11/13, or Preventing Europe’s 9/11

On the evening of Friday, November 13th, Paris, France, was attacked. Seven different locations were attacked, including a soccer stadium with French President Hollande in attendance, restaurants, and a concert played by an American band. As of the time of this writing, the known death toll is 132, with over 349 injured and 42 in critical condition. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility, in the latest and among the most egregious of a long list of atrocities. To the people of Paris, and France as a whole, and to victims of terror attacks around the globe, you have my deepest sympathies, and my sincere hope for your swift recovery and healing as a nation from these unwarranted and unjust attacks. Now, to everyone, but especially the United States of America, we as a world, standing with France, have a responsibility. That responsibility is to not allow this, for any reason, to be politicized, and we cannot, absolutely cannot, allow this to become a new September 11th. This is of the utmost importance, we cannot allow France to follow us to their destruction.

(These next few paragraphs are going to focus on 9/11 and its effect on the United States. There is a point here for France, I promise.)

On September 11th, a massive terror attack was perpetrated against the United States of America. The entire world stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States after that attack. Even nations with no great love for the US like Iran and China stood up and condemned the attacks as cowardly and unjustified. And in the aftermath of that attack, as New York and the Pentagon burned, the United States went to war, and al-Qaeda won. In the years since, in over fourteen years of grinding war, the American military has broken al-Qaeda like a reed, sending it scurrying into holes and caves, its leaders dead to American weapons, the organization all but destroyed as a force of repute internationally, and al-Qaeda still won.

Al-Qaeda won because the United States went to war, and left the national ideal of the United States behind. Al-Qaeda won because the United States that was attacked on September 11th, 2001, is on life support, and the United States currently waging war around the world is not even a shadow of the United States they attacked. Al-Qaeda could not destroy the ideals of the United States of America. It could never destroy the vision, the collective consciousness that broke away from the British Empire in 1776, the republic that stitched itself back together after a bloody civil war in 1865, the country that went to war for Europe in 1917 and again in 1941. It could never destroy the country that stood against the Soviet Union, that stood with NATO against communism and the Soviet Union. That country, and its destruction, was out of their reach. The idea of the country that did those things, the collective identity of that people, was unassailable to their weapons. What was not, what was really attacked, was the only thing that could affect the American identity, the American mind.

9/11 destroyed the Twin Towers. 9/11 attacked the Pentagon and set it ablaze. Only a precious few still alive today, all hunted by Western intelligence and security services, know where that fourth aircraft, United Flight 93, was aimed. More than the physical destruction or the death and injury to thousands of Americans however, more damaging than any of that physical pain, the attack on 9/11 did exactly what al-Qaeda wanted. They succeeded in violently entering and wounding the American consciousness. They hurt us, and they made us angry. The United States of America was enraged, and the United States of America went to war.

When we went to war, and by God we went to war, we forgot who we were and who the United States is supposed to be on the world stage. We had been attacked, and our nose had been bloodied, publicly and horrifically. We were shaken and we let that get to us. We let that get to us and we let that change who we are.

There was a time when travel to and through the United States was free and easy. There was a time when our citizens didn’t jump at shadows, security services were not omnipresent, and that there wasn’t a (still growing) industry centered on personal protection here within the US from such attacks as what occurred in France. There was a time where the infringement of civil rights by the national security apparatus was not a concern of the average American. There was a time when we weren’t paranoid about the next great terror attack, and there was certainly a time when the focus of that paranoia was not honest immigrants and refugees seeking a better life here in the US. There was a time when we welcomed immigrants and refugees from around the world with open arms, and condemned politicians among us for currying favor by inciting the populace against them as sleeper agents for some nefarious foreign enemy. There was a time when a presidential candidate could not stand on a national stage and advocate for fear and hatred for an entire collection of peoples, from more ethnic, cultural, and personal backgrounds than could ever be tallied, and not be booed from the race so swiftly if you blinked you would miss it. That country may never have lived up to these ideals, but that country was always trying that much harder to achieve them. That time, when that country existed, is not right now. And for that reason, al-Qaeda won.

