As with many people, I was horrified by what happened in Paris last night. I thought about whether I should write about the event, if a first opinion had any weight. Mine alone does not. I obviously don’t have any special information or insight to an event that happened thousands of miles away. However, I can’t help but feel that my opinion is one that is probably shared by others.
I have been to Paris four times. It is everything that a big city should aspire to be. The last time was just a couple of years ago. I was struck by how friendly Parisians were, especially compared to the first few times when I was there, where I would sometimes run into the kind of French that Monty Python parodies. I talked to a man on a train from Serbia who expressed a similar feeling. The French had become more open and excepting to outsiders. I found no one that wasn’t willing and happy to speak English, to give directions, or to be helpful. While some may say this is not a big deal, I think we know as Americans that when someone comes to our country without knowing English, many of us would not be able to speak to them, and there are some that would be outright hostile. Also, France has always been a comparatively open country intellectually. Now they even seemed to be more of an open country in every sense. The French are a proud people, and deservedly so with all they have given the world. But now they seemed to be retaining their pride, while also shedding the negative qualities which often go along with that kind of national self worth.
I was also struck by how relaxing their airports were. No shoes came off. There were no dreadful security lines that filled with one with the kind of anxiety that one can often feel in our airports. Although it is too early to tell, I hate to think that all of this might go backwards. I don’t want more countries turning their airports into the maximum security prison malls that ours now resemble.
So many great thinkers have come from France. France has given so many things to the world, especially in terms of culture. I recently got around to reading Voltaire’s Candide. For this one book alone I will be eternally grateful to France. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Striking at Paris is striking at one of the most important culture centers in all of the world.
This kind of attack can not be allowed to go on. What is the solution? I keep thinking of Hunter Thompson’s quote, after 9/11 that, “The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hope for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country.”
This is a clash of civilizations. However, like all civilizations throughout history, individual people run the gamut in terms of good and bad. But if this attack doesn’t do it, how many more will it takes before all nuance goes out the window?
I found myself angry reading the news last night. I wanted retribution. A place I love, a people I respect, and a culture that is important to the world had been attacked. This kind of thing can’t be allowed to go on. Freedom, not the kind of dimwitted freedom that we often talk about in the press, but true intellectual freedom, the kind that Paris is a beacon for, had taken a blow.
I was not only angry about the attacks themselves, but also about what I can’t help but feel they will lead to. Not only were the crimes committed yesterday horrific for the people who were killed, wounded, or traumatized, but it won’t end there. Theses idiots committing violence are sooner or later going to condemn not only those that share their beliefs, but many more innocent people that are related to them through religion, country, and genetic makeup. Only the attackers and those that aid them deserve retribution, but that is not how these things play out. A thirst for revenge is usually not carried out with any kind of rigorous sanity. I may be wrong this time, but eventually, if things go on, I will not be. These terrorists have destroyed many lives, and in doing so will destroy many more.
Our country has already muddied the waters by attacking Iraq in the wake of 9/11. (Just to make clear that I’m not using the phrase “muddied the waters” as a euphemism: We attacked a country that did not attack us and killed thousands of people in that country, while sending many of our own young women and men to be killed or maimed as well. We helped create a tragedy that many years from now will also be viewed as a farce.) How long will it be before the Western world does something like this on an even larger scale if these kinds of attacks continue? More destruction and killing is coming. There will be a few that deserve it, but many many more that don’t. I can only hope that France and the rest of the Western world do their best to think clearly in these dark days. I can’t help but feel that the senseless violence of yesterday will not make that easy.