From a certain perspective, could those men who were shot by French police yesterday be any more inspirational?
Masked, sheathed in black, executioners pointing their weapons at a pleading, fallen policeman outside Charlie Hebdo’s offices just before they fired their fatal shots. An image on the front page of every newspaper in the world that said “You’re watching, we’re doing.”
We just walked into the offices of some of your grown-ups, men and women who made their livings mocking our beliefs. We shouted to God while we mowed the clowns down in a hail of bullets. Who’s laughing now?
I walked into a kosher market, because it’s better when there’s some punishment for the Israeli oppressors too. I called the authorities and said, “You know who I am,” and oh, by the way, “If you take down my brothers, I’ll kill more of these Jews.” Yes, we talk to one another and work together. In fact, we’ll will be talking for years about we’ve accomplished today, and how little you could do about it.
“How just three brave men who believed in martyrdom could disrupt an arrogant nation and rivet the world’s attention” is our story. We kept our heads down long enough to escape surveillance by your overburdened security systems. There are just too many of us now for you to keep track of. And you will be reminded again that we are out here waiting. You will be reminded again very soon.
If you and your family feel unwelcomed by society in the West, or are unemployed, undervalued, feeling bored or disrespected or both just about anywhere else, this is a way to take your talent, redeem your life, find your inspiration. Yes. Jihadist recruiters had their second best week after 9/11 this week, while we mostly responded with… sentiment.
If you and I are not afraid, surely it’s not because of our drones, or American advisors trying to mobilize frightened Iraqi troops, or even those women brigades of Kurdish Peshmerga warriors who are maybe the closest thing we have to our own “superheroes” in the battle against militancy.
But beyond our own adolescent yearnings for fast solutions and simple justice, there is surely fear along with the tug of something deeper that calls upon us to engage with this asymmetrical challenge more seriously–far more seriously than this week’s opportunity to set down some flowers and light some candles on blood-stained sidewalks. A pretty cheap response, when it comes down to it, because it costs us so little. In a clash of world-views, do we need any more reminding that three lone gunmen (and the legions behind them) are much more serious about the drift of the world than we are?
But still…in the coming weeks, we’ll be debating racial profiling (“I am Ahmed,” after all) and how no American college would allow its student newspaper to print politically incorrect cartoons like Charlie Hebdo’s.
Surely we’ll buy more guns (because after Sandy Hook, gun advocates said the tragic might never have happened if those first grade teachers had had their own guns), and just as surely someone will use theirs to shoot somebody who looks like the Enemy. Then, of course, we’ll have polarizing arguments about what it all means. But talk is cheap too. In the coming weeks, it will still be our sentiment and endless talk around those who want to annihilate the freedoms that give us the luxury of all this sentiment and talk.
We take our values for granted. We’re no longer even sure about the ones that we share. But Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly were not confused. Going forward, there will be plenty of people who want to provide for us a black & white moral clarity (Ms. Le Pen if you’re in France, fill in the blank if you’re in the U.S.). But wouldn’t it be better if we started re-learning for ourselves how to become clearer about the values that we’re committed to?
In a recent op-ed entitled “Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education,” former dean of Yale College Donald Kagan wrote the following about what he fears we are (and are not) being taught in our schools today.
We look to education to solve the pressing current problems of our economic and technological competition with other nations, but we must not neglect the inescapable political and ethical effects of education.
We in the academic community have too often engaged in miseducation. . .. If we encourage rampant individualism to trample on the need for a community and common citizenship, if we ignore civic education, the forging of a single people, the building of a legitimate patriotism, we will have selfish individuals, heedless of the needs of others, the war of all against all, the reluctance to work towards the common good and to defend our country when defense is needed. (emphasis added)
Maybe you cringed when you read the words “legitimate patriotism,” but Kagan is right.
We need to figure out how to stand together again, what we hold as precious in common and would be willing to champion together. They are the values that we would be willing to fight and even die for. Try to imagine what they are if you can. Try to imagine us coming together as citizens and finding the collective spirit to fight a war like World War II today (with all hands-on-deck, not just a few “volunteers”) and you can sense the gulf between our illusion of shared purpose and the reality.
We need to bridge this divide—moving from sentiment and debate to principles we share (whatever they are)—and do so quickly, before others jump in to do it for us when we’re even more afraid. After all, is there anyone who doubts that there is a gun pointed our way, and that it could be any of us there on the ground, pleading for life?
What is necessary is not cheap, but the alternatives, well we are starting to see the alternatives.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming)