"Civil liberties versus privacy” debate doesn’t exist in France — and it's hardly considered any less democratic because of it.
Though no security is perfect, moments like massacre at Charlie Hebdo remind us that winning war on terrorism inside democratic nations depends on first-rate espionage and intelligence gathering capabilities
By: Rachel Marsden

French President Francois Hollande has wasted no time in qualifying the murder of 12 people, including cartoonists who had spoofed Islam, at the Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as a “terrorist attack.”

Granted, it’s not your average criminal who yells “the prophet has been avenged” and “Allahu akbar” while committing the act. Hollande added that authorities have quietly foiled “several terror attacks” recently.

This attack cannot be explained away as a reaction to provocative cartoons the magazine may have published — aimed, mind you, at every religion under the sun. That’s a pathetic excuse. If you live in a democratic society, then you’re not exempt from having fun poked at your sacred cows — whatever they may be.

In fact, if you find yourself offended by something, it’s in that moment that you’re witnessing freedom of expression at work. You’re free to respond in kind — to use your words and creativity to counter it.

The moment you stop using your words and reach for a weapon instead is the exact moment in which you have not only lost the debate but have checked yourself out of democracy entirely. At that same moment, the person who takes up arms against words in a democracy is attempting to unilaterally hijack it.

So let’s not pretend that this act has any social justification whatsoever. If you want to be a soldier for your cause, then you go fight the enemy on the battlefield and deal with the consequences. At the moment, there are plenty from which to choose.

France has been quietly leading the charge against radical Islamists in North Africa. Operation Serval to eject radical Islamists from power in Mali was such a success that many probably haven’t even heard of it — or of its successor, Operation Barkhane, underway to eradicate extremists in five more African countries. Local African soldiers are fighting alongside the French in these efforts, equally intent on wiping out terrorism.

French Rafale fighter jets based out of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have been launching surgical strikes on Islamic State terrorist strongholds in Iraq since last year. So, terrorist murderers, go there and defend your cause — and don’t come back. Terror tourism is becoming a real problem for France — particularly when the revolving doors in and out of terrorist swamps combine with the revolving doors in and out of French prisons where many petty criminals end up “finding” radical Islam.

Many believe radical Islam is a corrosive danger in French society, and Wednesday’s attacks give credence to that view.

A couple of years ago, for example, Mohammed Mehra committed drive-by terrorist shootings of soldiers and civilians in Toulouse, France. At the time he was tracked down and liquidated by French police, he was just 23, but had spent his life in and out of French prisons when not traveling to terror-ridden countries trying to connect with the like-minded.

And as with Mehra, the perpetrators of the latest attack will be brought to justice one way or another.

France boasts one of the top intelligence services in the world. When talking of the world’s hardest targets for espionage, the country is usually mentioned in the same breath as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

The kind of “civil liberties versus privacy” debate doesn’t exist in France like it does in some other democracies — and France is hardly considered any less democratic because of it.

Although no security is perfect, it’s precisely in moments like this that we’re reminded that winning the war on terrorism inside democratic nations boils down to the deployment and practice of superior nation-state intelligence and espionage capabilities — from human asset intelligence to data collection. Weakening those capacities, particularly in the interest of the mere potential of civil liberties abuses that haven’t even manifested, is the shortest road to defeat.

(Rachel Marsden is a Paris-based international political risk strategist and syndicated columnist.)

Copyright 2015 New York Daily News