Friday the 13th dawned as any other day in the City of Lights. Members of this cosmopolitan city awakened as usual to eat breakfast and dispatch children to school. Citizens and resident guests boarded the underground and bus system and headed to work. Restaurants and entertainment venues prepared for the beginning of end-of-week entertainment cycles. In obscure quarters focused and committed men prepared for their entertainment of choice: the human hunt. Before dawn would break across the city again one-hundred and twenty-nine humans would be dead and another 350 injured. A significant number would suffer catastrophic injuries.
We learn “the majority of those involved in this attack were unknown to our security services” (French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve). A potential 19 individuals participated in the attacks and a handful of others provided logistical support. The killing of the innocent was methodical. As the hunt came to a close, six men detonated suicide belts and one was killed by police gunfire.
The UK convenes an emergency COBRA meeting. The Greek Defense Minister proclaims this is “September 11 for Europe” and it is a “game-changer for the bloc”. Call it a bloc. At this point I prefer to call Europe an easily disassembled LEGO Empire.
Terrorism is not just about bloodshed. It is about the destabilization of peaceful population groups. Democracy is governance by the willing. Apparently, there are more than a few who remain unwilling to embrace democracy as a healthy form of governance; a social compact accepted by our majority.
Don’t kid yourself. You are no longer safe. And the emergency meetings being hastily scrambled across the world are not only about keeping you safe. There is a more pressing concern. How do the instruments of power maintain sovereign order and stability when social dislocation is imminent?
How can France convince their own citizens not to take up their matches and gas cans and head to the nearest mosque? And what are Germans thinking tonight (Nov. 17th) after a stadium is evacuated due to a bomb threat? What emotion is felt by the average Russian Orthodox when contemplating the successful deployment of a bomb on a commercial flight?
This is the elephant in the room. This is that which we refuse to discuss. How does Islam “fit” in the West? Or is it a poor fit and should we institute a moratorium on Muslim migratory patterns into stable democratic space? We have worked hard for our peace. Don’t bring our roof down on our heads.
For societies to exist there is the need for social cohesion. For social cohesion to take place there must be a level of trust. Trust is earned, not bequeathed. But how is trust maintained if it is discovered that the man who purchased Le Monde from a Frenchman’s newspaper stand for the last five years is the same man who enters a theater in Paris and commits acts of carnage? How is trust maintained when you discover that the man who shared your dorm space is the same man who purchased a couple of pressure cookers and blew up Boston’s marathon runners? Again and again, the scenario continues to play out in scenes from Madrid to Boston and Sousse to Paris. The profile is the same and were it not so utterly terrifying the West could give a collective yawn. The men are Muslim. It is the common denominator. So we are reduced to the emotional anchor for social cohesion. Can Muslims be trusted to live in the West?
In comparing what happened in Paris to what transpired on September 11, 2001 in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania there is one salient feature worthy of attention. On 9/11, the terror came from the skies. But the terror which hit the French occurred on terra firma. The threat feels closer now – perhaps a handbreadth away. The threat is on our front porch.
Terrorism cannibalizes society. It destroys social cohesion. One hundred and twenty-nine lost their lives in Paris. But we are talking exponential equations now on the issue of trust. Erosion of trust is always replaced by another emotion. For some in France, trust will be replaced by a sense of wariness. Is the woman in a hijab harnessed with a suicide vest? Is the Muslim man boarding the bus armed with a knife?
For others, trust will be replaced by open hatred of Muslims. There is not a win-win situation available for the French government nor is there an easy fix. Governments can make laws which minimize crime. There are no laws to govern human emotion and trauma. But from the trauma of a multiple-target night attack there will certainly be a new policy dawn. And the road ahead will be a rough one.
ISIS is not an army with an ideology. It is an ideology (jihad) with an army. And that army has now infiltrated across state borders and harbors within urban landscapes. The stable powers can take the visibly configured army down to the stubs. Precision laser-guided weapons can perform this task on efficient battlefield scale. But the intellectual battle space remains. The IB requires the implementation of policies which promote social cohesion. How can I be a part of promotion of social cohesion? And what is your part? This is not the moment in time to hoist your flag to the rebel’s mast. This is the time to engage a life which is well-lived. Compassion, humility, and kindness is the creed by which we must choose to live.
Terrorism is not just about bloodshed. The intent is to change national order. The intent is to destroy what has been built, carried along on the shoulders of multiple generations. Our Western civilization is under attack. We must survive. It is the only way that you will also survive. This is about political symbiosis. Because when democracy goes dark – Islam will not become dominant. It will not rise from the ashes of our decline.