Margaret MacMillan’s Response to the Events in Paris

Source: National Post, November 16

The historian and author of Paris 1919, Margaret MacMillan, delivered this year’s Massey Lectures on the CBC.

Margaret MacMillan…The reasons for which people are prepared to commit terrorist acts against civilians have varied over time but terrorism itself is not new. In the years before the First World War, anarchists in Europe and North America threw bombs, blew up railway tracks and assassinated key political figures from President McKinley of the United States to the Tsar of Russia. Their goal, as much as they had one, was to destroy what they saw as a corrupt and decadent capitalist society. One anarchist who calmly finished his meal in a restaurant in Paris and then shot a fellow diner said simply “I shall not be striking an innocent if I strike the first bourgeois that I meet.”

And like the terrorists of today, those of the past frequently radicalized themselves. The young conspirators who succeeded in killing the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo ordered and read the works of the leading anarchists of the time. Gavrilo Princip, who fired the fatal shots, died without showing the slightest remorse for the catastrophe his act had brought on European civilization.

As we think about the events in Paris and wonder what is to come next, it is not much comfort to think that we have been through such things before. While history cannot offer us clear lessons as to how to respond, it can perhaps help us to avoid making some mistakes. We should remember the importance of good security and policing. Already this year, effective surveillance and co-operation among police forces have uncovered and foiled several terrorist plots in Europe. Governments have to be careful not to act hastily in ways that can be counter-productive. An indiscriminate crackdown on, for example, all mosques and Muslim organizations, runs the risk of alienating a significant community.

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2 responses to “Margaret MacMillan’s Response to the Events in Paris

  1. Surely one reason why `terrorists’ attack in this way is because they don’t have access to warplanes, cruise missiles and satellite controlled drones with which to attack their enemies.
    On that point, who are their enemies? Could it be that the US led west created much of this problem by supporting criminal despots (think Afghanistan) or cutting down one-time strongman allies (think Sadam) and leaving the country (Iraq) as a directionless void ripe for extremist takeover.
    Finally, I have yet to hear many authoritative voices speculate on the role of the country that promotes and exports extreme Islamist philosophies (think Saudi Arabia).