Vive La France: Considering What’s At Stake
If the world has an over-abundance of anything, it’s hot-takes and thinkpieces that come out after a tragedy. Still, there are some things worth considering after last night’s terrible events in Paris.
First, the simple part. This was a horrific, abominable series of attacks on what we in the post-Enlightenment West all take for granted: open, civil society. Not that the location matters so much, but it’s genuinely chilling that the attacks happened at places of fun, life and enjoyment: a rock concert, a bar, a cafe and a soccer match. And though there are many factors at play (more on that in a moment), the responsibility lies with the gunmen and with them alone. As Brendan O’Niell writes in Spiked!:
This was a despicable act, an unspeakable assault. Neither French militarism nor alleged ‘Islamophobia’ comes even close to justifying it. Nothing does. And it was attack not only on the good people of Paris but on everyone who values living in a free and open society where fear has no place.
His remarks get to the heart of where simplicity ends, and where figuring out how to “defend the Enlightenment” begins. Unfortunately, the responses from the polite consensus of conservative vs. liberal fail to really get us anywhere. Certain elements of the right (i.e. whatever is left of the neo-cons), will probably call for increased military involvement in the Middle East, because apparently the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya along with those we sponsor in Yemen and Syria aren’t enough. And though the drone war in Pakistan and Yemen has (on paper) deterred Al-Qaeda from further expansion, it’s created a terrific propaganda tool for those who wish to recruit bored, uneducated young men into fights for religious barbarism. The reaction from the left is a little bit more mixed, somewhere between cautioning against blaming Islam in a broader sense, and the implication that “they had it coming.”
There are a number of issues that need to be explored, pondered and then decided on by those in power. Of course, we can’t rely on those in power to be smart enough to do everything right, but putting my own libertarian impulses aside for a moment, here are some issues that the United States, Europe and other culturally-aligned countries (e.g. Japan, Australia, even Russia in its own unique way) need to confront:
- Islamism. Liberals are right to point out that Islam, as an entire religious establishment, is not necessarily the problem. The problem is one faced by all religions across their development as they run into contact with modern, secular, open societies. Judaism has Reform Judaism. Christianity had entire an reformation in the 1500’s followed by a series of horrendous religious wars that brought us the many Protestant communions. The Catholic Church has Vatican II. Islam has liberal, modernizing variants, but without a central authority to make this modernization official, this tendency is limited to the conscience of individual Muslims. And though Islamism has deep ideological foundations, one cannot separate it completely from geopolitics. Just as Iran has an interest in propping up Hezbollah, ISIS has a set of territory-based interests that make it different from the more covert tactics used by Al-Qaeda. And remember, Islamism may have ideological notions of paradise and Armageddon attached to it, but it’s fundamental goals are old, boring political ones.
- The refugee crisis. A related problem is the huge influx of migrants moving from the Middle East to find asylum in Europe. This presents Europe (and eventually the United States) with a conundrum. What happened in Paris last night basically happens in Syria EVERY DAY. This is why there are so many migrants. And why are they going to Europe? Because if you had the choice to flee to the countries that border Syria, or to Germany, which one would you choose? However, with sympathy, generosity and understanding must come a sense of realism as well. Europe cannot cope with an unrestricted stream of migrants, and not just for the impact it will make on European society, but also because of the quality of life available to refugees. It would be unfair to welcome 10 people into your home when you can only accommodate 6. And it would be one thing if all the refugees where families, orphans and well-educated, highly-skilled workers. But that’s not the case.
- Preserving modern, western values. The need to protect and defend western values has less to do with “blood and soil” and more to do with education and integration. It has to do more with preserving the secular ethics of freedom of expression, freedom of association, gender equality and most importantly: the universalism of one law for one people. These things had to be fought for, died for and cannot simply be discarded under the patronizing, condescending false-narrative of cultural sensitivity. Defending these ideas, and stating that those who wish to reside in your country need to follow the laws that reflect those ideas does not make you a monster. Is anti-Muslim racism a problem in Europe? Sure. But saying that Europe’s laws must remain secular and universal and that the perpetrators of terrible crimes (like those that happened in Rotherham) must be punished like everyone else, does not make you Islamophobic. But this struggle must not be handed over to those whose motives constitute little more than white nationalism. We do ourselves no favors by replacing those migrants hostile to western culture with cammo-wearing thugs singing the “Horst Vessel Lied.”
- Foreign policy. So, what do we do about Syria and the rest of the Middle East? It’s important to point out again that the people who suffer most under ISIS and other radical groups are other Muslims. Just a few days ago there were deadly bombings in Beirut. And it’s nations like Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan who have borne the brunt of the migrant crisis, and of the violence overflowing from Syria. To me, the simple answer would be to completely disengage from a military standpoint. Our security policy should be to protect our own borders and those of our NATO allies, as this represents our primary national interest. But then again, do we leave the entire region a mess without doing anything to stop the chaos from bleeding over? Of course it was a mistake to aid so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria, but what about the Kurds? It would be nice if we took the PKK off the terrorism watch-list and actually help them carve out a secure nation-state of their own. But I mention NATO…and Turkey is a member of NATO and would never acquiesce to a state that might represent a chunk of its own territory. It was also a huge error for the Obama administration to declare that “Assad must go” without having a plan to bring that statement into action. In fact, it was in 2013 that both the US Congress and the UK House of Commons (rightly) stopped us from getting directly involved. If we can help broker a peace, great. If we can help refugees not get blown up, tortured or crucified then we should do that. But I still maintain that direct military action against ISIS (that doesn’t protect the borders of Turkey or Iraqi Kurdistan) will not fix this. The French of course may have their own plans in mind after last night, but it’s early to speculate what Hollande will do exactly.
I’m certainly not an expert on these issues, but they should matter to anyone who wants to better understand the background of last night’s terrible events.
So what do we walk away with? The notion that France will be forever and irreparably scarred by last night (or this past January for that matter) is nonsense. If a nation can withstand civil war, revolution, a terror, win the battle of Verdun and survive years of fascist occupation, it can withstand this.
For my part, I don’t share the pessimistic notion that Europe will fall into some new dark age of terrorism and sectarianism, and not because it’s politicians are so brilliant (please). But as the world watched the events unfold, Parisians opened their doors to those in need of shelter and coordinated efforts to see that those unaccounted for were found and were safe. Not to sound naive or sentimental, but I think that these spontaneous, voluntary acts from regular people (and not the cynical, interest-based actions of politicians) show a Europe with a will to survive and preserve the open society, even when under fire.
It’s the willingness to embrace life in the face of those who worship death.