In the aftermath of the Paris killings, the Facebook world has been, as is only appropriate, afire with opinion, speculation, ire and sympathy. I do not have the kinds of Facebook friends (I’m happy to report) who leap to make bigoted statements about Muslims, or to publicly indulge in revenge fantasy. I am, however, surprised that more people are not making a direct correlation between religiosity in general and the murders.
If this ghastly day taught us anything, it is that there is indeed a war going on, and it is a continuation of a very old war. In 1099, a Christian army gathered before the gates of Jerusalem, an army of adventurers, pirates, hired killers, and religious zealots. After besieging the city, they eventually broke in and put to sword and fire not only the Muslim defenders, but almost everyone else in the city, regardless of their faith.
The killers who attacked Paris operated on a smaller scale, but on precisely the same religious principles, and with as little discrimination as to the victims. Like the Crusaders, it mattered little what beliefs their victims actually held (there must surely have been some Muslims who died in the attacks), only that they were in the wrong city, a city that had (like the Sodom of the Jewish origin myth) sinned.
Absent downright revenge fantasy, I found it particularly bizarre when my Facebook feed was sprinkled with inducements to pray. In a paroxysm of anti-clerical thought, I wrote the following somewhat flowery passage:
Pray? I shall not pray. Let those who abandon thought, personal responsibility, and reason pray! Let those who wish to turn themselves over to the care of God, or Allah, or Bhudda, or even Lenin … pray. The psychopaths who yell “Allah Akbar!” as they reload their machine guns to cut another murderous swath cannot be responded to by saying “MY god is greater than yours.” No. I shall not pray.
Not surprisingly, I was scolded by some of my more ethereally-oriented friends who found comfort in prayer, who reminded me that prayer brings comfort to those most immediately affected, or who denied that they were actually appealing to a Deity of any kind when they prayed. Another stream of religious apologists loudly proclaimed that the killers weren’t really Muslims. This is outright nonsense. Of course they were not “good” Muslims, as measured by a very selective reading of the Koran, but they were obeying the Koran as literally as those Christians who castigate and condemn homosexuals, or who can read the Apocalypse in an orgy of self-congratulating hatred towards anyone who does not share their reverence for the fantastical story of the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection (capitals theirs, not mine). Let us remember that these attacks were not an isolated event, but rather a continuation of the attacks against free expression that occurred last January. Never make fun of our god, or we’ll kill you.
If there is anything to learn from the horror of bloodshed in Paris, it is that the real battle that is being fought is against rationalism and intellectual liberty. It is being fought specifically by religious extremists. A statement by Isis after the bombings celebrated this highly-organized attack as being against the “prostitute-ridden” city. This is different in degree from the murder by Christian extremists of doctors who perform abortions, but it is based on the same principle: That doctrines held by the murderer trump the rights of the victim, and it is very interesting indeed that in both cases, it is rage against reproductive freedom that fuels the anger of the religionists.
The geopolitical ends of this attack have no more rational base than the gratification of bloodlust that satisfies the psychosis of the killers. These killings will do less to advance the strategic, much less the theological, aims of those responsible than Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. Princip, a Serb extremist, brought more horror on his countrymen than that suffered by any almost any other national entity. The Eastern Front rolled back and forth over Serbia for the entire period of World War I, killing, dispossessing, and torturing millions. I doubt that the co-religionists of the killers will suffer in quite the same proportion (precisely because the French people ARE governed by human law and not by dictates of the Old Testament), but suffer they will, as will their fellow nationals.
The French do not have a fleet of aircraft carriers to launch. They have neither the capacity nor the political naiveté to commit a massive strategic blunder like that committed by the Bush administration after the New York outrage. Fuelled as much by the greed of his ministers as by the Christian fundamentalism of that president, it was precisely the “Crusade” (as Bush so foolishly called his military campaign) that could, as Al -Qaeda intended, galvanize the Muslim world against the West. The galvanization of Western sentiment against the Muslim world is, however, all too easy; it is tragically facile to extend the anger against the extremists to anger against all Muslims. Critics of the new Liberal government in Canada have traction by which they can argue against the humanitarian gesture to accept Syrian refugees.
Ironically, this forces a certain faction of the Left into the position of, if not defense of Islam, at least of defense of those who practice Islamic faith and hold its tenets to be true. This is a forced marriage that makes me cringe: The tenets of that faith are fundamentally hostile to the beliefs of progressives in the West. Bigotry towards Muslims is unquestionably as bad as any other bigotry. That does not give my progressive friends license to condemn me for raging against the very tenets by which those who committed mass murder justify their actions, or to perpetrate the strange casuistry that the perps were not in fact Muslims at all.
Another strange sentiment that I see propounded by the moralists on the Net is that it is somehow a moral failure that it takes an attack on a Western city before our empathy is aroused for the victims. These people love to point out that we don’t cry out against the bombing of Baghdad. (For the record, I have.) We are even scolded for our sympathy towards Parisians. Whence comes this sentiment? My own cultural associations, my sympathies are with the country whose Revolution declared the Rights of Man. My travels have taken me to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and without any question I would more happily live –and die, for that matter– in France than in any of those countries, in all of which I experienced a deep hostility towards my person as a Celt and towards my philosophy, which tells me that men and women are and should be equals, that one scientifically proven thesis trumps every revealed truth in the Koran, and that I have the innate right as a human being to challenge the assumptions of any priest or imam who pronounces what I ought to believe. I will never trade life AFTER the Reformation for life BEFORE it, and, let me make this perfectly clear, I WILL FIGHT for my right to remain free of all those who claim their particular Book of Stories for the Credulous should govern my life.
Finally, in a strange mathematics of horror, I have read posts on the Net comparing single murders committed by crazy Christians to the Paris murders. It is disingenuous to compare a single person’s killing spree, grotesque and immoral as it may be, to a concentrated military attack on a civilian population. To point out that Christians are as capable of evil as members any other religious group is to say nothing at all. No one with the most meager understanding of Western Civ would claim otherwise. To point out that the killing was committed in the name – quite literally – of Allah is not to condemn all Muslims, any more than to point out that illegal bombings by (say) the US Air Force is to condemn Christians, or Liberal Democracy.
God, Allah, Jehovah, or The National Interest: All can be evoked when one is inclined to spill blood. None of it justifies what happened on November 13, 2015 in Paris, and no prevaricating can unmake it as an act of religious warfare, or prevent me from feeling sympathy for the victims and rage against the criminals and their profoundly anti-human beliefs.
First published on kennethbrownattheatrepublic.