Q: What is the obligation of a Western, democratic government to protect individual freedoms in light of a realistic terrorist threat? Are the producers of South Park right to forfeit their freedom of expression in the interests of protecting their employees? Are the governments of Europe right to ban burqas in the interest of fostering a more open society?
Banning burqas doesn’t do anything to foster a more open society. It just inflicts a secularist ideology (which is just as much closed-minded as any other fundamentalism) on unwilling citizens.
The question of balancing freedom and safety is much older than the present type of terrorist threat. It is part of the standard paradox of democracy that it has to tolerate within itself forces and voices that might overthrow it — otherwise it ceases to be democracy and becomes a kind of self-serving tyranny.
It is because of questions like this that Christian theologians from very early times until the eighteenth century developed very serious political theologies — such as you find in the splendid source-book by Oliver and Joan O’Donovan, ‘From Irenaeus to Grotius’. It is part of the Great Lie of the ‘Enlightenment’ that because Christianity (so it said) concerns itself with spiritual rather than worldly reality there can’t really be any such thing as political theology–thus robbing the western world for the last 200 years of rich and subtle sources of wisdom. We are now, at last, starting to realize our mistake. Let’s hope we learn the lessons before it’s too late.