Over the past week the press has — not surprisingly — been full of the attacks on Paris, the aftermath and where we go from here. Plenty of opinions have been offered and I really don’t have anything to add. So, instead, here are a few links to articles that particularly struck me.
Starting with Charlie Hebdo, whose absolutely brilliant cover can be seen to the left of this post. It turns out that they also have an English translation of their current edition’s Riss Editorial (click quickly as the layout of their website suggests that this will be replaced when the next print edition is published).
After the horror of the attacks, another ordeal is to be expected. The harassment of analyses, explanations, theories. And it started on Friday night, live on television. So-called specialists pretended that the attacks were the consequences of the French bombings of Daesh’s oil facilities. The hostages of the Bataclan had yet to be released and the same guilty speeches were already delivered. We had been attacked because we had done something wrong. As was the case with the Mahomet cartoons that supposedly spurred everything that went on afterwards, the victims were made responsible. The French would be guilty of taking a stand, of being committed. Of simply existing. In reality, for these criminals, there is no beginning and no end to the responsibility of France. Human rights, free speech, secularism, for them, these values are enough to legitimate their crimes. We are being given “explanations” that sound like “reasons” and end up becoming “justifications”. It is too early yet, but in a few days, when the emotion calms down, the professional scavengers, who always find excuses for the killers, will start to roam around the dead. It is always the same process after an attack –– horror, emotion, acceptance, justification.
During these tragic days, lots of words were uttered. Except one, “religion”. Religion has become embarrassing. Nobody dares say the word but everybody knows that religion was what motivated the murderers, not pseudo geopolitical issues. Even if there are thousands ways to believe and worship and even though you can obviously be a believer and a democrat, have faith and still respect the diversity of opinions, we also know that religion can be turned into a weapon. The other word that is so hard to pronounce is “Islam”. For the past twenty years, Islam has turned into a battlefield on which radicals vowed to exterminate non-believers and to submit moderates by force. French Muslims must feel ill at ease when they see killings committed in the name of their religion while suspicion is creeping around them. And since they cannot expect any support from the Muslim religious authorities in France, who have always been useless, French Muslims must fend for themselves. Threatened to be sidelined by the rest of French society or to be swept over by fundamentalism.
The only ones who have an interest in seeing the French people clash are the terrorists. It is what they are craving for, to see hatred take over the French the same way it took over their brains. Terrorists always seek to draw the rest of the world into their own violence because it is their language and in this field, they will always be stronger than we are. But to avoid the trap of division does not mean we should renounce the right to criticise religion simply because this right can sometimes be seen as irritating. Among all the fundamental rights essential to our lives, this freedom is also what the killers attempted to destroy on Friday night.
In The Guardian, Agnès Poirier strikes a similar note:
France and its capital city seem to have been a particular focus of their abomination. Other European cities have been hit – Madrid, London and Brussels, for instance. But the viciousness those terrorists reserve for France is notable. For obvious reasons: France and Paris are the cradle of the Enlightenment, the birthplace of secularism and the separation between the State and the Church, a beacon of freedom of thought, scepticism and powerful satire. It is also an active player in fighting Islamists in the world, for example in Mali.
Many people will ask questions about failures in intelligence gathering and sharing, about prevention of such acts and they will be right. However, when the danger is so diffuse, no democracy that values freedom of speech and movement is completely safe.
In Politico, Carrie Budoff Brown makes a point that bears repeating:
There was, in fact, a kind of syllogism of terror at work here: a movement that begins by targeting Jews and writers will end by targeting the West at large. Those who extenuated those earlier attacks by pointing to Israeli policies or cartoonists’ provocations may now realize that terrorism is not a form of critique, but a form of attack. Religious pluralism and free speech are the glories of liberalism, and so they are what the enemies of liberalism attack first.
Sadly, I suspect we will continue to see more cases of the ideologically blinded insisting that everything that happens everywhere can only ever be explained n terms of UK/US/EU foreign policy — as if such a coherent thing actually existed.
But our job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show’s viewership.
The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn’t make us any safer.
So what can we say about how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult tradeoffs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad. And it was always obvious that sometimes a terrorist attack would slip through.
Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe’s handling of refugees, an agonizing issue that has now gotten even more fraught. And there will have to be a post-mortem on why such an elaborate plot wasn’t spotted. But do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn’t — and neither will this atrocity.
Again, the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. And the most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear.
And an article from Cracked which was written after the attack in January in which Islamic militants massacred an office full of comedians.
The final word goes to those comedians. If you don’t speak French (and even if you do), the text on the cover reads “They have the guns. Fuck them, we have the champagne!”