In light of the horrific attacks in Paris yesterday, I wanted the chance to share my thoughts on these events and what lies ahead for us as a country. I apologize in advance if this is an unstructured stream of consciousness, but I hope you will understand that the nature of these events is such that I’m having a tough time organizing my thoughts in an effective way.
My heart aches
Although my family is safe, my heart still aches. Aches first and foremost for all the dead and wounded. Nothing will ever fill the void that they have left, but it is our responsibility to ensure that their lives are remembered for all the beauty and love that they had. Their families too must be in our thoughts. I can’t even imagine the immeasurable grief they must feel. Such a brutal and violent end to 100+ innocent lives is a tragedy for which there is no remedy. In light of this loss of life, we can tell ourselves that everything will be okay, but the truth is that it won’t. Anytime a life is brutally and senselessly ended, whether that life is in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Egypt, or anywhere else, a little piece of humanity disappears with it.
My heart aches too for my country, my dear France. This year has been a particularly devastating one for my country and my city. It is not just our people that are under attack, but our values, ideals, and our very ways of life. We have paid a terrible price. Although my heart aches, I have never been so proud in my life of my country and my fellow countrymen.
Love is more powerful than hate
In times like these, I am tempted to be filled with anger and hatred toward these unjustifiable acts. Nothing, ever, can rationalize or even begin to explain the slaughter of innocent civilians. And while I am tempted to lash out, tempted to seek vengeance in any form, tempted to respond not only in kind, but with incredible amounts of force, I have been tempered by the enormous outpouring of love from around the world.
On a personal level, I have been so moved by the dozens, if not hundreds of people who have reached out to me personally. Their care, their love, their compassion is the basis from which we all can begin to move forward. As a Frenchman, the enormous outpouring of international support has profoundly touched me. Yesterday, everyone was French – and nothing could make me more proud.
Even during these times, where the very good of humanity is thrown into question, the fact that people would go out of there way to show love and compassion is a true testament to the kind of world we live in. There is violence in this world. There is hatred in this world. There exist despicable human beings who relish death and destruction. But there is also so much good in this world. Violence only breeds violence. But when a ray of love, of solidarity, of fraternity shines through, that is the true embodiment of the human spirit. I wish it were under different conditions, but the truth is that the universal solidarity, steadfastness under the most trying conditions, must be the cornerstone of our collective recovery from this tragedy.
While destruction can be measured in euros or in body count, love is less tangible. But I would invite all my fellow countrymen, and indeed our friends throughout the world, to put away our hatred and despair, and instead embrace and disseminate love, compassion, and empathy. If we as a society unify around hatred and anger, the terrorists will have won. If instead we unify around our most basic common links, I am convinced we will rebound stronger and more unified from this tragedy.
Let’s celebrate life
Too often after tragedies like this one, we are filled with the compulsive need to understand why such an event happened and what could compel individuals to break free from the bonds of rational actions and commit such heinous crimes. While this is understandable, I would urge everyone, starting with the press, to forget about the perpetrators. While their stories may appear to be excellent human-interest pieces, the only thing we need to know is that their fanatical ideas pushed them to commit unjustifiable acts.
Who they are, where they grew up, how they were pushed into the arms of radicalization is frankly irrelevant. By reporting their names, their stories, their backgrounds, we are not reporting facts, we are disseminating propaganda. Instead, let us focus on the victims. Let’s report about the lives they led, the people they touched, the impact, however big or small, they had in this world. This tragedy is a human story, but not one of violence and death, it is one of compassion and life.
Let us therefore take this opportunity to celebrate the lives of those who left us. Let us mourn their passing but also recognized that we are collectively better because they lived. As for the terrorists, let’s forget them. While they may have succeeded in executing their plan, we can make sure that their ultimate goal of dividing and breaking us fails. That is on us, and it starts by ignoring death and embracing life.
Let’s avoid shortcuts and simplifications
Although the facts remain unclear, initial signs lay the responsibility of the Islamic State (Daesh). With this tragedy, as with so many others like it, the knee-jerk reaction to blame Islam is profoundly flawed. If anything, blaming all Muslims for the actions of a minority, who hide behind the banner of an honorable religion, is granting these terrorists the victory they crave. Islam is not our enemy. Arabs are not our enemy. Syrians are not our enemy. Daesh is our enemy.
The worst thing we could do in a situation such as this one is to create more divisions. This is not a clash of civilizations. Islam is not inherently incompatible with western ideals and values. The people who perpetrated these acts do not speak or even represent Islam. They bastardize the Muslim faith in the same way the KKK bastardizes Christianity. Surely we would never blame acts of hate committed by Christian extremists on the entire religion. Then so to must we accept these people for what they are: fanatics seeking only to destroy and divide.
