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What is a proper response to the Paris attacks?

by Chris Eyre
(Reprinted from his website: http://eyrelines.energion.net/?p=884)

The attacks in Paris last night are horrifying in their death toll, the number of those injured and that fact that there was no conceivable offense which the victims had committed, apart, that is, from living in France. My prayers go with the families of those killed and injured, and with the people of Paris and of France who are coming to terms with the shock.
There are already a lot of idiot statements going around the web, and no doubt there will be many more in the future, but before I get to those, I find I am shocked not to have heard anything from the media about the bombings in Beirut and Baghdad before yesterday, and I suspect I might never have heard about them had it not been for the Paris attacks. Our media has failed us in this; lives do not matter less because they are in the Middle East than in Europe, or because they are those of people with a different religion or a different skin color. Nor do they matter less because Beirut and Baghdad are far less shocked than is Paris, as they are more used to such atrocities – indeed, we should perhaps consider that Beirut and (in particular) Baghdad deserve special sympathy because there, the violence is more frequent and therefore more damaging to morale.
Some of those idiot statements have come from the French President, François Hollande, in various statements. He talks about severe measures, and about a war on terror, and did that even before anyone had claimed responsibility for the attacks. I can understand that a politician will feel the need to capture the mood of his country, and that that mood is one of wishing to have vengeance for the damage. A statesman, however (and I would have hoped that the president of a major European nation might have managed to achieve that status) would seek to guide the people rather than ride the wave of their anger, and precipitate action is one of the things which terrorists most hope to cause. He would acknowledge the anger, state that he shares it and talk about prevention of a future atrocity and taking measured steps against those ultimately responsible.
Let me start with “war on terror”. This is a ridiculous concept, almost as much so as a war on drugs (do I go out and shoot a few aspirin?). Wars are between sovereign nations, and the vast majority of terrorist groups are not acting on behalf of a sovereign state (though the military of many nations may be guilty of terror attacks themselves). Curiously, these attacks are possibly an exception, in that credit has been claimed by IS, who are de-facto a sovereign state, holding a large swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria. I think he would have been justified in principle in declaring war on Islamic State – I am even inclined to think that this meets the criteria necessary for starting a just war under Augustine’s and Aquinas’ principles (jus ad bellum). Of course, no-one wants to recognize IS as a state….
This topic, in fact, came up in last night’s Global Christian Perspectives webcast, in which Allan Bevere went into some detail about just war, and rightly pointed out that it is not just the issue of whether you go to war which is subject to moral principles (originally specifically Christian, but now in theory accepted as good argument in international law), but also whether the war is waged justly (jus in bello). If you cannot wage war justly, even if it is just to start a war, you have no moral alternative but to sue for peace or surrender, according to Augustine and Aquinas. Major principles are that there must be a reasonable prospect of success, and that you must not kill innocents.
There, I think we have huge difficulties, firstly in safeguarding innocents. Certainly, efforts to date in the “war on terror” have resulted in very large numbers of innocent casualties – many more innocents than terrorists, in fact. Unless we change our way of dealing with this (and there is really no alternative to “boots on the ground” given the lamentable accuracy of targeting from the air – this piece of idiocy from Allen West is actually right on point; I might think that he was a liberal speaking satirically if I didn’t know better), we will not possess “jus in bello” and cannot reasonably wage war even against IS.
Secondly, what remote possibility is there of ever declaring success? In particular, what possibility is there of success when we are not prepared to occupy (for an indefinite but no doubt very long period) even the states which we have held accountable for past terrorism? It is, of course, very widely appreciated that where you kill innocents in significant numbers, you actually create new terrorists in greater numbers than the reduction you tend to achieve, and certainly create more sympathy for the terrorists’ cause; certainly the terrorists understand this, and the overreaction is one of the outcomes they most desire. What possibility is there of success when prosecuting the “war” actually makes more new terrorists than it kills, and where significant numbers of them are living in states which have no responsibility for their actions, sometimes our own nations?
