I want to focus on one response in particular, by Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail. Sarah Vine is the wife of a leading Conservative Party politician, Michael Gove. They both support Brexit and might be thought of as "establishment conservative" types.
Sarah Vine reacted to the terror attack this way:
So what we are defending, against the terrorists, is Western girls' freedom to be whoever they want to be. That is how Sarah Vine sees things.
...this was not just a cowardly attack on innocent civilians by a blackened heart, this was specifically an attack on our girls — all of them.
Our young, beautiful, free, crazy girls — and their right to live life as they choose.
...Young women enjoying themselves, expressing themselves, being free to be whoever they want to be. Indulgent mums accompanying them, willing to endure an evening of pop hell in the interests of family harmony.
All this is anathema to Islamist fanatics, for whom notions such as sexual equality and female emancipation are an offence.
Sarah Vine is giving us a choice here between Islamic terrorists or "liberated" Western women who are free to do whatever they want. To put this another way, she is defining the West in terms of the liberal value of individual autonomy - a freedom of the individual to self-define or self-determine or self-constitute.
The problems with this approach leap out at you. First, if the great thing is to be whoever you want to be, then the value of a stable, given identity, such as being English, falls in significance. Therefore, the path is made clear for an open-bordered, diverse society in which the population no longer has a shared, long-standing common identity and loyalty to each other. And so you end up living amongst people who hate you and your way of life and wish violence upon you. Being whoever you want to be as an atomised individual leaves you vulnerable to attack - in the long run the terrorists win.
The "be whoever" attitude also fails the girls themselves. Sarah Vine describes quite well the behaviour of young teenage girls:
Girls this age are a special kind of crazy — a wonderful, maddening, mystifying mix of emotions.
One minute they’re trying to persuade you that wearing fishnet tights under a pair of ripped jeans is a perfectly acceptable ensemble for a trip to church, the next they’re in floods of tears because they’ve lost their hamster.
They are a mass of contradictions: monosyllabic, moody and manipulative, but also gentle and loving, as capable of throwing their arms around you in a heart-stopping embrace as they are of telling you they hate you.
If you leave these 14-year-olds to be whoever they want to be you are going to end up with dysfunctional adult women. These girls need their parents to raise them within a strong moral framework which will help to form a good character and encourage wise life choices.
What you don't want is 20-something women who are still a mass of contradictions and a special kind of crazy. Women like this tear apart men and tear down a culture of family life. And they don't inspire young men to want to defend them or, for that matter, the larger society. So, again, in the long run the terrorists win.
Saying "be whoever you want to be" implies that there is nothing strong or wise or virtuous or true that people can aspire to be. It implies that there is no natural telos to being a man or a woman. It suggests that there is no higher character type that we can lift ourselves toward as Englishmen or Australians or Canadians.
A liberal "freedom as radical individual autonomy" just doesn't work as the basis for a civilisation. Sarah Vine believes that we are defending it against the terrorists, but the urgent need is to return to the higher values that existed before liberalism became so dominant in the West.