If they intended to provoke, the jihadis could not have chosen a better target. 9/11 inspired global sympathy, but it was easy for Europeans to compartmentalize a tragedy that was both politically and geographically distant. The 7/7 bombings, too, could be understood as the violent byproduct of flawed immigration and education policy.
But Friday’s coordinated attack against the French people, like the Charlie Hebdo massacre ten months prior, could scarcely have been better conceived to provoke the collective grief – and fury – of Western civilization. More so than any other city, Paris exists as a habitable monument to the values of the Enlightenment. Despite France’s fussy political relationship with even her closest allies, the nation – specifically, her capital – remains an emblem of our most admirable common values.
Those values – their very existence – were squarely in the gunsights of Friday’s barbarians. The City of Lights is, as ISIS explains, “the capital of abominations and perversion.” Admittedly, the “state” did reference French interventions in Libya and Syria, but these grievances are not rooted in concern for suffering, but rather that those interventions have slowed ISIS’s progress towards a pan-Arabic Islamist caliphate.
Like many leftists, I’d love to blame this mayhem on my ideological enemies. It’d be splendid if, for example, disaffected young men commenced such massacres ranting about economic inequality or great-power hubris. I suspect that, were this the case in Paris, leaders of the world’s liberal democracies would collectively exhale in relief. They’d do so because those issues, while complex and tedious, ultimately result from flawed public policy. These problems can be remedied by adjusting those policies. Real problems – those that actually do exist – can be remedied by specific, quantifiable actions.
Yet ISIS has clearly explained to us that their grievance does not pertain to the world of living, feeling human beings. Those who executed the attack, in fact, deliberately divorced themselves from reality, “and advanced towards their enemy hoping to be killed for Allah’s sake, doing so in support of His religion, His Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him), and His allies.” This world, the world which hosts our conscious experience, is rarely the leading concern of those who aim to inflict the most suffering on the most people. With the notable exception of the Oklahoma City bombing, the worst acts of terrorism in our lifetimes have stemmed from allegiance to supernatural authority. In other words: gods.
Orienting Kalashnikovs towards rock & roll fans, young men proclaimed their god’s glory. Innocent women and men slipped out of consciousness on bloodied floors hearing True Believers declare the greatness of the God of Abraham. These faithful – these True Believers – were sadistic and deluded. They deserve our most fierce, ruthless response, and I have no doubt they’ll receive it shortly. However, they are neither vague nor dishonest. In no uncertain terms, these True Believers told us – those of us who value this world and this life – why they kill and what they hope to accomplish.
We should consider listening.