We have, for fourteen years, been blinded by our anger, by our rage, by our desire for the blood of our enemies. There was no doubt anywhere in the world, in the aftermath of 9/11, that our anger, our rage, and our bloodlust were not totally justified. Someone had declared war on America, on Americans and the idea of the United States of America in a brutal, terrifying way, and by God, the United States of America was going to war. As we went to war, we forgot who we are. The country I have described above, that time I described, existed. That country gave a damn on the international stage. That country led the world, with the confidence of a country that knew it was trying to do what was right, all else be damned. Even when engaged in the realpolitik of the Cold War and its impersonal calculus, there was a national consciousness, that not only was the United States a force for international order, but by God we gave a damn about doing the right thing. That country lived, that country worked, and while that country fumbled, that country got up and kept trying. That country is on life support.

There is a saying attributed to Buddha, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; it is you that gets burned.” We as a country are still angry; we still hold a mighty grudge against those we believe to be behind the most humiliating and devastating attacks against us. Why else would we would allow the vast changes that have gripped our country, a drastic, sweeping change to who we are, and how we conduct ourselves, at home and abroad? Why else would the country so long known for giving a damn when it counted no longer give a damn? Why else would we no longer engage with the world, why else has our anger not given up the ghost and ended its poisonous effect on our politics, foreign and domestic?

Our anger has burned us. We’re tired of being angry, of being at war. More than anything, we’re tired of giving a damn. And all of those feelings are fully justified. For far too much of my life, my country has been at war. We have been at war, and I’m not sure how long ago we forgot not only who we are fighting, but why we went to war at all. We have let this war seep into our consciousness, and we have let it change us. To be perfectly clear, no one, no one ever, could possibly undergo what has happened either on 9/11 or just now in Paris, and come out of it unchanged. Such change can be understood and controlled, but that was not the case for us. The United States was changed, in ways we did not want, and in ways we did not control, and in ways that have radically changed what we stand for and how we conduct ourselves. We allowed that change to happen to us, instead of controlling and steering it, and that change has been catastrophic. The United States has stopped giving a damn about the right thing. And right now, France, and by extension Europe, needs us to give a whole hell of a lot of damns, whether we, or they, like it or not, about the right thing.

The nation of France has been savagely attacked. Their capital, one of the shining lights of the French identity, was placed under siege. The Islamic State declared war on France as surely as al-Qaeda declared war on the United States, and has brought the war home to each French citizen as surely as al-Qaeda ensured every American around the world reeled after our own attack. The idea of France, the idea of the French nation and the French people, has been assaulted in the only way possible, an all-out assault on the heart of a nation, on its confidence and its ideals and its people, right at home. There is no way around it: the Islamic State has not only declared war on France, they have declared war on Europe, on European ideals, and on Western civilization as a whole. France is angry, France is vengeful, and France is on the warpath. And Europe will surely follow.

France is one of the oldest allies of the United States. Without the help of the French Navy, our Revolutionary War might have ended in British favor, snuffing out our fledgling republic. Their gift (at the price we paid, it was a gift) of Louisiana ensured the dominance of the United States on the North American continent for centuries to come.  We have fought side by side in both World Wars, and we stood together against the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. And as much as the average American enjoys ribbing his or her French counterpart, we know, as I hope our French friends and allies know, when the chips are down, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them, and march straight into Hell. And for that reason, the United States of America has a duty to France right now. We have been where they are right now. They feel our pain of fourteen years ago. We understand where they are right now, and they know now where we were. And for that reason, we must, we absolutely must, prevent our French brothers and sisters from making the same mistakes we did.

When we, the United States of America, went to war in 2001, we forgot who we are and who we are supposed to be. We are the United States of America, and we stopped caring about the rules we wrote, about doing what was right, we stopped caring about who we are and only cared about making the cowards that hit us hurt. We cannot, absolutely cannot, allow France to make this same mistake. We are, as a country, a friend to France, and friends don’t let friends go off the rails, no matter what happens. The international community tried to be there for us after 9/11, to be our friends, to help us reign in our anger and remain the United States of America, Europe, and France and the United Kingdom, in particular. For that we owe them a debt of gratitude I’m not sure we’ve ever acknowledged. They failed that day, but they tried, and that’s what counts. That’s what friends, even the international variety, do. We have a duty, a moral obligation, to extend that same effort to them. They tried and failed. Now that they are where we were, maybe, just maybe, we can have more success where they did not.

