Police hunted Thursday for two heavily armed men, one with possible links to al-Qaida, in the methodical killing of 12 people at a satirical newspaper that caricatured the Prophet Muhammed. The prime minister said the possibility of a new attack “is our main concern” and announced several overnight arrests.
Tensions in Paris were high as France began a day of national mourning. France’s top security official abandoned a top-level meeting after just 10 minutes to rush to a shooting on the city’s southern edge in which at least one police officer wounded. [Associated Press 1/8/15]
It’s yet another attack on the remaining freedoms most of us — in places like France and the United States — generally take for granted.
Different day, different target … same theme, as always. You can fill in the blanks with different particulars. The specifics of the attacks vary, but the focus and purpose is always the same.
So are the reactions. Millions of peaceful people ask, “Why? How can this be? Why do people do things like this?” Psychologists tell us it’s lack of parental attention or self-esteem (the terrorists don’t think so); psychiatrists tell us it’s their brain chemistry; clergy people tell us it’s lack of attention to God and the spiritual (the terrorists sure don’t think so); and intellectuals, politicians and talking heads tell us we bring it on ourselves by being too arrogant and not spreading enough wealth and love around (does this apply to France as well as the more capitalist United States?)
Our President and Secretary of State call the actions monstrous, unjust and vow to “hunt down” the attackers and bring them to justice. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, but the attacks continue regardless. We all know they will continue and that even the best, most heroic work on the part of various military and legal authorities will not stop it. Why? There’s something more basic and fundamental not being addressed here, obviously not by our leaders since these things keep happening.
The most accurate insight I’ve heard is when people call these attacks, such as the latest ones on France, an attack on the West itself. The “West” does not refer primarily to a geographic region, and it’s obviously not limited to the United States. The “West” refers to a set of ideas embodied in countries like the United States and France, almost always subconsciously in the minds of most people. It refers to a set of attitudes, beliefs and convictions that most people don’t even realize they possess, at least until something like this happens. It’s rooted in the pro-reason (and implicitly pro-freedom) ideas of Aristotle, objective reality, rational science, and all the ideas and principles which tend to dominate in periods of enlightenment and inventiveness (ancient Greece, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolutions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries); and are nowhere to be found in periods dominated by raw faith, allegiance to church over freedom and concern with the afterlife over the present and real life (the Dark Ages, and the period of religious totalitarianism now taking hold in much of the Middle East and attempting to spread beyond.)
So what does it mean to have a “pro-Western” attitude? Examples are as follows:
“What people believe is their own business. As long as they don’t physically harm or rob someone with whom they disagree, it’s of no concern to anyone else.”
“People have an inalienable right to be free, and to be left alone. No religion, and no government authority, has a right to punish or in any way penalize them for what they think, feel or believe, and what they choose to express on their own private property — so long as it does not involve or threaten the use of force or fraud against others, of course.”
These are the convictions and attitudes that lead, in practice, to things such as separation of church and state and, even more basic than that, the belief that no matter what somebody else thinks, believes or feels, they should be left alone. It’s an attitude that is obvious, never questioned, and even self-evident (as clear as the fact that the sun is in the sky, and the sky is blue) — at least, in nations we’d generally describe as “Western.”
Most of us don’t grasp the fundamental difference in attitude in someone who engages in these terrorist attacks. They see a cartoon they find offensive and mocking their religion. They experience the anger anyone else might feel whenever something or someone they consider sacred is attacked or made fun of in some way.
But the difference is this. It’s not just that they’re violent killers. There are probably millions of people — other Muslims, and others — who support or even in some quiet way cheer on these actions. No, they might not commit the same act of terror or violence themselves. But they still sympathize with them in some way. Why? When they hear or see something that offends them, they consider that as equivalent to an act of violence. In their minds, they are entitled to live in a world — not just a country, but an entire planet — where nobody rejects their beliefs. They are so non-Western in their thinking and attitudes that they cannot tolerate living in a world where there’s dissension or disagreement — much less mockery — of their core, supernatural or philosophical viewpoints.
This is the big difference between a Westerner and a non-Westerner. It’s not racial or anything else. You can come from the Middle East and appreciate the Western attitude, and even hold it more passionately than someone born or raised in America (or any other Western country). Westernism is a state of mind. It’s available to anyone who wants it.
Reportedly, CNN and The New York Times will not publish the offensive cartoons that inspired yesterday’s attacks on the French newspaper who published them. Perhaps they’re afraid, but the reason they’ll hide behind is the exact opposite of the Western view. That reason is (in one form or another), “We want to be sensitive to the rights and beliefs of the Muslims.” This is crazy, because it serves to support the irrational view of non-Western types who feel, “I have a right to not have my beliefs questioned by anyone.” As some conservatives like Mark Steyn have pointed out, the same standard of sensitivity has not been applied to Christians or Jews. It is a double standard, but it’s much worse than that. Somehow, the people we hold in the highest esteem — our journalists, our academics, our Presidents and other officials — have succumbed not just to cowardice and fear, but the false belief that the United States (and places like France by extension, I suppose) is guilty of a certain insensitivity to “alternative values,” even when those values involve the open, literal and physical destruction of all things Western. Can they make it any more obvious?
As long ago as 9/11, I was thinking and writing that this “war against terrorism” really wasn’t the United States versus some bad guys — as in the very significant case of World War II. It’s different. It’s a war against all things Western, all things pro-reason, pro-science, pro-technology, pro-life on earth as opposed to the primitive, the deliberately irrational or non-rational, and the backward for the sake of the backward. The Nazis and Communists, evil as they were, wanted these things, only they wanted to gain them via force, militarism and dictatorship. The non-Western Islamic terrorists are different. They wish to destroy all that makes life on earth valuable, possible and meaningful. They seek to destroy this, for us and for themselves, in the name of what they call “religion.”
We need more than good technology and military capacity to defeat terrorism, because terrorism is merely a tactic. It’s not the enemy itself. The enemy is all things non-Western and anti-Western. People are afraid to say or even think this, because it seems mean or insensitive. But it’s the truth.
Tolerance for differences, respect for individual autonomy, private property and separation of church and state. People with anti-Western attitudes don’t have these things and don’t want these things. That’s where we’re different, and until or unless we better recognize and accept this fact, we’re never going to defeat them. We will continue to beat our chests and bang our drums for a day or two after the attacks, but then we’ll go right back to hoping the military can somehow stop it all, and perhaps trying to love, appease, and act “sensitively” towards them in hopes that they’ll come around to our way of thinking and feeling.
And just how well is that working out?
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