Violence and terror have once again tragically erupted as ISIS has claimed responsibility for attacks that killed over 100 people in Paris yesterday. Reaction to the news has been swift and sweeping, with appropriate responses like mourning, concerns over security and a desire for justice mixing with baser calls for widespread violence against entire countries and people groups.
I am typically against gut reactions to breaking news. There are usually too many missing details and undiscovered facts to express a well-informed opinion. But as I have observed some of the reactions coming out of the attacks yesterday, I have had a few thoughts, less about the perpetrators of the violence – who are deserving of justice – than about the reactions to the violence by others.
1. Are all innocent victims created equal?
The most tragic part of these attacks – and, indeed, of any attack – is the loss of innocent life. The expressions of concern for the victims, the prayers and support sent their way, are entirely appropriate. More than that, they are proof of humanity.
What is troublesome is that this kind of support for innocent victims is not offered evenly to all people. When American planes bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital last month, killing over 20 staff and patients, the story made the news but not to the same degree as the attacks yesterday. Perhaps the accidental bombing of a hospital is less newsworthy that the intentional terror attacks on innocent people, but even this shouldn’t cause us to care less about one set of innocent victims than another.
The fact that America’s foreign policy has multiplied this story many times over makes matters worse. The innocent victims of these policies, the number of which is literally hundreds of times higher than the victims of terrorism, are no less human, no less deserving of our sympathy and support. Where are their hashtags and profile photos? Where are their prayers?
This is not to criticize the support sent to the victims of yesterday’s attacks. But it is curious that we don’t treat all victims equally. I honestly don’t know if this is because we view the victims differently, or the attackers. I’m not even sure which of those two answers would be more terrifying.
2. Reality continues to repudiate American foreign policy
The explanations for the attacks has touched on a few possibilities, from radical Islam to refugee immigration. But as ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack I could only wonder what would have to happen for Americans to recognize reality’s repudiation their country’s foreign policy.
The United States, through its overseas meddling, helped to create Al Qaeda in the 1980s. Not three decades later America, by removing Saddam Hussein and supporting various rebel groups, helped create ISIS. Now there will doubtlessly be experts claiming that we need to fix the current situation by intervening further.
The reality is that the current Middle East situation, including the creation, rise and reign of ISIS, is directly – though by no means entirely – due to American foreign policy. Interventions have only beget more interventions and battles against terrorism have only resulted in more terrorism. Maybe some day Americans will learn that the more we try to fix things the more we mess them up. That day, apparently, is not today.
3. Can we maintain civilization if we advocate total war?
The worst, and unfortunately inevitable, response to an incident like this is the repeated call for wiping entire countries or people groups off the map. It should be readily apparent how opposed to traditional Western values this kind of sentiment is. That this is the solution offered by many alleged conservatives is even worse, for what is conservatism attempting to conserve if not traditional Western values? And how can it conserve them by ignoring them in warfare?
I really wish that the old school conservatives were still alive. I wish that men like Robert Nisbet and Richard Weaver could see (and respond to) the kind of nonsense that is masquerading as the movement that they helped create. They would, I believe, be appalled at what it has become.
Despite the rampant hatred invading minds and Facebook feeds, it is possible to fight against enemies without dehumanizing them. It is possible to recognize and draw distinctions between combatants and non-combatants. Neoconservatives, however, want none of this. They seem to want only to bomb people of a particular ethnicity, geography or religion.
Weaver recognized this tendency in his day and anticipated it in ours. In pushing back against the wave of inhuman, indiscriminate violence that war has turned into, Weaver wrote,
“…even if you feel that you have to fight your brother man, this does not mean that you place him outside the pale of humanity. Even in warfare…you conduct yourself in such a way that civilization can go on. The real, the absolute prohibition, is against shattering the mold of civilization, which includes both you and your foe.
“It will have to be recognized that the worst thing of all is to give up your status as a self-controlled human being, because once that is given up, you are by no means certain of retrieving it.”
Pondering this uncertain possibility, Weaver posed this question: “It is said that some kinds of animals become infected with a type of madness which leads finally to their extinction as a species. Is this the kind of epitaph that will have to be written for modern man, if there is anyone left to write epitaphs?”
This question remains unanswered. But modern man seems increasingly determined to respond in the affirmative.