In light of this, let’s not fall into the trap of division. Let’s not tear at the seams of our society by blaming people of a religion, ethnic background, culture, or origin. They are as much the victims of this crime as any. Let’s instead extend that uniquely French value of fraternité to everyone, and in particular our Muslim brothers and sisters who are shocked, hurt, and horrified by these acts.
Let us extend this logic to the thousands of migrants seeking refuge in Europe. They are not the problem. By and large, these people are not fleeing their homeland to bring death and destruction to ours. If anything, by stigmatizing them, we will force many good men and women, out of anger and despair, into the very arms of the people they are fleeing today. Syrian immigrants are not the cause of this attack, even if it becomes evident that these perpetrators came from Syria. Immigration into Europe is a problem, but eliminating it will not make us safer.
Radicalization is the child of desperation. The men and women fleeing Syria are the incarnation of desperation. Instead of pushing them to the depths of despair which breeds fanaticism, let’s understand their struggle and make a concerted effort to welcome them until such time as they can return to their homes. By doing so, we will be spreading goodwill and love rather than continuing to perpetuate anger and hate.
Our enemy’s enemy is our friend
In the earliest days of the Syrian civil war, I strongly advocated for intervention to remove the Assad regime. Western powers decided otherwise. The dichotomy between their human rights focused rhetoric and their failure to act has contributed to the abysmal situation present their today.
While I still firmly believe that Bashar Al-Assad is a criminal, the truth is quite simple: he represents the best chance for stability and to eliminate Daesh. Arming moderate rebels has proved pointless, and frankly, I question if enough “moderates” still exist in the ranks of fighters. We must sit down at the table with Al-Assad and his allies in Moscow to develop a clear plan to eliminate Daesh. The time for lofty R2P goals has long since passed. We can either choose to hold on to these nebulous ideals or ensure our protection by eliminating the true enemy: Daesh. Doing so simply must go through a deeper collaboration with the Assad regime.
While this is certainly not ideal, it can be the only solution to both stemming the migrant crisis and preventing further metastasis from the Daesh cancer. That said, Western powers should not turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime. Indeed, the very values that were attacked cannot be cast aside at the cost of security. Instead, any fight against Daesh must be predicated on a renewed push to ensure more freedom for Syrians and organize a more just and fair society – even if it one with Bashar Al-Assad at its helm. Ultimately, the enemy we know is much less frightening than that we do not. Daesh must be defeated purely and simply. If doing so means working with Assad, that is a price we must pay to avoid further bloodshed.
We cannot compromise our values
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité – today these principles must be more than simply a motto, they must be a compass that guides our collective recovery from these heinous acts. Make no mistake about it, this attack wasn’t targeted at an individual, it was targeted at a community brought together by central values. In our response, we cannot afford to comprise our most basic tenants in the name of security.
In particular, many will call for greater scrutiny of Muslim citizens. This would be a tragedy that would worsen the impact of these attacks. Others are already calling for expanded security at the expense of civil liberties. This too would be a grave error. I make this argument not out of some idealistic adherence to values in the face of pragmatic alternatives, but rather because sacrificing these values is precisely the goal of these actions. In abandoning the glue that holds together our society, we are opening the door to greater radicalization – particularly among the most fragile communities in our society, those most susceptible to radicalization. People are not born radical, rather by the circumstances of their lives they are led down the dark and terrible path of hatred and destruction. We can avoid this, but the only way to do so is by reaffirming our values, and recognizing that only together, as one, can we move past this tragedy.
Liberty, we learned, has a high price, yet it is a price we must continue to pay as a society. Security, if it comes at the cost of freedom, is not security – it is merely isolation. In times where our very foundations are shaken, our values must bring us together, not tear us apart. That is why I urge my fellow countrymen and all our friends around the world to hold our values high. Be proud of them, and recognize that they are our most precious national asset. Nothing, no bomb, no bullet, no act of savagery can erase these fundamental tenants.
How we move forward will define us as a country
In the final analysis, there is no way to look at this event positively. Things are not going to be okay, certainly not for the families who mourn a loved one. Nothing can replace them; nothing should try to replace them. Rather than sit around telling ourselves that everything will be okay, let’s accept that we are not okay. We need to grieve, but with grief comes time for healing, and my deepest hope is that together with a renewed resolve and firmly grounded in our values, we can show the world that what unites us is so much stronger than what divides us. We can be the living proof that love is a stronger force than hate, that we will always be better together than apart.
This event has changed France forever, but the ultimate test of a people has always been how they respond to crisis. Let us mourn our brothers and sisters who have left us and pray for the hundreds of injured. But let us also honor their lives by coming back stronger, more unified, and fully embracing the values of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité that bind us together. France is more than a country, France is an idea. In light of this terrible tragedy, let us unite behind that idea and show that we are one. There is no finer tribute to those we lost.
Vive la République,
Vive la France.