The movie series Carlos is a must-see thriller for anyone born in the last half-century. It fits neatly alongside other chronicles of political terror like Munich and The Baader Meinhof Complex – or, obliquely, The Falcon and the Snowman.
As only a movie can, Carlos transports the viewer into the foreign world of the recent past. Audiences born after the fall of the Soviet Union will likely be shocked at just how popular it was during the Cold War to regard terror as a legitimate political tool; a potentially endless sequence of wrongs trying to make a single right.
“We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”
Terror is dirty but quick. Hence, its appeal to those who wish to accelerate the pace of political change. Get’er done. Whatever it takes. The ends justify the means.
Only they don’t. At least not when the ends are human rights, the foremost of which is liberty. The only legitimate and thus effective form of counter-terrorism is the rule of law.
Without a doubt, good people will be tested by bad acts. Law-abiding nations such as the United States will be thrust into illegality and illegitimacy by the lazy, the craven, the ill-prepared. Those diversions from the path of righteousness are heart-breaking and shameful. They cannot be without consequence.
It’s a testament to America’s resilience that our own Department of Defense is responsible both for maintaining and deconstructing Guantanamo Bay. That resilience is based on our popular culture, elements of which we share with every liberal democracy in existence or in the making.
How should America, as a freedom-loving nation, respond to terrorism? The answer begins on Main Street: how prepared are our citizens to choose good over evil? Movies that teach audiences to pose the question “What would a terrorist do?” are thus critical to defending liberty from those who disregard it.
The objective of any terrorist is to provoke a response. We have been misled into believing that the key to preventing terrorism is to be on the lookout for suspicious people or packages. That’s child’s play. The real challenge is being hyper-vigilant about our own behavior.