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The Paris attack: how do we respond?

There seems to have been great difficulty in writing articles after and about the massacres in France. ‘Trying to write about this is difficult’, so the standard introduction goes. On a base level, I do not think it should be.

The problem is that, particularly in a time when social media allows our poorly thought through opinions to be instantly aired and gratified, we feel we must have an opinion on what happened. As if to prove to the world, or at least to ourselves, that we are cleverer, or more humane, or indeed more ruthless than some other thing or person. So, we must opine.

Of course, I recognise the irony in an opinion piece criticizing the offering of opinions on something, but there is an important difference between an instinctively aired musing and a thoughtful article.

This constant opining has led to a mélange of blame on Muslims, refugees and Western foreign policy, and general theorising as to what the solution might be.

In the immediacy of the event, the right response was missed, completely.

Collectively, conventional media and portions of unsocial media failed to stand in the supposed solidarity that changing your profile picture expresses. If it had, its response would have expressed greater compassion for the victims and their close ones, and been more damning of the actual cause of those deaths: the killers themselves.

Friday’s loss of life, and the fear that is being sowed, is devastating. Any loss of civilian life to unjust violence is a tragedy. There is no justification for it. I hope the victims’ families and friends can return to some semblance of normality soon, and that they are allowed to grieve in peace and in private.

Far from being the fault of an intangible belief-system that sets very clear rules against the killing of innocents in war, or the result of Western governments’ actions in another part of the world, blame rests completely with the killers. The supremely malevolent idiots killed innocents in the name of a warped, vicious and boring lifestyle, demonstrating that they are no great loss to the world.

They sat down and planned to kill innocent people. At every point, they had the opportunity to say ‘no,’ and they did not. To blame anybody or anything other than them is stupid. Going forward from here, in the newest phase of the war on terror that France is taking forward, policy makers, status posters and tweeters can all learn the same lessons.

Reacting in the moment does not work. Reflect more, think deeper, and read widely. Ignorance has been the real winner of the past fifteen years, arguably.

September 11th 2001 until now is a story of kneejerk reactions and decisions that bulldoze rather than nudge their intended targets. The ill thought-out invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq smashed their adversaries, but coalition forces then fell foul to vicious insurgencies, because post invasion plans were being worked out on the spot.

In those places, Daesh (ISIS) is now strong and sectarianism now rife. Al- Qaeda’s presence has also grown in another of the war on terror’s back alleys: war torn Yemen.

In a similarly ignorant vain as Daesh, hate crimes are on the rise in Scotland, and Peterborough’s own mosque has been burned. It was in this same fashion that British youths beat Pakistani Kamal Butt to death, with taunts of ‘Taliban,’ in July 2005 following the London bombings.

The common theme is the rush to act against adversaries, often with ignorance and thoughtlessness.

France may well be right to round up all its ‘terrorist suspects’ in France- a massacre has occurred with intelligence suggesting more threats, which naturally has dramatic safety and security implications. But more bombing of Daesh positions? As tragic an event as this was, little has changed on the ground in Syria or Iraq. In fact, in bombing a few empty buildings in their de-facto capital Raqqa, has definitely done what Daesh wished.

The desire for revenge can be satisfied now: justice takes longer.

Constant need to impact upon the world, either with opinions or bombs, is no way to be compassionate for the Paris victims, nor solve the Daesh problem.

For a start, there seems no real effort to contain and understand the problem, so attacking it can at best not help. This probably rests in the tendency to focus on Islam itself, and not on the history of Islam. As Jason Burke has noted, what is happening now can be more easily answered in Islam’s history, rather than trying to grasp the essential nature of a religion.

A simple reading of Islamic history would show the failing in the current approach. Previous Islamic caliphates have strengthened and spread their influence through their successful engagements on the battlefield. Then, as now, early Arab armies fought with mobile supply lines, flexible tactics, and zealous faith. The empires that tried to beat them lost.

The constant need to attack not only plays into its military strengths, but into its historical narrative. It turns out that the constructive and compassionate approach are probably one and the same, then.

Rather than fall to the mass hysteria of politicians and press, take the next few weeks to reflect, to reflect on the lives needlessly lost. Read books, try to learn some history, and consider empathy through literature, not the snapshots of memes and clickbait articles. Talk with people, but don’t debate- conversation is not a competition. Have a few beers, appreciate the essence of human nature.

This is how best to stand in solidarity with Parisians, and against the dull and malicious killers.

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