We wake up this morning to news of great tragedy in Paris. Before we went to bed, we knew there had been attacks. Today we learn that over 120 are dead. More than 200 have been wounded, at least 80 of them seriously. There were eight attackers. Bullets were sprayed. We are told at least seven attackers blew themselves up with suicide vests.
This, not on the streets of a Middle East hotspot of terror, but of a capital city of a major Western power.
When I woke there had been no official confirmation of the identity of the assailants that I could see. And yet we all with sinking hearts know that it can only be radical Islamist terrorists. Only such groups are organized enough and evil enough to plan an assault on this scale.
Later this morning, France’s President Hollande said he believed that the attacks were an act of war by ISIS against his country. And ISIL issued a statement claiming they had orchestrated the attack, and that it was the first of a storm.
In the context of what we are assuming was a bomb attack on a plane last week, this suggests a renewed risk to all of us.
They really do want to kill us all. And I do mean all. Do not think that you are safe because you do not live in Paris.
The terrorists know for sure that this morning, many of us can think of nothing else except what this would be like on the streets of London, or of Washington, or whatever the city we live in.
There is no mercy in the hearts of militant radical Islamist terrorists. I do not believe for a moment that Paris was targeted for any specific reason other than that the terrorists found themselves in a position to act.
The hate that is in their hearts is not just directed against non Muslims. I am sure that we will find peace-loving Muslim Parisians were among the dead.
The critical thing we need to understand this morning is that we should not be surprised that an event like this has happened, only relieved that it has not happened more often. How many plots have been stopped that we will never know about? And yet we foolishly complain that our spies want to listen in to communications that can be used to plan such co-ordinated atrocities.
We are so fortunate that we are protected by security forces, but it seems today that current measures are not sufficient. 1,500 French soldiers are being deployed on the streets. Will we see similar deployments elsewhere?
Mainland Europe’s Schengen agreement lies in tatters as the French have re-imposed border controls and the Belgians will not let anyone leave France without being throughly checked. Can anyone imagine that not becoming the new normal?
For sure as a Brit today, I am glad that we at least have some defense from people who want to cross our borders to harm us, and one hopes that it would be hard to bring weapons such as were used in this attack into our country. But, everyone who has walked unchecked through customs knows that faced with an enemy of such unprecedented evil, our current security measures are not enough.
Fear can lead to irrational acts. We must beware of imagining that all Muslims are our enemies, of seeing Islam itself as the threat. It is all too easy to see evidence of calls for violence in the Quran. And even here on Patheos, an atheist has outlined the arguments that Islam itself is a violent faith. But this path is one fraught with danger. We must recognize that the vast majority of Muslims reject this terrorist ideology. Attacking their faith itself is not the answer. In fact it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we proclaim that Islam is inherently violent, and that all Muslims are potential terrorists, we risk radicalizing many more angry young Muslims who could yet be saved from the manipulative terrorist recruiters.
There are those who would wish to turn this into a war against Islam. We must not allow that, any more than we should give any credence to those who blame every religion. Secular atheists would like nothing better than to use events like this as an excuse to clamp down on every faith, and claim that religion has no place in a modern world. We must demonstrate that people of faith are in general part of the solution not part of the problem.
At the same time we must recognize that at the moment it is almost uniquely in the seedbeds of Islam that terrorism is arising. We do not read often of Christian terrorists. We must remember this is a war of ideas, not just of guns and bombs.
Moderate Islamic voices must be welcomed, and given voice. The propaganda of groups like ISIS should be taken down from the Internet and eradicated, not played on national TV. Those Imans who openly promote terrorism must be silenced. Surely freedom of speech does not include freedom to inspire murder.
We must also show that we are friends with any Muslim or Muslim group that disavows terrorism. Muslims today across the West today wake up fearing hate crimes, fear rejection, fear being watched suspiciously as they go about their daily business.
Those of us who are not Muslims must reach out to them in love, and think the best of them. Christians are taught to love even our enemies. Most Muslims in the West are not our enemies, how much more should we love them.
But we must go even further. There is a group of more extreme Muslims, but who have not yet gone past the point of no return to becoming the inhuman savages we see in ISIS. Ironically, there is a suggestion that even Al Quaida think ISIS have gone too far. We must try and connect with such people.
But there are some who think there is no point talking peace with certain types of Muslims. The truth is that even among those Muslims who do hold extreme views, there are those we can reach out to. This war we fight is going on in the heart of every angry, bitter Muslim who is somewhere on the dangerous path towards being radicalized. We risk playing into the hands of our enemy if we do not reach out with love to such people. I was very struck to read recently of the Vicar of Bagdad, Andrew White. As the Independent explained:
For the last two decades, he has worked as a mediator in some of the deadliest disputes on Earth, in Israel and Palestine, Iraq and Nigeria. He has sat down to eat with terrorists, extremists, warlords and the sons of Saddam Hussein, with presidents and prime ministers.
White argues that we have to try to make connections even with people we feel are horrible. He has had a reputation for doing just that. Enemies really can be turned into friends. It is encouraging to hear in that context that the Iranian president, who some argued should not be negotiated with, has himself joined with many Muslim leaders around the world in condemning the attacks:
In the name of the Iranian people, who have themselves been victims of terrorism, I strongly condemn these crimes against humanity and offer my condolences to the grieving French people and government.
Independent: What happened when the Vicar of Bagdhad invited ISIS for dinner ‘“I invited the leaders of Isis [Islamic State] for dinner. I am a great believer in that. I have asked some of the worst people ever to eat with me.” “Isis said, ‘You can invite us to dinner, but we’ll chop your head off.’ So I didn’t invite them again!” “Can I be honest? You are absolutely right. You can’t negotiate with them. I have never said that about another group of people. These are really so different, so extreme, so radical, so evil.”
“You are asking me how we can deal radically with Isis. The only answer is to radically destroy them. I don’t think we can do it by dropping bombs. We have got to bring about real change. It is a terrible thing to say as a priest.
“You’re probably thinking, ‘So you’re telling me there should be war?’ Yes!” READ THE REST
I found this morning, that I was reminded of the words of President Bush after 911 in his War on Terror speech. It seemed eerily relevant to today. At the time some felt at these words to be an over-reaction. But I will close this article with an extract of them, and suspect many may find them thought provoking:
Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done . . .
America will never forget the sounds of our national anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris and at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate . . .
On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning.
Americans have known surprise attacks, but never before on thousands of civilians.
All of this was brought upon us in a single day, and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack . . .
The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.
The terrorists’ directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children . . .
There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries . . .
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.
The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.
The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.
Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there.
It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.
Americans are asking “Why do they hate us?”
They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.
These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way.
We’re not deceived by their pretenses to piety.
We have seen their kind before. They’re the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies . . .
Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success.
We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest.
And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists . . .
The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it and destroy it where it grows . . .
This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.
We ask every nation to join us. We will ask and we will need the help of police forces, intelligence service and banking systems around the world. The United States is grateful that many nations and many international organizations have already responded with sympathy and with support–nations from Latin America to Asia to Africa to Europe to the Islamic world.
Perhaps the NATO charter reflects best the attitude of the world: An attack on one is an attack on all. The civilized world is rallying to America’s side.
They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens may be next. Terror unanswered can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments.
And you know what? We’re not going to allow it.
Americans are asking, “What is expected of us?”
I ask you to live your lives and hug your children.
I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.