Barbarians at the Gate. On Saturday morning (13 Nov 2015), we learned of the horrifying news out of Paris. Along with other barbaric acts of terrorism, including the twin bombings in Beirut, the alleged downing of a Russian plane in Egypt and a foiled potential terrorist plot in Istanbul, these murders seem to be ushering in a new era of ISIS/Daesh. These people are indeed barbarians who want to return to the 7th century. Reading these backgrounders (a long but really educational one here – with a follow-up here – and a shorter, easier to digest one here) has really helped me understand a bit more about their mindset. The bottom line is that ISIS/Daesh needs a physical territory to exist (as opposed to Al-Qaeda), and they follow the Koran very literally and want to hasten Judgment Day. They are doing this by calling all “true Muslims” to the caliphate (their physical homeland) and by killing all Muslims who do not live according to Sharia law and Christians who do not submit to their “new government” and pay taxes. Pagans, by contrast, are to be taken as slaves and concubines. Only by understanding their origins, goals and mindsets can we hope to truly defeat them.
Here in my calm little corner in Romandie (French-speaking), Switzerland, reactions echoed my Facebook feed: many people I talked with were very touched or upset personally, some resented the relative silence on the non-Parisian attacks, a few French flags were hung out windows, some candles burned on windowsills. On Sunday at 5pm, 150 people participated in a peaceful and lovely “white walk” through Fribourg, lighting candles in a city square. There are 200,000 Swiss living in France, the largest number outside of Switzerland. The Swiss press (more of an overview here) has focused primarily on “solidarity” messages, touching on security questions (reinstate border controls?) and refugees. I find the (seemingly) total lack of consideration of political/military action – Swiss “neutrality” – interesting and thought-provoking.
While I personally am sickened and saddened by bombings against innocents anywhere, the Paris bombings did strike an additional cord with me. As some of you may recall, we began our big European adventure with a week in the City of Light just three months ago. Our 11 year old in particular really fell in love with it, augmenting my own love for that fantastic city. Those who were killed, wounded and terrorized were doing not just everyday things but everyday Parisian things: sitting in cafes, rooting on their favorite soccer team, listening to music. In Paris, the pleasures in life are not luxuries – they are expected and are Life itself. It’s what makes the city such a joy and a dream to many. And apparently it’s these same things that so disgust the barbarians.
Knowing a tiny bit now about ISIS/Daesh, I am more optimistic that we can defeat them, but it will take decisive action combined with a sustained investment in sowing the seeds of healthy societies in the future. This is the hard part for many, at least in the U.S., but it is not only the right thing to do but also in our self-interest. Foreign assistance for health care and education, as well as using successful models for reconciliation and effective leadership are requirements, unless we relish the idea of generations of uneducated and underemployed who always seem to find a way to get access to weapons and are susceptible to radicalism. In addition, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the nuances, so that we know who our enemies really are, rather than making dangerous assumptions about Muslims at home and abroad… and/or just as dangerous, reacting with apathy to violence in less familiar places involving people who don’t look like us.
“ ‘There is no denying that killers committing horrific violence have claimed the mantle of Islam. Far-right politicians, professional Islamophobes, and internet trolls will not shy away from making this point. But if those folks are not the company you’d like to keep, it is vital to have a more well-rounded understanding of Muslims in France.’” – Erik Bleich, After Charlie Hebdo: Muslims in France, Prospect Magazine