I recently linked again from Facebook to my 2013 meditation on Remembrance Day, and the sentiments there are still entirely valid. If anything, though, the more I read the gospels, the less I think that Jesus would have approved any of the Just War concepts which Augustine came up with; he would not approve war at all. I am not quite at the point of being able to say that I would never support my country going to war in any circumstances (though I thoroughly approve Jeremy Corbyn’s undertaking that if he became Prime Minister, he would never order the use of nuclear weapons, and hope that the right wing and the media are wrong that this makes him unelectable), but at the least, can we try to adhere to Just War principles?
I now realize that I missed something in my 2013 account. Although I rightly, I think, determined that no war my country had fought in the last 100 years or more had been just with the exception of World War II, I missed the fact that the way Britain fought the war emphatically did not meet just war standards, as we deliberately targeted civilian populations (first with the excuse that the Germans had first bombed London, which it proves was in error when a raid overshot industrial targets). I think I can therefore now say that we have not fought a completely just war at any time in history which I can think of.
I realize that in saying that, I am going completely against a lot of public mood, particularly at present in France. I will also probably make myself unpopular in many circles if I point out that the fact that my country, France and Spain have been targeted by Islamic terrorists follows our own actions in bombing and invading Islamic countries, and killing large numbers of innocent Muslims. It is, no doubt, difficult for someone whose home is bombed and whose family members are killed or maimed to appreciate that we were not waging war on them and that the correct action is not to come and bomb us.
I do not think that I would be inclined to accept the excuse of someone who killed my wife that she was “collateral damage”, for instance, though I would hope that my Christian principles would win out over my natural urge to do them at least as much damage in return, and if not them personally, then their families, their friends or those associated with them, or in paroxysms of grief, those who looked a bit like them or shared their politics or religion – it is scary what the frustration of powerlessness in the face of loss can do to human morality, what depths otherwise civilized people are prepared to sink to. I could here point out Rene Girard’s work on the futility of redemptive violence and his identification of the Crucifixion as the “last scapegoat”, after which we need not look to violence to redeem anything.
War is hell. It crucifies people and nations. We should do everything in our power to avoid it. And, if we are a Christian nation, or a nation whose sense of morality was forged in Christianity even if we have moved on from that belief, we should consider very seriously the injunction to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
France, however, is not feeling much like that at the moment (and who can blame them?). Feelings, however, do not have to become actions, and a statesman might point that out. On the back of that, there are some other stupid statements. “It’s because of all the refugees” is one obvious one. Well, despite the fact that I now hear that a Syrian man who is known to have come via Lesbos may be implicated (and I’m afraid I find that all too convenient to those arguing against the refugees), in general the refugees are trying to get away from the people who do these things. Christianity inherited from Judaism an obligation of hospitality towards the stranger, which Europe is not doing a very good job of upholding so far, and it would be a tragedy if the borders now closed completely, which is certainly what not a few people are suggesting. You might argue that Europe is post-Christian, but it has emerged out of Christianity and in theory still holds to largely Christian principles. It could be that the basic European principle of free movement of people within Europe (to which my country does not wholly subscribe) may be ending here, and that would be a tragedy for Europe and a victory for the terrorists. If you’re in the States, contemplate what the imposition of full border controls between the individual states would do to, for instance, the commute from New Jersey to New York….
Equally damaging is the suggestion that the attacks must be because of security failures, and therefore we should massively increase security measures. One of the things which makes Europe a great place to live, work and holiday in is that it is relatively free.  We are not a set of police states, a set of nations obsessed with looking over our shoulders. If we lose that as a reaction to these attacks, again the terrorists have won. We also value free speech, and that would vanish under such a regime – in point of fact that has already been horribly eroded due to previous attacks (such as those on Charlie Hebdo, in central London, and on trains in Madrid).
A statesman would say that there is a value in being European, a value created from our common beliefs in justice and mercy, tolerance, freedom of movement, freedom of speech and freedom of belief. He would suggest that if we react in such a way as to reduce those values, the terrorists have destroyed us. Eight men with guns and some explosives will have caused the destruction of the dream of a multi-national union of some 750 million people, and we will largely have done it to ourselves.
A Christian statesman might remind us that Jesus said “what you do to the least of these, you do to me”.

