Right where ISIS wants us

 

Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t.

This is the thing about terrorism. It challenges us to defend ourselves in ways that threaten to sacrifice what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

That we need not only to protect ourselves from terrorism, but make even the serious contemplation of these acts a losing proposition seems like a given. As the recent killings in Paris, let alone homicides on the streets of cities like Indianapolis and Chicago, show, an open society is only as strong as its social contract against violence. Once that is ruptured, the way is clear for a demonic multitude.

In the case of ISIS, the apocalyptic cult that has taken “responsibility” for a murderous string of attacks over the past few weeks, our dilemma is acute. This is because ISIS wants war above all else. Its reason for being is provocation; atrocity is its stock-in-trade. If beheadings and the wanton destruction of ancient heritage sites won’t do the trick, perhaps a massacre inside a concert hall will suffice. ISIS is a toxic stick and the rest of the world an eye.

And so we strike back. Within 48 hours of the Paris attacks, France was bombing Raqqa, a city of over 220,000 people, with a history predating the birth of Christ. Who knows what’s left of that place. Over the course of the past four years, Raqqa’s been blasted by Russian, U.S., Jordanian and a variety of other Arab nations.

This seems to be fine with ISIS. It gives this cult its reason for being, something to rally its arrested adolescent recruits around.

Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t.

Meanwhile, every Republican governor in our country has used the Paris attacks as an opportunity to step in front of the cameras and declare his or her state closed to Syrian refugees. They argue that there is no way to be sure that terrorists won’t use the refugee crisis as a way of infiltrating our society. Under the circumstances, this fear seems not unfounded.

But it infuriates Pres. Obama. Slamming the door in the refugees’ faces, he said, “would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security.”

Our values… Let’s say we develop the security protocols necessary to ensure that the odds of a terrorist slipping through are acceptably low (whatever that means). What will be achieved?

It seems all too likely to make the immigration process painfully, perhaps fatally, protracted for those “desperately seeking safety” while, at the same time, undoubtedly adding yet another layer or two, of three, to our ever more intrusive security state.

What about our values then?

Obama almost certainly sees that whenever we take ISIS’ bait, we are drawn further into their trap, spending more on our armed forces at the expense of vital domestic infrastructure, militarizing our police, losing faith in the promise of social pluralism and openness.

Yet swallowing atrocities now and yet to come is impossible.

We’re damned if we do. Damned if we don’t.

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