As has been widely stated, reported, corroborated, the attacks in Paris were an assault on our free, democratic way of life. The sites chosen – the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France, le Petit Cambodge restaurant, and cafes on the bustling Boulevard Voltaire, Rue de Charonne, and others – were soft targets, designated because they were easy, unguarded locations in a youthful, bon vivant part of Paris. The terror these small, miserable murderers sowed on that Friday night, the lives they took were to send a message: wherever you go, you are not safe.
It was a message that the French met with typical defiance and disdain, demonstrating France’s grace under fire as Parisians returned to lounge at the bistros and cafes so essential to the fabric of French cultural life. The courage the French people continue to exhibit is the right response to the wicked barbarity of Daesh’s new global front. Now let us explore the wrong responses, plural.
Since the attacks, tempers in the West have run high, and the 1.57 billion Muslims of the world are once again paying the price for a band of marauding troglodytes who have appropriated Islam for their own gain. In the U.S., Syrian refugees have fallen into the crosshairs of mounting public anger and presidential politics. Despite the fact that the refugee resettlement process takes 18 to 24 months and that Syrian and Iraqi refugees are screened by five different federal agencies, every Republican candidate who has chosen to speak up on this issue has called for them to be denied entry. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz want to accept only Christian refugees, while Trump, Carson, and other irrelevants want to stop accepting them all together. Carson, who until recently was the frontrunner in Iowa, compared Syrian refugees to a rabid dog, while Trump claims he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslim residents of Jersey City cheering 9/11.
The Republicans disgracing themselves with these bigoted views are only reflecting the welling anger against Muslims that the American public, and particularly the Republican base, feels in the wake of the Paris attacks. This is dangerous for two main reasons. The first is that the emotional turbulence the nation feels in response to this cowardly attack on the people of France must be tempered by an understanding that the world has a lot more to defend and to lose than just the lives of its citizens. The terrorism that springs forth from Daesh’s version of Islamic extremism is not just about slaughter. They seek to sow fear in the daily lives of citizens of free, democratic, multicultural societies that they want to see expunged from the Earth, enough fear that the principles upon which our societies are founded become just another casualty of war. Daesh wants to see the better angels of our nature swept up by the free-flowing tide of fear their violence provokes. If we allow our Syrian refugee policy to be dictated by that fear, then we have already lost a crucial battle. As President Obama reminded us all, the Statue of Liberty’s inscription should have the final say on our attitude towards these latest victims of the world’s volatile cruelty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Full stop.
The second is that the undeserved antipathy we channel towards our Muslim neighbors, colleagues, friends, family, and fellow citizens only accomplishes one thing, and that is confirming Daesh’s twisted ideology and aiding its propaganda efforts. Daesh seeks a clash of civilizations. Its propaganda highlights a “gray zone of coexistence” in which Muslim populations residing in the West engage with Western life, participate in Western institutions, and live peaceful lives as Western citizens. Daesh seeks to destroy this fact of life by provoking responses to its terrorism that help further an “us vs. them” narrative. For Daesh, there is an Islamic camp and a Crusader camp, and its ultimate mission is to make this binary, absolutist fantasy a reality. Therefore, it does not take a genius to gather that the worst possible thing you could say in the aftermath of the Paris attacks is that we should only accept Christian refugees, that Muslim Americans cheered 9/11, and that refugees are the figurative equivalent of rabid dogs.
The world must act decisively and swiftly to improve intelligence gathering services and cooperation, to end the Syrian civil war that allowed Daesh safe haven to begin with, to better European border security under Schengen provisions, and to better integrate large, disaffected Muslim populations in the West and beyond that have sent thousands of foreign fighters into Daesh’s bloodied arms. But beyond practical steps we can take, the most potent weapon we have at our disposal is not a bunker-busting bomb or the heavy trample of boots on the ground. It is something that we do every day without thinking, that fundamental, courageous act that Daesh wants to extinguish above all, and that is to coexist, to live amongst one another peacefully, without suspicion, apprehension, or prejudice.
The Daesh way of life – committing genocide against the Yazidi people, subjugating women and children into sexual slavery, destroying ancient artifacts in the cradle of civilization, performing mass public executions, and many more unutterables – is objectively evil and false. In the face of such hatred and violence, the world must do what it does at its best, and that is to affirm the dignity of all peoples and to promote inclusion, respect, and love for its fellow human beings. We cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the politics of fear that the Republicans have so shamefully embraced. The horrible truth is that another attack is more likely than not because of the massive surveillance and intelligence undertaking required to keep track of these coldblooded, chameleon killers. We cannot afford to falter in our resolve and undermine the foundational pillars of our free, democratic, inclusive world order. The stakes are far too high for such veiled weakness.