It’s going to suck. It’s going to be unpopular, and France, and Europe by extension, is going to be pissed at us if we do it. They may never come around to understand why we do what we have to do right now, for them. We have to not care. We know where they are, we know, really know, what they are feeling, and we know how perilous that road is, whether we have realized that yet ourselves or not. We have been down that road, and we owe it to France to not let them make the same mistakes we did. We cannot allow them, France and Europe as a whole, to forget who they are. They are the cradle of Western civilization; they represent so much history that informs modern cultures around the globe. They represent every positive value the West has fought and died for for centuries, and we cannot allow them to make the irreparable mistake of throwing that away, even temporarily, in their anger.

And make no mistake, they are angry. The full might of the French military is about to slam the Islamic State in full force. France is going to go to war, and you are sorely mistaken if you believe even for a moment that anyone in Europe or across the Atlantic will not back them up to the hilt. Together we will help them wreak a just and terrible vengeance in blood and destruction on an unequaled evil in this world today. However, as we help them, as we aid their exacting and terrible justice, we cannot allow France to stop being France, or Europe to cease to be Europe.

We cannot allow France or the European Union to end its humanitarian mission to aid the refugees continuing to flee the war zone they now wade deep into. The European tradition of altruistic aid, particularly to the helpless and victims of war, cannot be allowed to die an ignominious death. Beyond concerns about the migrant uprising should conditions continue to worsen, beyond whether not the Islamic State and other jihadist organizations are hiding their sleeper agents within these incredible masses of people fleeing a truly awful situation, Europe as a whole, and France in particular, cannot give up on these people.

The Islamic State is at war with quite a few powers and disparate groups. Their laundry list of adversaries is impressive, just to see some of the actors aligned in their interests for the first time in decades. One thing they are at war with, far and away, beyond military concerns, are the ideals of Western civilization. The mere idea of the Christian and secular (by their definition “apostate” either way, but definitely together) Western civilization is a titanic threat to their ideology, in its claim as the sole true path for the entire world. If Europe abandons the traditions of Western civilization, those humanitarian ideals, if France abandons its ideals, as the United States did when we fell under our attack, the Islamic State will have won. Europe the idea will be dead, and the Islamic State will be victorious. And that is a horror we cannot allow to happen.

We cannot allow the European ideal of multicultural peace to fall by the wayside. There is a case to be made that the only truly multicultural country on this planet is the United States of America, but we did not invent the idea. We inherited that idea, that men and women of all faiths, of all beliefs, and all stations in life are equal in each and every way, from our European antecedents. In the United States, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we discarded that freedom in the name of security. And we have failed on both counts. We are not more secure than we were, and we have placed unfair national scrutiny and pressure on a group of people neither responsible or culpable for the horrifying strike on 9/11. We have done many of our own, and many they are, Muslims and Arabs alike, and millions more around the world an incredible disservice. We are no longer a land of welcome for everyone, race, belief, and everything else aside. We have let our blood rage blind us for far too long, and we have let our government run amok for it. This must end, but the best medicine is always prevention, and we owe it to France and Europe as a whole to not let them make the same mistake. They opened our eyes to the great diversity of our world, of humanity across the globe, and we owe to them to remind them of that should it become necessary.

To the Islamophobes in this world, yes, that is a word (Bill Maher, you are quite wrong on this count), and you need to check yourselves. Do you hold all men equal? Do you believe that all men deserve to be judged not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character? If you answered yes to those questions, why should Muslims and Arabs (two quite distinct, if overlapping groups) bear unnecessary scrutiny? (If you answered no, I’ll deal with you later.) Why should the actions of the few speak to the whole? Why do you judge the ability of so many, of an entire faith and range of cultures, to integrate with you, to understand and appreciate your values, when you do not yourself? Why should all Muslims be held to task when the same is not true of Christians? Why I ask you?

