Attack in Brussels

This week’s bombing in Brussels is one more in a list of horrors that is all too long even in just recent years.  The repeated shocks are enough to dull our senses and our resolve, but after each attack, we have to take a moment to recall what exactly we are fighting for and what we’re fighting against.

These attacks are not limited only to the Western world.  Last week, Boko Haram carried out an attack against a mosque in Nigeria.  I point this out to remind us that these terrorist groups are not concerned solely with fighting the West.  The name, Boko Haram, is translated as “Western education is wrong.”  But the group didn’t attack a missionary school or a European or American clinic.  They sent suicide bombers to blow up a house of Islamic worship.

Each of these attacks has its own peculiarities, but at the core of all of them, we are watching an attack on the Enlightenment values of “tolerance, secularism, autonomy, and universal rights.”  They are all attacks on the right of people to differ from the point of view held by the groups that are willing to throw bombs at disagreement.  On the specific matter of religious belief, Thomas Jefferson expresses this well in his Notes on the State of Virginia:  “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  Legitimate powers of government here can be extended to political acts of all kinds, since if the terrorists had their way, they would be the ruling authority.

What unbelief or differences in belief do is make some people existentially afraid.  If my neighbor holds beliefs that are not mine, but he manages to live a decent life, that calls into question the fundamental truth of my positions.  How can I be right, if doing things not my way doesn’t result in miserable failure?

The answer, of course, is that there are many ways to get through life and do some good along the way.  And this truth tears at the egos of people who not only believe things themselves, but demand that others believe and practice them, too.

This being a magazine about guns and gun rights, let’s consider how those subjects relate to what has happened in Brussels.  On one level, guns aren’t involved in this specific case, since no matter what you or I carry on a daily basis, that won’t do us any good if a terrorist decides to sneak a bomb into a crowded area and set it off.  But contrary to what advocates of gun control constantly assert, we don’t claim guns are the answer to all problems.

However, what we do say is that in cases such as San Bernardino and Paris, armed good people could have saved lives.  But more importantly, the choice to own or not to own guns or the choice to carry or not to carry is an expression of the same body of rights I discussed above.  If you don’t point or fire your guns at me or at some other innocent person, you are not harming me, and we have no business commanding you to make a different choice.  Someone who will issue such a command and who will use government power to enforce that command is on the same continuum as the bombers.

So what do we do?  One practical way to achieve the promotion of rights is to do things that benefit women in countries that currently repress that half of the population.  Western education is certainly dangerous to totalitarians, and we should use that weapon as often as possible.  We also have to show the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere that when we promise to help them, when we entice them to stand up to their tyrants, we will devote our resources to fulfill that promise.  And yes, that can involve military action, so long as such action isn’t the first and only step we take.

Will these things cost us?  Indeed, they will cost us a lot.  But the outcome will be a safer, freer, and more prosperous world, and that’s something worth fighting for.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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