London. First, a van hit pedestrians. Then three men exited the van and stabbed a number of people before being shot by police. According to one eyewitness, the men shouted "this is for Allah" as they stabbed their victims.
Responses varied. Prime Minister Theresa May called for a new response to fighting extremism. London Mayor Sadiq Khan insisted, "We will never let these cowards win, and we will never be cowed by terrorism." One MSNBC anchor questioned whether the London police might be overreacting, and some Fox News pundits suggested that internment camps might be needed. And then there was the "Twitter storm" from President Donald Trump in which he used the London attacks to criticize political correctness, gun control, and London's mayor.
I understand why leaders of Western democracies continue to proclaim that their respective nations are "not at war with Islam." I have heard the last few U.S. presidents make this statement, including both Democrats and Republicans, and it came as no surprise that they would do so. And yet, it now seems that even if our various nations are not at war with Islam, Islam just might be at war with us.
I know, I know. It isn't all of Islam, and it certainly isn't all Muslims. The people we need to focus on are the Islamists and the jihadists, those we collectively refer to as Muslim extremists. We should not make the mistake of labeling all Muslims as terrorists. I get that. Just because I think we need to be sharper and more vocal in our criticism of Islam does not mean that I'm interested in promoting anti-Muslim bigotry.
But here's the thing...many people living in Western democracies do not get this. They feel unsafe, and they are skeptical about the ability of their governments to maintain basic safety and security. Some aren't even sure their governments really want to keep them safe, at least not if it means deviating from the multiculturalism we have embraced. Thus, it should come as no surprise that some are becoming increasingly resentful and suspicious of immigrants, refugees, and anyone they think looks like they might be Muslim. And as we have seen throughout Europe and the U.S., many of these people are becoming increasingly active in the political process.
My fear is that if the acts of terrorism by Muslim extremists continue in the West and are accompanied by the refusal of democratically elected officials to acknowledge the problem, push for serious reforms of Islam, take meaningful steps to prevent radicalization, and re-evaluate whether it makes sense to embrace people whose ideology is often opposed to the Enlightenment values we are so fond of claiming, we will witness the rise of true fascism in the West. I'm not talking about Trump or Le Pen; I'm referring to real fascism. There is already a growing appetitive for it in some areas. It is strengthened by every terrorist attack, but it is also strengthened by the sort of responses we have grown used to seeing after every terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslim extremists. As great a threat as radical Islam poses, I suspect that it is eclipsed by the lengths to which we will go to protect ourselves once we decide that liberal governments have failed us.
Remember how important the right to privacy used to be to us? We threw it away in the interest of convenience and the illusion of security. Look at everything we were willing to toss aside after 9/11 in the form of the Patriot Act. Which of the values we hold dear will be the next to be discarded?