Anger is a normal reaction. It’s the normal reaction.
It’s a response to fear. Anger prompts us to destroy what we fear, thus alleviating the feeling – in theory.
It’s not that simple.
When acts of terrorism are committed, we feel shock, and grief, and of course anger. We rush to find a target for these emotions, so they can be carried outwards, away from ourselves; we need a focus. Radical, militant Islamists are the flavour of the moment. We identify them as Muslims, and there’s the target for our outrage.
It’s the wrong target. Not because militant Islamists aren’t (in their view, at least) Muslims, but just the opposite. They’re extremists. They don’t represent an entire faith, or set of ethnicities, or collection of countries. But they want to.
This is a conflict of ideology. Not just as motivation, but also what’s at stake.
It is in the greatest interest of terrorist fringe groups to confirm and reinforce their own dogma – such as the idea of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West. It gives them justification, fuels their movement, drives recruitment, and perpetuates their actions.
One of the primary targets of Islamist terrorism is the vast majority of moderate Muslims. Sometimes physically, but always psychologically. Terrorists want the rest of us to do their dirty work for them. A prime goal of these acts is to engineer a schism between Muslims and Western cultures. To create alienation, and to make Muslims a target of fear and anger. The resulting exclusion, xenophobia, suspicion, and implicit or explicit segregation is a tool of radicalisation.
We can’t fight back that way. We can’t win.
We believe in civil liberties, freedom of expression and religion, and certain inalienable human rights. In maintaining those beliefs, we are essentially untouchable – because liberty and progressive views are inherently compelling and edifying. They speak to our innate affinity towards family and community; nurturing and safety.
We are the only ones who can take these things away from ourselves.
The goal of terrorism is not to kill a few dozen people, or a few hundred, in specific acts of violence; it’s to cause us to self-harm in far more fundamental ways. Its goal is to make us change ourselves.
We can’t sustainably fight cell-based, jihadist terrorism with more surveillance or more sweeping powers of arrest. Not without sacrificing our way of life. Not without losing. We can’t fight using the rhetoric of war, or retaliation, or Hollande’s “merciless response”. The approach is wrong, and the target is wrong.
This is not a Muslim issue. This isn’t a Syrian issue. Ultimately, it’s not even an Islamist issue. It’s about us.
This is a conflict that can only be won with human empathy; by refusing to be complicit in the othering of 1.6 billion people based on the actions of one-third of one-hundredth of 1% of them. Ideas are bulletproof, but they cannot survive in the face of relentless contradictory evidence.
This will happen again, of course. We’ll have more days like this. And we’ll feel this way again.
The natural response is anger, but the only constructive one is to reach out to those who will be most shocked, most ashamed, and most afraid – Muslims in Western countries – and let them know, explicitly or otherwise, that they are welcome here.
They are the mirror in which we decide whether we’ll remain free. And they are no-one’s enemies.
And yes, it’s easy to plead moderation and perspective from afar. To see the larger picture when our point of view isn’t filled with the loss of a familiar face. Rational analysis is the domain of the comfortably distant. I preach here in safety from my armchair.
I was talking to my beloved little sister on Saturday. She lives in the city of Aberdeen, and we see her often. We all climbed Arthur’s Seat together when she was here in Edinburgh a few weeks ago. We’re making plans for the New Year.
She has friends in many places, including in Paris on the 13th of November. One of them was amongst the 89 people murdered at Le Bataclan. His name was Juan.
It doesn’t change anything.
I walked along the riverside cycle path at the weekend, as usual. I passed others who were out going about their lives. I saw a couple of Muslim families, as usual. I nodded, or said hello, as usual.
In the face of a lack of humanity, we refuse to lose ours. That is the price of our freedom.