By Garry Kasparov
Jan 21st, 2015
The recent terror attacks in Paris at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and at a kosher supermarket, leaving 17 people dead, represented the latest offensive in a struggle that most people, even many of its casualties, are unaware is even taking place.
Globalization has effectively compressed the world in size, increasing the mobility of goods, capital and labor. Simultaneously this has led to globalization across time, as the 21st century collides with cultures and regimes intent on existing as in centuries past. It is less the famous clash of civilizations than an attempt by these “time travelers” to hold on to their waning authority by stopping the advance of the ideas essential to an open society.
Radical Islamists, from the Taliban and al Qaeda to Boko Haram and Islamic State, set the time machine to the Dark Ages and encourage the murder of all who oppose them, often supported by fatwas and funds from terror sponsors like Iran. The religious monarchies in the Middle East are guilty by association,creating favorable conditions for extremism by clamping down on any stirring of freedom.
Vladimir Putin wants Russia to exist in the Great Power era of czars and monarchs, dominating its neighbors by force and undisturbed by elections and rights complaints. The post-Communist autocracies, led by Mr. Putin’s closest dictator allies in Belarus and Kazakhstan, exploit ideology only as a means of hanging on to power at any cost.
In the East, Kim Jong Un ’s North Korea attempts to freeze time in a Stalinist prison-camp bubble. In the West, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and the Castros in Cuba use anachronistic socialist propaganda to resist increasing pressure for human rights.
What unites the time travelers is their rejection of modernity—or what we should instead call modern values, to replace the obsolete and condescending term “Western values.” With violence and with violent rhetoric, the time travelers’ natural target is often the traditional champion of the rights that threaten them: the United States. The guaranteed freedoms represented by the First Amendment frighten the radical mullahs and dictators more than any drone strike or economic sanction.
In addition to bringing these relics into contact and competition with the modern world that threatens their power, globalization provides the time travelers with markets for their natural resources and with the technology they use for murder and repression. Thus they cannot disengage from the modern world entirely. Since the time travelers cannot fight head-to-head with the ideas and prosperity of the Free World, they fall back on their arsenal of ideology, violence and disregard for human life. They combat the lure of free speech and free markets with irrationality: radical religion and nationalism, cults of personality and dogma, hatred and fear.
Many politicians and pundits in the Free World seem to think that refusing to acknowledge you are in a fight means you can avoid losing it. But ignoring the reality of the conflict puts more innocents like the Paris victims—instead of trained soldiers and law enforcement—on the front lines. There are no easy ways to deter homegrown terrorists or nuclear-armed dictators, but this culture of denial must end before true progress can be made.
We know that facing reality works because the Free World was willing to sacrifice to stop the advance of communism and to bring down the Berlin Wall. The 1990s were a honeymoon period with the peace dividend, the economic benefits of globalization and the miracle of the Internet shrinking the world even further. Yet when the 9/11 terror attacks ended the party, they didn’t dispel, for some, the belief that all we had to do was wait for the obvious advantages of liberal democracy and individual rights to spread on their own.
Instead, the mullahs, monarchs and dictators are pushing back against the threat to their time-warped reigns. This is the common thread connecting the Putin attack on Ukraine and the murderous Islam-derived ideology that fuels jihadists like the Paris killers.
The response by the French people to the recent attacks has been magnificent. The rallies and the outpouring of support for free speech and against fear have been inspiring. Yet the French state has a long way to go to match the spirit of its people, as illustrated by the dozens of arrests for hate speech in the days following the attacks. Barring extreme cases, such as incitement to immediate violence or plots of murder or treason, the remedy to offensive speech is always more speech.
Although the modern world’s broader goal must be to bring those stuck in the past into the present, it cannot be achieved by force. Presenting an overwhelmingly appealing alternative, for instance, is the best way to blunt the jihadist appeal to young, susceptible Muslims. None of this means coddling or tolerating violent extremists or those who create them, at home or abroad. An open society that cannot defend its citizens will not be open for long.
Symbols matter in this fight, symbols like Charlie Hebdo still publishing after the attack, and photographs of world leaders marching together for free speech (with the very notable absence of the supposed leader of the Free World). It is not enough to tell the billions of souls still living in the unfree world that these ideals matter; we also must show them. The terrorists and their teachers and the dictators and their enablers are quick to point out every hypocrisy, every double standard. We cannot compromise because, as Victor Hugo wrote in “ Les Travailleurs de la Mer,” “Men grow accustomed to poison by degrees.”
Western society has become dangerously risk-averse and ever more eager to believe in blatantly contradictory messages. We ask for low taxes but expect more government services. We demand protection while insisting on privacy. That we must sacrifice something, even our lives, for the values that make our society worth protecting has been forgotten by many. The idea of individual liberty was the West’s sharpest sword in winning the Cold War, but it has been beaten into a plowshare and now we must arm ourselves once more.
Mr. Kasparov is the chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.