The Islamist terrorist attacks that took place almost simultaneously in five locations across Paris last Friday night were shocking in scale and unprecedented in Europe over the past decade: 129 killed immediately, 352 injured (of whom 99 are in critical condition), a country-wide state of emergency declared, thousands of troops deployed to Paris, demonstrations forbidden in the Ile-de-France region encompassing the French capital, border checks reimposed. The death toll would be bad enough alone, but that one of the assailants entered Europe (in October, via Greece) as a Syrian "refugee" compounds the fear and dread resulting from the massacre: Hundreds of thousands of migrants (two out of three of whom are male) have poured into Europe this year, and a majority are from (Muslim) Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the other attackers were French- or Belgian-born Muslims.
French President François Hollande, the following day, addressed his people, denouncing an "act of war that was prepared, organized, and planned from the outside, with complicity within our country that our investigation will allow us to establish." He named the entity behind the perpetrators: the "terrorist army, Daesh" -- ISIS -- "a jihadist army," and promised that France would act "pitilessly against Daesh barbarians." The "barbarians'" motive? They sought to strike at "the values we defend all over the world, at that which we are, a free country that speaks to the entire planet."
Of the other potential motives -- avenging the ongoing French bombing raids against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, plus the two-year French anti-Islamist military intervention in West Africa -- Hollande had nothing to say.
President Obama, for his part, having the previous day declaredISIS "contained," called the ISIS massacre "an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share" carried out by those with "a hateful vision." Just what sort of "hateful vision" he declined to specify. (Not that we, by this point, expected him to.) Clearly, though, our values are not as universal as he would have us think.
ISIS, however, is never coy or evasive in explaining why it does what it does, and emitted a communique of arresting clarity explaining its motives: "a group of believers from the soldiers of the Caliphate . . . set out targeting the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead-carrier of the cross in Europe -- Paris." They did so "hoping to be killed for Allah's sake, doing so in support of His religion, . . . His Prophet . . . and His allies." They "cast terror into the hearts of crusaders in their very own homeland," and then detonated their suicide belts with the result that "Allah granted them what they desired" -- martyrdom. France and its allies, the text went on to state, "will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State . . . as long as they partake in their crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet, and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets."
Any rational individual hoping to make sense of why so many people lost their lives in Paris last Friday night could do no better than dispense with the proclamations issued by presidents Hollande and Obama and just read ISIS's explanation. The facts it presents are clear and indisputable:
ISIS attacked France because France is leading a "crusade," bombarding it (in Syria and Iraq) and (unmentioned but surely relevant) crushing the Islamist insurgency in West Africa. On secularist constitutional grounds, France has banned Islamic headgear from schools as potentially divisive "ostentatious religious symbols" and outlawed wearing face-concealing veils in public places as threats to security and national cohesion, as well as being inimical to personal freedom -- the equivalent, for ISIS, of waging a "war against Islam." France stood behind the satirical cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and free speech ideals after a pair of Islamist brothers assassinated 12 of them last January for repeatedly depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which, for ISIS, amounts to "cursing" him. The ISIS assailants sought, and mostly received, death for the sake of their faith -- martyrdom -- just as the Quran promises.
Note the communique's defiant, triumphal tone -- the tone of victors. Note, concomitantly, the absence of all the factors to which Islamist apologists have ascribed as contributing to Islamist violence committed by French citizens of mostly North African descent in the past; nary a word about discrimination, racism, lack of opportunity, youth unemployment, police brutality, or poverty in Parisian suburbs. This is not to say that these factors had no role to play in disposing the French-born assailants to play their role in the attacks -- they may have. But the primum mobile for ISIS transpires as unmistakably politico-religious (natural, given that Islam blends faith and politics), buttressed, to be sure, by the virulent excoriations of infidels found in the Quran. France is attacking ISIS in the Middle East (and thus acting as "crusaders") and thwarting the unhindered observance of Islam in France. France is, thus, impeding the advance of Islam, the True Religion, and thus must incur God's wrath.
