I happened to be in France this summer at the time of several vicious terrorist attacks there, all of course perpetrated by Muslims. The poor French public is subjected time and again to these horrendous attacks and is left both bothered and bewildered by it all, as well as being angry with its government for not doing enough to ensure  its safety. The trouble with France, the country of liberty, equality and fraternity, is that it has allowed itself to be lulled into a sense of false security by those very values.

Everyone tries to be very tolerant and enjoy the good things of life (and France has plenty of those) and this has enabled cohorts of angry or possibly disturbed young men to be persuaded by leaders and preachers with evil intent to perpetrate acts
of mass or individual murder on an unprecedented scale.

I have heard well-meaning French intellectuals speak out in favour of the assumption of a position of cultural superiority. It seems somewhat naïve on their part to contend that culture, music and greater acceptance of the other will defeat all the hatred and radicalism that is awash in the immigrant communities that inhabit the high-rise suburbs of the big cities, where poverty, crime and murder are everyday occurrences. Other than that, it is no secret that France is host to a large Muslim population, much of it from what were once French colonies and most of whose members are well-integrated into French culture and language. So there shouldn’t be any sense of disgruntlement there, nor should one expect young men (and it always seems to be young men) to be so full of hatred and venom that they are prepared to plough a heavy truck through a throng of innocent people enjoying a day of national rejoicing, or take a knife to the throat of an elderly priest as he conducts a church service.

One can only shake one’s head in dismay and wonder what is going through the minds of those young men. On the other hand, there are a great many things that governments can do to stymie or preempt those dastardly deeds, and unfortunately the necessary actions do not seem to have been taken by the French authorities. After all, as an editorial in Le Figaro pointed out, the attacks that took place in Paris earlier this year and at the end of 2015 (Charlie Hebdo and Hyperkacher in November 2015, the Bataclan theatre earlier this year), with dozens of casualties, should have triggered a far-reaching heightening of security. In this respect, Israel has much to teach other countries. After suffering for many years from terrorist attacks of every possible variety, the last few years have seen a drastic reduction in such attacks, so that even though some individuals still feel impelled to perpetrate attacks, these are usually restricted to small-scale knifings and the occasional attempt to ram vehicles into bus-stops or run down pedestrians

Obviously, every country and society has to tailor its counter-terrorist activity to meet ts own needs, and one cannot expect everyone to put into place the same kind of extensive surveillance and security checks that Israel does, but the fact of the matter is that these methods work. No-one wants to live in an Orwellian dystopia, and Israel is not quite at that stage, but surveillance is part of the modern world and the methods available in this day and age can contribute to preventing terrorist attacks. After all, when all is said and done, it’s still preferable to have a higher degree of security than to put innocent lives at risk. Surveillance makes it possible to identify and track down potential terrorists, and in my opinion the price of less personal privacy is worth paying. There are indications that things are moving in France.

As we left Toulouse airport a unit of ten heavily-armed soldiers patrolled the area. And a friend in the south told me that the small holiday town where he lives on the Riviera was being inundated by armed soldiers and policemen, with sharp-shooters posted on the roofs of buildings. This was happening just prior to the 15th of August, a national holiday when crowds tend to fill the beaches, promenades and open spaces. In the final event, however, in France as in Israel, Germany and anywhere else, it’s all a question of being lucky enough not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

.(This article appeared in the October issue of the AJR Journal.)