Fear must not be the victor of Paris’s terror
The Parisian attacks are an assault on the values of liberal democracy. If they perish in our response, these barbarians achieve their goal
“It happened so fast. There are survivors inside. They shot everyone. One by one,” Benjamin Cazenoves posted to Facebook from inside the Bataclan concert hall on Friday night.
For the second time in 2015, Paris — the world’s most important cultural capital, and one of its most popular tourism centres — came under siege. A state of emergency declared, 1,500 soldiers patroling the streets, the City of Light and Love plunged into darkness and despair.
As the anguish, anger and disbelief in the wake of these atrocities continues to outpour almost universally, it’s clear there’s something uniquely terrifying about these attacks. When gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed hostages in a Jewish supermarket in January, we were appalled at the assault on free speech and diversity. But the highly-targeted nature of that brutality gave the majority of us a perverse solace — they were after controversial cartoonists and Jews, not me.
The September 11th attacks targeted our institutions (financial, military and governmental), while the London and Madrid bombings exploited our transport infrastructure. But not everyone works in a major financial district or uses mass transit every day. Everyone — but everyone — enjoys some recreation from time to time: a concert, a sporting event, a drink at a bar, a meal out.
This is the most effective form of terrorism, fostering the feeling that anyone, at any time, in any place, could be a victim. This fuels fear in its purest form. Fear that, by its very nature, benefits the extreme; the violent; the hate-mongering — those who sew discord and seek to divide us.
In the coming weeks and months, the animals who perpetrated these horrors will be aided by unlikely accomplices in achieving their aims.
Those with authoritarian tendencies will leverage the Paris attacks as justification for extending digital surveillance powers, rendering the freedom of private reading a quaint notion of a bygone age.
Those prone to xenophobia will seize upon one of the attackers’ Syrian passport as reason for closing Europe’s borders to refugees. They’ll ignore the inconvenient fact that the other assailants — like the Charlie Hebdo killers — were born in France, and that Syrian refugees come to Europe fleeing the horror of the very group claiming responsibility for these attacks.
The far-right will continue to make gains throughout Europe, as we’ve seen in Poland and Sweden. The Front National and UKIP can expect a good showing at the polls in upcoming regional and local elections, giving more credence to politicians who call to “close all mosques” and compare Muslims to Nazis. This will further alienate vulnerable, minority communities, intensifying the feedback-loop of marginalisation and radicalisation.
We should remember, this was not an attack by Islam on a nominally-Christian nation. This was an attack by a theocratic, totalitarian ideology on the precepts of liberal democracy: freedom, inclusivity, pluralism. They seek to destroy these values, but they cannot achieve this alone; only with our acquiescence in the face of the fear they have sewn can their goals be met.
Paris, London, New York — these are diverse, open and free cities. This is, at once, their greatest strength, and largest vulnerability. Of course we need sensible security measures to keep them safe, but these measures must not destroy the very values they purport to defend.
On 8th July, 2005, London’s commuters again took to the Tube trains and double-decker buses that had been savaged just 24 hours earlier. They would not be cowed, and nor will the people of Paris who will once again fill the bars and restaurants, concert halls and stadia of their great city. They need their leaders and governments now to show the same solidarity in the face of fear, to defend the values they hold sacrosanct.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité — the central tenets of the French Republic have withstood bombardment and occupation. Now they must withstand terror, as the tripartite heart of a liberal society; the society we choose. A society of love and laughter; of joy and jollity; of freedom.
As the Charlie Hedbo cartoonist Joann Sfar beautifully summarised in his response to the attacks and the #PrayForParis outpouring: They will not win, for they love death, where we love life.
So say the famous words, circulated again in recent days, of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The City of Light and Love. ⬢