more precisely, Salafi-Takfiri terrorism
of the type perpetrated by ISIS—is now perceived by people around the
globe as the leading danger to their national security. A Pew study published
in August 2017 found shares of national publics ranging from 62
percent in Ghana to 88 percent in France—and including 74 percent of
U.S. respondents as well as 77 percent of Germans, 74 percent of Indonesians,
and 66 percent of Indians—saying that ISIS is the top security
threat facing their country.
These concerns have large implications. Even among the world’s most
advanced democracies, fear of terrorism—often intertwined with worries
about immigration, particularly from Muslim-majority countries—
is a driver of populist nationalism, support for illiberal alternatives, and
heightened danger that civil liberties and the rule of law will be eroded.6
If liberal democracies in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia are
especially vulnerable to terrorism, moreover, is that not a warning to other
countries pondering liberalization that strengthening rights, freedoms, and
legal guarantees could be too risky? Will not a more closed society—one
that rejects or curtails such liberal-democratic niceties—be better able to
defend itself against the terrorist scourge? At the very least, the relationship
between regime types and contemporary trends in terrorism ought to
be clearly understood in order to promote better risk analysis and counterterrorism
policy both at home and abroad.

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