Friday, July 15, 2016

It's not Terrorism, but our Reaction to it that Presents the Real Danger

John Mejia drawing
What possesses a man, a disenchanted delivery truck driver, a troubled 31-year old, a burglar, a thief, prone to road rage, to drive a white panel truck into a festive crowd assembled to watch fireworks and to honor France which put the Enlightenment into its national motto: liberté, égalité, fraternité? 

What posseses a man to accelerate his truck through the crowd intent on mass murder, intent on his own death? 

What possesses persons on al-Queada affiliated social media to laugh at sorrow expressed by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and to cheer the carnage? What kind of nihilistic nonsense is this? 

The Enlightenment, we must never forget, was in part a reaction to the horror of the wars of religion that preceded it. The Enlightenment championed values of tolerance, education, and trade with all irrespective of creed. The Enlightenment wisely recognized that civil wars, religious wars, and persecutions are destructive of stable trade, destructive of human society, destructive of humanitarian values, and that we can and must do better. 

Whatever Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was about, it's not values of tolerance, humanism, and education. He and his pro-ISIS, pro-al Quaeda cheerleaders are enemies of the Enlightenment; enemies of liberté, égalité, fraternité.

These acts--the horror of Nice is not the first and will not be the last--pose a grave challenge to our Enlightenment values. They pose a challenge to what we hold dear. But it's not so much the acts themselves, as our reaction to the acts.  Hurricane Katrina which killed 1,836 and caused $81 billion in property damage was not a threat to our Enlightenment values. Natural disasters just happen and we take them in stride. We can learn lessons of how to prepare better, and how to respond better, but natural disasters don't threaten the fabric of our society. It's not the death toll, it's not the damage of terrorist acts that cause the danger to society, therefore, it's our reaction to these acts that pose the danger. 

What threatens our liberal societies in the case of random terrorist attacks like Nice is the demagoguery that follows. It is those who counsel that we must lash out, lash out against Muslims, lash out against immigrants, lash out against the Other. We must declare a new world war say Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump. We must exclude all Muslims. We must deport anyone who believes in Sharia law, says Newt Gingrich. But it's those demagogues who are the real threats to our democracies.

Take the attacks on September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was spectacular, it was horrific, it killed 2,996 people and caused $10 billion in property damage. But it's not the deaths, it's not the loss of buildings, it was the Bush administration's reaction that caused the more lasting damage to society.

My heart goes out to France, to the city of Nice, to all the killed and injured, and their families. May you heal well; may France stand up to its demagogues. May we stand up to ours. Long live liberté, égalité, et fraternité?



You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles


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