Reflections on the Terror in Paris
When I read the first headline, I told myself not to jump to conclusions. There’d been a shooting in Paris. It could be anything. So I went back to work and waited. I waited as one shooting became two and then three and then more. I waited as the death toll went from the teens to the twenty and didn’t stop rising. I waited as a report of an explosion at a bar turned into a grenade attack at a stadium then became a suicide bombing in Paris! I waited as reports of a possible hostage taking at a concert trickled in, and the tweets filled Twitter that the participants were being gunned down “one by one”. A curfew was declared across the country for the first time since the Nazis ruled France. The borders were closed and a state of emergency was declared. A gunman taken into custody declared “I am Syrian. I am ISIS.” I waited as all of this happened, but in that one moment when I read that first headline my heart fell; I knew, I just knew.
I came home, and I was angry. I was sad. I was numb. And worst of all, I wasn’t even shocked. At best I felt a faintly resigned feeling of resignation. New York. Madrid. London. Brussels. Fort Hood. Copenhagen. Ottawa. Paris (now twice). The list only grows ever longer. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on the entire Middle East. I wanted to ask ISIS “what will it take for you to leave us alone?” and hand them a blank piece of paper.
Well over a hundred are dead, making this the worst terrorist attack since 9/11 (though I thank God that even this still pales in comparison). And that is what this is, an act of terrorism carried out by Islamic terrorists. They shouted “Allah Akbar” as their AK-47s tore apart innocent Parisians in cafes and concert halls. Save your platitudes. I have no time for them. What happened here tonight was not some karmic vengeance for “imperialism” it was cold blooded slaughter. ISIS has declared war on the entire world and last night they proved it.
Save your platitudes, but we should also acknowledge some hard truths. We created this scenario. We toppled Saddam. We overthrew Gaddafi. We tried to give democracy to a region with no understanding or history of it, like handing a box of matches to children, and stood by in horror as they burnt down the house. We broke the chains of tyranny, and let Frenris lose amongst our own people. We did not create ISIS, as some conspiracy theorists claim, but we did create the conditions that allowed it to come to be. A Yale legacy lit the fuse and a Harvard community organizer stood by and did nothing for eight long years as the explosions reverberated throughout the world. “Do you realize what you have done?” a blonde haired Russian asked as not so long ago. After last night we realize it all too well.
Let us acknowledge hard truth, but let us not swallow comforting lies. Already the usual suspects have stepped forward to say “this has nothing to do with Islam” and I am sorry but they are wrong. The Islamic State, as their very name suggests, is very much a part of Islam. You can call it a twisted and evil version of it if that assuages your conscience, but that basic truth is undeniable. ISIS is Islamic just as much as the Westboro Baptist Church is Christian, and yes the latter does not speak for all Christians just as the former does not speak for all Muslims but to deny the connection is to indulge in childish fantasy. We are, as even President Hollande has been forced to acknowledge, at war. It is not a war on “terror” or “terrorism” or anything else so comfortingly bland or unspecific. We are at war with an enemy without a state or a flag, who is shadowy and elusive, and in truth defined by only one thing, a desire to spread an extreme and hateful doctrine of their faith across the entire world at the point of a sword. We are coming for you, they declared, and last night they proved their ability to act on those words.
What has happened is undeniable, the only question is what do we do now? Well, today we comfort the French and help them staunch the wounds that have been inflicted on them, still so vivid and angry. We listen as a grieving nation keens for its dead; as mothers cry for their babies, as husbands bury their wives, and as children ask for the parents that will never come home again. We pray to whatever deity we pray. We hope whatever hope we have left. We feel feelings of loss. We hold together what is left. That is what we do today. Tomorrow we must make a choice.
The choice we made the last time gunmen ran through the streets of Paris filling the air with cries of “Allah Akbar” and the sound of gunshots was clear. We solemnly marched through the streets and held pens aloft in the air. We joined hands in solidarity. Je Suis Charlie, Je Suis Charlie, we tweeted and texted and posted and proclaimed. For a day every single one of us said we were Charlie. Then we woke up the next day and went back to work. The Oscars came and went, along with the next season of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and it turned out that when it counted almost nobody in fact wanted to be Charlie and the blood that fills the streets of Paris is what has come from that. I fear that this time all the bold claims of “Je Suis Paris” will turn out to simply be more of the same.
That is one choice we can make. The other is to acknowledge that the time for “Je Suis Charlie” is over and it is now time for “Je Suis Charles Martel”. We are under attack and however much we may wish that it were not the case, that this blight had been visited on another generation living in another time, we must fight back. Rome is burning, and we can fiddle no longer. For the ancestors who came before us and those who are yet to be born we owe a duty to save whatever is left. ISIS must be fought. They must be challenged. They must be wiped from the face of this earth and their Caliphate brought down to ruin. They must be stopped and the price that must be paid to do so may well be steep, but pay it we must for if we do not there will be many more cities that will ring with cries of grief from theirs mothers and fathers, their old and their young.
I pray we will make the right choice. I fear that we will not.