Douglas Murray Asks: Is There Such A Thing As "Understandable Terrorism?" - The Real Lesson Of The Paris Attacks
December 1, 2015
The real lesson of the Paris attacks
When the truth is revealed, it can be not merely unpleasant but often accidental. There have been several striking examples of this since the massacre in Paris earlier this month. In the days immediately after the attack, The Times of London interviewed residents of Paris. Referring to the latest attacks, one 46-year old resident also referred back to the attacks in January on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket. "Every Parisian has been touched by these attacks," she said, referring to the latest attacks. "Before it was just the Jews, the writers or cartoonists."
If "just the Jews" was an unfortunate way of putting it, it was no less unfortunate than the reaction of America's top diplomat. Days after the latest Paris atrocity, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said:
To the extent these comments have been noticed, they have been ridiculed. It is what lies revealed beneath the statement that deserves our attention.
What if the terrorists had been targeting "just Americans," or "just diplomats" -- would that be "understandable terrorism" in Kerry's thinking? That it used to be "Jews, writers or cartoonists" is precisely what made the attacks on everybody else inevitable. The only surprise should be our own surprise.
"Understandable terrorism" vs. "impossible-to-understand terrorism"? Stéphane Charbonnier, editor and publisher of Charlie Hebdo, was murdered in Paris on Jan. 7 along with many of his colleagues, in a terrorist attack that John Kerry said had "a legitimacy... a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they're really angry because of this and that." Kerry contrasted that with the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris which he claimed were "absolutely indiscriminate."
After the January attacks in Paris, there were large marches through the center of Paris, and the phrase, "Je Suis Charlie," for a moment, seemed to be the hashtag or profile picture of everybody on social media. But, of course, almost nobody was Charlie, because apart from a lot of people dwelling on Twitter and Facebook under various virtual noms de guerre, very few people were keen to republish any cartoon of Mohammed or make new Mohammed cartoons of their own. Sadly, a few months after the attacks, the remaining staff members at Charlie Hebdo announced that they were not going to draw Mohammed any more. No one could blame them: as well as losing most of their colleagues, it must have been exhausting to be among the only people still exercising a right that everyone else was just pretending to defend on Twitter. Despite all the "Je Suis Charlie" signs, it turned out very few people were Charlie. In the end, even Charlie was not Charlie.
The "Je Suis Juif" signs were never likely to catch on as much as the "Je Suis Charlie" signs, nor be followed up on even as much as they were. Did everyone on the streets of Paris take to wearing a skullcap or Star of David? No -- no more than they would have walked through any of the streets with reproductions of the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard's image of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. A lot of people said they were "Jews," but they were not willing to put themselves in the same line of fire as Jews -- just as a lot of people said they were "Charlie," while not actually being interested in landing on the same Islamist hit-lists as Charlie.
A month after January's terror attacks in Paris, there was a less-remembered terrorist attack on a free speech event in the U.S., and then on a synagogue in Copenhagen. I asked one of the organizers of the targeted free speech event what she would say to the people who claimed, "You know you might have brought this upon yourselves. You don't have to keep publishing cartoons or defending other peoples' right to publish cartoons, and you know how much the Islamists hate it." Her reply was characteristically succinct: "If we should stop drawing cartoons, should we also stop having synagogues? Should they be converted into something else? Should we ask the Jewish people to leave?"
The problem was that too few people listened to such voices, or too few people fully understood the import of what those voices were saying. They were saying what the dead journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo had also been saying: If you give up this right, next, you will lose every other right. Much of the world may only have been just bragging or emoting in saying, "Je Suis Charlie" or "Je Suis Juif." But it turns out not to matter: the terrorists of ISIS think we are all cartoonists and Jews anyway.
So here we are, at the end of what should be one of the world's sharpest and most painful learning curves in recent history. At the end of this curve, we ought finally to be living with the realization we might have acquired earlier: that since we cannot live with ISIS and other ISIS-like groups, we had better live without them. We had therefore better do whatever it takes to speed up an end of our choosing before they speed up an end of their choosing.