A white Christian man executed the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. A group of Arab Muslims executed the 9/11 attacks. Why are airports screening the latter “randomly” incessantly, subjecting them to extra searches and restrictions, but I, a white Christian male, not subject to examination when I buy fertilizer? Why, when we nominally, not only as a country but as people, believe in true equality, in acceptance of all persons, and in the equitable distribution of blame, do we allow this to continue? Whatever the answer to that question is, we need still do one thing, and that is not allow France and Europe to fall into this same trap. Regardless of whether or not the United States is presently in a place where we can acknowledge and attempt to right these wrongs, we owe it to France, to French Muslims, and to French citizens for the pain such distrust will inflict, and to the same across Europe as a culture group and civilization, to do our best to not let them fall prey to the same trap.

The idea of Islam is already a caricature of a jihadist extremist in much of Western discourse. Particularly in the United States, this virulent brand of reactionary caricature has taken hold, even within the minds of ordinarily rational people, and informed how we think and speak about an entire faith in ways that should be unspeakable and unthinkable. We have allowed our anger to blind us to what Islam is, to who Muslims around the whole world really are, and we have tarred Arabs with the same black brush. That is grossly unfair, and so un-American I am ashamed that I must even raise the idea. I challenge you, my readers, to find examples of how we discuss Islam today, and go back one thousand years. That damnable Winston Churchill passage springs to mind. Look at that passage you have, and replace “Islam” with “Christianity”. Replace those two faiths, and look at that history objectively. Examine the next two hundred years, and tell me, tell me with your full intellectual honesty, that it is not an exact match.

Our hypocrisy sickens me. “Paris Citizens Flood the Streets with a Powerful Message for Islam!“? Really? When did the actions of a few become the motive force for all? Should I consider similarly, in light of your sheer ignorance, Mr. Feuerstein, all Christians hopelessly lost in matters of science, particularly evolution? Or the tweet from US Congress Representative Jeff Duncan, “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now? How about that mass migration into Europe? Terrorism is alive & well in the world“. Let me make a point, and none too subtly. Has it occurred to any one of you lot that maybe, just maybe, these people are peaceable, innocent people, who are fleeing these very events in what was once their homeland? Syrian President Assad, whatever else his role in this conflict, or whatever else he meant, spoke with a kernel of truth today, “What France suffered from savage terror is what the Syrian people have been enduring [for years]”. Muslims and other Arabs and other ethnicities throughout the Middle East have found themselves in the crossfire as the radicals of the Islamic State set their sights on the world, and do not care for those in the way of their holy war, their own Crusades.

Let me show you the Islam I know. Qu’ran 5:32: “Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind.” Or the simple line: “Terrorism has no religion”. The Islam I know invented algebra. The Islam I know created a trade network that spanned an area far greater than the Roman or Macedonian Empires ever dreamed to touch, held in such high regard in the West. The Islam I know informed Saladin, great Muslim general of the Crusades, who sent his personal physicians to aid King Richard the Lion-Hearted, his mortal enemy in the Second Crusade, when he fell ill. The Islam I know has rallied with France. The Islam I know has shouted “Allahu Akbar!” at the top of its lungs for days now, not as a battle cry, but in grieving prayer for those innocent victims of the monsters that have attacked Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya, and countless other locales around the world. This is no clash of civilizations, but the reckoning of a new form of radicalism with the rest of the world. Islam has no greater monsters than Christianity, and if we cannot recognize that, recognize the faithful do not make the faith, then the real United States left on life support is dead and buried. If we as a country, as a civilization, and as a world, cannot come to grips with that simple idea, that jihadist and Muslim are not the same thing, the civilization to which I swear allegiance, the United States of America I am loyal to, a country of good, is dead and buried.

Christianity has moved beyond its Crusader period. Islam is in the throes of its own such time. We cannot allow these struggles, internal divisions, and the extreme actions of a radical few, to greatly inform how we as a civilization interact with billions of peaceful, innocent people, untold millions of whom are our brothers and sisters in Western civilization. Islamic radicals have taken their faith and twisted it in horrible, awful ways. Radicals always have done this, and always will. This has been done with Christianity, and Judaism, and uncountable faiths and ideals before that, and to follow our own. We as a country, we the United States, have failed to stand up, to be the better man as a country, and to not allow our interactions with so many to be informed and warped so greatly by a damaged and lost few. We have failed our ideals of peace, of welcome, and of reason. We have failed, but maybe, just maybe, we can use that knowledge and that pain, and prevent Europe from suffering its own catastrophe.