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  1. Chris,
    First concerning your shock at not hearing about the other bombings in the Middle East, I would agree that the main stream media has failed us. While conservative media outlets frequently report such attacks, rarely do they make the mainstream outlets. However, I do not think religion or skin color have anything to do with it. Rather, it is a mixture not fitting into their world view, and not really affecting them, thus they get ignored. Then again there is the factor of how common they are, such attacks occur quite frequently and thus in a tragic sense are nothing new in that news. A report out early this week said that in 2014 over 32,000 people were killed by terrorists. This is up 80% from the previous year.
    Your comments about Hollande do capture the two major views about terrorism. One was represented in the recent Democratic debate and sees such acts as more criminal in nature and often spawned by the actions of the west, particularly the invasion of Iraq. If we had not invaded Iraq, ISIS would not exist and these attacks would not have happened.
    As you might guess this is not my view. The side to which I belong sees these attacks as part of a much larger conflict, one whose intellectual origins within Islam can be traced back a couple of 100 years, and is driven fundamentally by the question: If Allah is the true God, and Muslims are his followers, why isn’t the Islamic world the dominate culture? Why is the Christian west doing so much better? The answer was a return to a purer form of Islam, a fundamentalist Islam, and in recent times, a form of Islam that is called to enforce their understanding of Islam on the world, by force if necessary.
    Thus on the one side are those who argue that if we just leave them alone, and particularly if we could somehow get rid of Israel, they will leave us alone. On the other are those like myself who argue they will continue until they are either defeated, or succeed in getting a worldwide caliphate governed by Shari law with all women in Burkas and men under threat of roaming beard police. It is important to remember that only a small part of Shari is the moral code. Most of it is a system of control/government that is incompatible with western governments and freedom. The longer we wait the harder it will be.
    For me the most important books are “What Went Wrong” by Bernard Lewis, and “the Looming Tower” by Lawrence Wright, the latter in my view remains the definitive book on the events leading up to 9/11 and traces the development of the ideology behind it, which actually has more to do with a church social in Greeley Co in the 1950s than recent military attacks by the west. Radical Islam has been at war with us long before we invaded Iraq.
    As for “war” requiring a sovereign state, I see that as mere semantics. Granted radical Islam does not fall neatly in to earlier concepts, but neither are they just criminals. Thus, I would agree that this is a very difficult issue in terms of just war theory, but then writers such as Augustine did not have to deal with modern weaponry and the way they change the concept of war. (See Winston Churchill’s essay “Shall We All Commit Suicide?”)
    As for the prospects for success, there are really only two options here. We defeat them, or they defeat us. While one might in theory argue for a sort of stalemate where we simply have to put up with a 9/11, 11-M in Spain, 7/7 in Britain, and attacks like Paris from time to time, not to mention the near weekly attacks elsewhere in the world, but I do not believe that is realistic. Eventually radical Islam will get an atomic bomb and use it. A large chemical or biological attack is even more likely. So the choice is not if innocent people will be killed, but rather will we do anything to stop it.
    Even now one of the major recruiting tools of ISIS are not US attacks but rather their execution videos. Granted that may not be the reason for the executions, but it is how they are being used on recruiting web sites and in social media and it is a factor in how they are so carefully staged and photographed.
    Radical Islam takes strength from our weakness, seeing it as a sign from Allah that what they are doing is working and thus is encouragement for them. Nor is this new, as is shown in Bin Laden’s statement about the strong and weak horse in the 1990s. Much of the complaints about US and British action, is I believe, for public, and largely for western consumption, which is demonstrated by their writings. Bin Laden for example only started to mention Israel as a grievance in his later videos made to be released to the public. It was not mentioned in his earlier writings as a factor in his movement.
    I have held such views since the 1980s, and for me they have only been confirmed over and over again. In the 1990s, I warned that radical Islam had tried to bring down the World Trade Center in the 1993 bombing, but failed. I asked if we were going to wait until they came back and succeeded until we took the threat seriously. I was somewhat encouraged that we were finally getting serious after 9/11, but it was short lived and before long those arguing we should just leave them alone won out.
    I do believe we have a moral responsibility in Iraq. Right or wrong, we removed Saddam and set up a new government. We had a responsibility to the Iraqi people, particularly those who supported us, and to the troops who did the difficult work some who died or were wounded in the process, to remain until the country was stable enough to stand on its own.
    While I supported the invasion, I always saw it as a very difficult decision and a very close call with a lot of risks. Clearly mistakes were made but after years of difficult fighting the war was over, the country was stabilized and was beginning to rebuild. It is important to remember that at this point Iraq was doing so well that Obama was taking credit for the success and his VP said it would be seen as one of his big accomplishments.
    Might it have fallen apart anyway? Perhaps, but that is not the trajectory it was on and it is clear that Obama’ insistence on pulling out all troops at this time, against the advice of his commanders on the ground (and those on my side) doomed any chance they had. That, along with his mistakes in Syria, and his ignoring the problem in the beginning (Obama initially wrote off ISIS as a “Junior Varsity Team” of little concern), is what allowed ISIS to get its foothold.
    ISIS is hardly the only group that has worldwide imposition of Islam as its goal. While some work peacefully, many believer in force and terrorism. These different perspectives are also what is behind much of the different about the Iran deal and why those on my side believe it will virtually guarantee war, and likely nuclear war, while those on the other see it as a road to peace.
    Thus how we see the events of Paris will strongly be shaped by what I believe is the most pressing political issue of our time and one on which rest millions of lives, how to deal with radical Islam. Unfortunately in this debate I have often found myself in the role of Cassandra.

