Terror is a story. The wave of terror in France is a frightening and discouraging story, with a clear and effective message: We’re sick of you enlightened ones. Goodbye to liberty, adieu to equality, ciao to fraternity, salaam to separation between religion and the state. Perhaps it’s a culture war, perhaps it’s a class war, and perhaps it’s actually an Islamic State (ISIS) campaign to recruit volunteers: Come and savor the blood.
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I wager that all the answers are correct.
Whatever the case, France — my adopted homeland, a land flowing with creme fraiche and pastries — has recently fallen short as my theoretical city of refuge.
If I stood this summer on the second-floor stairwell, being chummy with the neighbors, hugging the girls, counting explosions in the sky and dreaming of Paris, the murderous attack in the kosher grocery store in the 12th arrondissement, near the kindergarten which my daughter attended as a toddler, dissolved my illusion regarding the sense of security shared by the residents of the 0033 area code.
Something has happened in Paris. During the years when we lived there, from 2007 to 2010, Paris amazed us. A description of any random group of children in the public school in the 12th arrondissment sounds like the beginning of a 1980s joke: a Catholic Frenchman, a Jew, an Algerian and a Chinaman meet for lunch around a pot of beef bourguignon.
The only anti-Semitic incident we experienced in Paris took place in the 14th arondissement, the bastion of the white and well-to-do Parisian left. It centered around a highly praised and racist restaurateur, with a big mouth and pointed diagnoses of the nature of Jews and Israelis. None of the diners around us intervened on our behalf when they heard the stream of curses hurled at us by the owner. I learned first-hand what some of my friends claim: With all due respect to the Islamic terror organizations, the silence of the native-born French is what enables the violence of the rabble to be directed against the Jews.
As far as Charlie Hebdo is concerned, I will never forgive ISIS for causing me to come to the defense of tasteless and insulting cartoons, whose purpose is to slaughter sacred cows only because they’re there. But there’s no choice. The massacre at the magazine’s editorial offices was not only an attempt to undermine the values on which Western ideologies are based. It was a reminder of the danger of extermination that threatens freedom of expression, even in Israel.
You don’t have to be a cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo, there is no obligation to be Gideon Levy, in order to sense the ongoing shrinkage of freedom of expression. Even a freelance journalist like me is aware of the small minority of media outlets that are still interested in freedom of expression.
Logic tries to connect the slaughter at the editorial offices to the murder at the grocery store, but there isn’t one straight line connecting these two points. Islamic terror draws from different sources and has varied and sometimes contradictory objectives. What is happening today cannot be explained in terms of black and white.
Imagine a Mondrian composition — areas in different colors that spread between lines that separate religions and countries, the economy and human rights, globalization, ignorance and enlightenment. Within it you also have to place the occupation, the problematic status of Israeli Arabs, the civil war in Syria, the Iranian nuclear race and the girls in Nigeria, who are being sent by Boko Haram on suicide missions. The butterfly effect works in hidden ways: Lying behind the acts of murder in Paris may be the filmed sermon of a Yemenite imam who was assassinated a few years ago.
And perhaps it is also positive Western thought, which builds edifices about the connection between cause and effect. After all, the global flow of news is created from wild spatters of blood a la Jackson Pollock, which are connected by hidden trails of money, which are stretched over deep layers of ideology.
The picture is complex, and constantly changing. Concentrations of despair and aggression are channeled in various effective and very violent ways.
In the face of such a chaotic picture, the reflexive reaction of tightening security measures is insufficient. The situation requires the formation of international coalitions, which must learn the deep-seated processes that are turning the wheels of violence worldwide. I am referring to a sophisticated alliance that will act to stop the international guerrilla war, out of a commitment to democratic values of enlightenment and liberty. Because when the catastrophic fantasies come true, there is no choice but to confront them with other fantasies.