Now no fair observer of the growing religion-inspired chaos we see around us today would contend that all Muslims, be they in Europe or elsewhere, crave martyrdom and are ready to kill for it, or even pose a security threat. What is clear, though, is that the doctrine of jihad as laid out in the Islamic canon does repeatedly motivate lethal instances of terrorist violence. We don't need to furrow our brows and deduce this from abstruse pronouncements; ISIS jihadists themselves are telling us why they are acting, just as al-Qaida once did. They are proudly showing themselves in action: check out, if you can stomach it, ISIS's own videos.
And lest you labor under the misconception that, as Obama has said, ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, read and share Graeme Wood's exhaustive account in the Atlantic of the movement and its aims. ISIS is not Islamic? There exists no Islamic equivalent of the pope to make such a determination. Wood's report shreds this ridiculous assertion anyway.
That Hollande and Obama choose to avoid such blunt causal attribution makes (short-sighted) political sense. France's population may be, by now, 10 percent Muslim. Obama does not want to alienate Muslim communities in the United States, whose cooperation he needs to track radicalized youths, nor does he wish to endanger American interests abroad by "demonizing," as we are so often inclined to say now, Islam as a whole. We get all that. The underlying assumption, however -- that Muslims must be placated or they may explode into violence -- may be less obvious. In any case, by avoiding the issue -- the jihadist problems the generally accepted Islamic canon presents us with -- our leaders hinder our having conversations we need to have, our asking questions we simply must ask.
Namely, what are we to do about the strongly illiberal convictions held, the data demonstrate, by majorities of Muslims across the Islamic world, convictions that, surely, have stymied any united Muslim attempt to counter ISIS? Muslim migrants are now entering Europe, unchecked in any meaningful way, in record numbers. Given that Muslim majorities support making Sharia the official law of their lands, believe one must believe in God to be moral and that religious leaders should play a role in politics, hold that wives must obey their husbands, and favor stoning adulterers and putting to death apostates, how, if at all, are Western societies to adapt? (Majorities, Pew found, also profess to approve of democracy and religious freedom, which are simply incongruous with the beliefs just canvassed.) How will peace and comity in our increasingly multicultural, multi-confessional societies be possible if one group adheres to, and acts upon, violent and divisive dogmas inscribed in immutable ancient texts? What is the best policy Western governments can enact in the Islamic world, given that military intervention has proved disastrous and counterproductive; supporting secular dictators has resulted, eventually, in morasses of strife and mayhem; and key Western "allies" (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait) are clearly playing a double game by accepting Western backing yet propagating fundamentalist Islam? It's a safe bet that neither Hollande nor Obama has answers to these questions.
If we refuse to address these issues, terrorist attacks will likely multiply and push our politics ever further to the right. We may well then end up in police states, with security organs even more pervasive and intrusive than they are now. Or even more perniciously, confused about what is at stake, we may continue our slide into craven accommodationism, into accepting illiberal beliefs (and resulting behavior) as the off-limits patrimony of various religious and national groups, thereby consigning to the dust bin of history once-lauded ideals of universal human rights. (This is just what "Islamophobia" denouncers are after.) We should always bear in mind that there is only one Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and it grants no exceptions on the basis of religion or culture. That one or another faith happens to boast a majority of nonwhite adherents does not make criticism of that faith racist. Islam in particular has universalist pretensions and so must be liable to criticism by all. We need to junk, finally, the preposterous claim, advanced by the religion's apologists, that Islam cannot motivate violence.
If our politicians won't come clean about the parlous juncture at which we find ourselves, we have to. We must regain confidence in, and appreciation for, our Enlightenment and Western values -- reason, equal rights for all (regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or faith), and consensus-based decisions and the rule of law established not by ancient texts, but by elected legislatures operating under the aegis of a secular constitution. The societies the West has built, as imperfect as they are, offer such grand prospects for human happiness and prosperity that they are drawing millions from less fortunate lands, millions who may have little understanding of what makes these societies work. We cannot betray those seekers of a better (that is, more secular) life among them, especially women and children, by jettisoning our values under pressure from accommodationists, who often attack straight thinkers as "politically incorrect."
We either buck up and stand by our Enlightenment values, promoting them with zeal, or we will reap a savage whirlwind and lose all that we cherish.