    1. Elgin, as usual, you offer a well-defended point of view. I have only one major objection that I’d like you to address. It concerns your absolute conviction that Islam is constitutionally incapable of living at peace with Christianity and the West with the “imposition of Islam as its goal.”
      As you know, a caliphate existed in Andalusia Spain for nearly 800 years. In The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, by Maria Rosa Menocal, a professor at Yale University, Menocal argues that Andalusia’s culture was ”rooted in pluralism and shaped by religious tolerance,” and was finally undermined by fundamentalism — Catholic and Islamic alike. In fact, when the Roman Catholic church regained power, Muslims were forced to convert or die, or be expelled.
      This suggests to me that the notion that Islam and Christianity are incompatible is based on a truncated view of their relationship, and that it is possible, under more enlightened leadership from both sides, to live together in peace. Conflict is not inevitable. In fact, pushing the opposite, as you and your side do, only exacerbates the problem when a peaceful solution is possible. I wish you tried harder to find such a way.

      1. Steve,
        This was a failure on my part. I should have written, “the imposition of their form of Islam on the world” There are tolerant format of Islam. The president of Egypt being a good example, and I wish the President would do more to back him.
        In this country I wish we did more to support those voices within Islam calling for tolerance, instead of goups like CIAR

  2. Very interesting, thoughtful and respectful discussion here. I agree that our response as a nation is not in any way supported by the message of Jesus, and I understand that most Muslims feel their faith does not support the extremist version of it practiced by ISIS. I see their “success” in attracting recruits as less to do with their theology and more to do with a long history of unresolved conflicts with supposedly Christian, Western nations, which have left the Middle East a region of extreme oil wealth on the one hand, and on the other, for too many in the wake of our nearly two decades of undeclared war, extreme poverty and insecurity. A vacuum of opportunity will be filled, and it is being filled, sadly. This makes the message of Jesus to love our enemies, and to extend hospitality to the stranger, all the more relevant. We need to try to understand — listening is a very basic way of showing love — what conditions of living generate such despair that ISIS would appear as an appealing and meaningful response. We need to face our complicity in creating those living conditions. Instead, our political figures in the U.S. are mostly rivaling ISIS in their eagerness for a military Armageddon, seeing more profit for the military-corporate-petrochemical complex. Many of them will try to use Christianity to justify this, just as ISIS perverts Islam. The rest of us need to speak up, everywhere and often: This is not the way of Jesus. This is not our faith.

  3. Thank you, Janice, for your thoughtful, and I believe, very Christian understanding of this situation. I hope we hear more from you in the future.

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