In the aftermath of the Islamic terror attacks on a Paris restaurant, a music venue, outside a soccer stadium and several other locations, one question heard on the incessant TV coverage was – why Paris? Much hot air was expended explaining that the terrorists were seeking soft targets, were retaliating for French involvement in the air campaign against Isis in Syria, and so on. All true, no doubt, but hardly the real point.
Paris was the target because it is Paris, the city of light, a symbol Western Civilization, the epicenter of the Enlightenment, a model for a kind of liberal, cosmopolitan celebration of the art of living. It is a city of beauty, culture and thought, romance and imagination, couture and cuisine. Of course it was a target.
Paris is everything that’s anathema to the ideology of a militant Islam anxious to return to an austere, punishing, theocratic caliphate. It is sexually and intellectually liberated. They favor oppression. It is open-minded. They favor doctrinaire stringency. It embraces the world and modernity. They reject both. It is life. They are a cult of death.
Of course Paris is far from alone. Islamic terrorists have turned their malign, envious rage against a long list of targets that stand for all they reject. They have struck at planes, trains and cruise ships carrying tourists and business people across the world to engage in their prosperous, immoral pleasures. They attacked New York symbols of capitalist might and tried to destroy Washington symbols of democratic power.
But they have also attempted to hurt and intimidate anyone anywhere with the temerity to oppose their miserable, cramped, backward vison of the future in favor of something more capacious and life-affirming. They have killed journalists and cartoonists, bombed churches and synagogues, bloodied happy gatherings on Christmas Eve. They have murdered tourists on beaches in Bali, others visiting ancient wonders in Egypt.
They have declared war on ancient art and artifacts throughout the world. They have killed bystanders at a sporting event in Boston, passengers on trains in Madrid and on the Paris Metro, in luxury hotels from Asia to Europe, killed innocents in Ottawa and Copenhagen, all for the crime of not being militant Muslims.
All of this bloodletting is an hysterical cry of outrage that their vision of the world, of reality, of the future has already been defeated by the onrush of history. Forces they regard as decadent, evil, satanic have won, and these bloody spasms are their wretched response. It is telling that the chosen method of making war on the West by these grim zealots is the suicide vest. Apropos, since their anachronistic faith is a dead end.
We are likely to see a resort to questionable tactics in the days ahead as fear provokes our own spasms of madness. We will overreact and political campaigns will preach extremism. There will be a temptation to let hot blood win rather than eating the dish of vengeance cold. Certainly we must try to prevent such attacks and combat them at their source. Steps must be taken to prevent places like Brussels and Hamburg from being used as staging areas for such atrocities.
But until Islam itself decides to reject the deadly virus of extremism in the name of faith, more spasms will continue to vex us. We will have to live with the death throes of a doomed movement while doing our best to quarantine the infection. But we must not abandon the very things the terrorists loath – freedom, openness, civil rights, liberal values, a belief in progress and enlightenment. We must not create our own death cult in response.
This too will pass. At the turn of the 20th century, anarchists went around blowing up parts of Europe and America, leaving a wake of terror and sorrow behind. But they had no long term effect. The West still produced penicillin and Charlie Chaplin. For 80 years the gray misery of communism threatened, but at length the prison state was defeated because a vision of life that encompassed the sublime and the trivial prevailed – men on the moon, thirty brands of toothpaste and Beach Boys songs.
Today, a moment’s thought will assure us that the satiric cartoon and the sidewalk café, the bikini and a glass of burgundy will continue to prove more seductive to hearts and minds than the burqa and the suicide vest. The stations of the Metro are a roll call of the rich, varied, beautiful, civilized life we all hold dear – Assemblée Nationale, Bibliotheque, Bourse, Champs-Elysees, Sorbonne, Louvre, Pont Neuf, Voltaire. Paris is a poem affirming the good things in life. What would the subway stops of an Isis Metro be? Mosque, Muhammad, Meutre, Mort.