For so long, Western Europe and America have stood together, examples of the best Western civilization could create. We were never perfect, and we never will be, but we always did our best to live up to the ideals that created us, that have informed our political and cultural discourse for so very long. Fourteen years ago, the United States of America was attacked. Fourteen years we went to war, and we lost. We went to war, and our enemy killed who we are. They destroyed what we were meant to be, and reduced us to what we are today, even as we annihilated their physical existence with our weapons, our vengeance, and our anger. We know the pain of this road, of the myriad reasons and failures and successes, yes, even successes, that have brought us to where we are today.

We are Europe’s ally and Europe’s friend, France’s ally and France’s friend. In this time of pain, of destruction, they need us to stand with them, firm friends in a dark hour of their history. They deserve our support, our sympathy, that we might stand shoulder to shoulder with them, and remind them that the world has not ended, that there is still good left to be found. Part of doing that is being the absolute best friend we can be to them right now. That means understanding their pain as we felt our own, and doing our best to help them through it. That means understanding the mistakes we made when we were in the shoes they are now, and doing our absolute best to help them avoid such depths of anger, of despair, of loss that we did for the great nation France is, and the continent of Europe as a whole. France needs the United States to give a damn one more time, to give a damn about an age-old friend, to help them, and return to the United States of old, the United States that cared about doing what was right, because it was the right thing by God. France and Europe need that from us, and we would be sorely remiss to not aid them, as they tried to aid us.

To address a point I have seen raised time and time again over the days since the Paris attack, yes, the week of November 13 was a horrifying week around the world. It is truly a shame and a black mark on the Western news and social media system so many other tragedies have been sidelined. The attack on Garissa University, earthquakes in Japan and Mexico, bombings in Beirut and Baghdad, these tragedies are horrible, and to the victims, the friends and family affected, you have my deepest sympathies and condolences for your losses. I am sorry.

To those that would exploit this failure of the Western media, news, social, and otherwise, to advance their own political agenda, let me say this. If you wish to raise these tragedies to keep us honest, to help everyone stay abreast of the happenings in their world, thank you. You are doing good, and thank you for that. Speaking for myself, I have faith in the emergency services of this world to handle their duties in this trying time. Should they fail to dispense that responsibility, I have no doubt that will be brought to my attention in due time. If you do not, if you wish to use this as an instance to shame the Euro-centric nature of our current world, to shame supposedly still imperialist European nations for actions in their past, you disgust me. Beyond any question about why should Europe as a whole and France now, in the middle of their pain, answer for the sins of their fathers, how can you claim to support the good and the just when you shamelessly exploit a vicious attack to advance your own agenda through someone else’s deep pain? France is hurting, Europe is hurting. Let them grieve.

To those concerned with the concentrated nature of the Paris coverage, let me be blunt. Of the hundreds and more claimed dead within this last week (there were no thousands killed in either Japan or Mexico), Paris accounts for less than a quarter. However, the importance of the response to that attack cannot be overstated. This is a turning point, a moment of reckoning not unlike our 9/11, in European history. How France acts, how Europe acts, in these next few days, weeks, and months, will radically affect the course of the world for decades to come. The 132 deaths of Parisians will have an outsize effect on the course of the world, and while that might be unfair, such is the nature of our world. Whether or not it should be, Europe is still one of the centers of power in this world, and acts there will have ripple effects around the world, as I am certain this insidious strike will have. We must, for the sake of the whole world, give France and Europe our attention, lest we let them make the same mistakes the United States did fourteen years ago, and we let the whole world suffer for it.

To the victims, the friends, family, bystanders, neighbors of the attacks in Paris, to the French nation as a whole, stay strong. It’s going to be okay, I promise. We are going to make them pay, together. Together, we will fight our way through this. The United States of America stands with you, and all victims of terror around the world, in Beirut, in Africa, and wherever the stain of evil brings pain and death to the world. We will go to war with you, our shield-brother, and we will fight. We will help you fight this evil until we can fight no more, and we will still raise our sword again. Please, if I may have one request, listen to us. We’ve been there. Really. Let us help you. We might not always succeed but we’re trying, trust us. Thank you. We appreciate it, and it is our honor to stand with you.

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As always, thank you for reading, and feel free to comment with your own thoughts and feelings below – GP

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