The morning after.
Time enough to have done some heavier thinking.
After 9/11, our nation determined that terrorism was not going to send us screaming into the hills. No, we were set on revenge, on payback, on defense. 9/11 united the country rather than splintered it in fear. Which then proceeded to put us on the road to war. Rightly or wrongly, what it did not do was cause us to fold.
One major difference besides the very size of comparable events: the strikes in France seem to have come largely from French citizens retrained by ISIS and reinserted into French civilization. Which is to say, ISIS was successful at seducing disaffected young people in France to take up arms against their parents, teachers, bosses, not to mention the bureaucracy, the very layer of French policy-making that for years (since the fifties) has sat on the hopes and dreams of immigrants.
Yet these dispossessed populations throughout France have never before united against their treatment. A small portion of them now has.
In our country, the dispossessed have been people of color. Black,brown,yellow. Yet each has been able to, within its own circles, keep “the American dream” alive, something worth fighting for. And thousands have. How? In effect, by deciding that the progress and purpose of the nation was the progress and purpose of their nation. Rather than doing battle with a nation of whose desires they were uncertain, they attached themselves to its rules, regulations, and goals. They became, in truth, new Americans, some perhaps more “American” than others, but all aware of their own possibilities.
In France, the Algerians and other populations of French Africa were granted nodding acquaintance with liberte, egalite, fraternite. They were not allowed to start at the bottom rung of a slippery ladder and to make their way slowly to higher levels of achievement. They landed, and wherever they landed on the scale they stayed. This did not make them happy, confident, patriotic citizens. Rather it reinforced the sensation of themselves as chattel belonging to plantations somewhere, serfs, slaves. Colonialism was real in France for hundreds of years as it was seldom in our country.
The question now is, for France, what can it do against the rolling fires of ISIS?
Without courting world condemnation, it cannot arm itself as we did in 2001 and take to the skies. Two reasons: they would be bombing their own hillsides, as Spain did in the thirties; worse, France would be seen as high tech going after low-tech, as industrial-sized armaments going up against bows-and-arrows. That, of course, is nonsense, but perceptions are what they are. Just as quickly as France unwillingly has secured the sympathy and understanding of the Western World, it could lose that sympathy and understanding.
What it can do it has already done: joined a coalition of nations fighting terrorism. For that, it has now been punished.
It can comb its streets in towns and cities, looking for men and women of ill-will and possibly in love with death. It has been doing this, too.
Can it take a stand and force economic sanctions on Middle Eastern nations known to be involved with “them”? Yes. Will it make a difference? No.
France – the US, UK, Middle Europe,even Russia – are all fighting the same thing: fanaticism. What works against this incredible force, one of fascistic order-following and a lack of demonstrable humanity? (Can you hear the NRA in the background, chanting “We were right! We were right!”) Of course, the same pattern of destruction and hate. (“What better defense against guns than guns?”)
If France is to widen its offense against ISIS, it must be done immediately. Otherwise the events of last night will too soon fade into the 24/7 news cycle and be remembered foggily as just another terrorist plot, only one more successful than most. The Pope seems to have understood this immediately, labelling 11/13/15 as the start of a World War III.
He might very well be right. The Church can remember the One Hundred Years’ War, not to mention dozens of other conflicts that consumed Europe for hundreds of years. (It is still fighting smaller wars itself, wars of less violence physically but not mentally.)
Is there a chance that the US, citing France as its oldest ally, and embroiled in the same battle, can act in concert with Mr. Hollande’s government? Presumably we already share intelligence on terrorism. Can we take further steps to combat ISIS on the oft-cited theory that if we don’t get them “over there” we’re going to have to face them “over here?” (Great Britain would face the same quandary.) Could this indeed be the Pope’s war?
International sanctions on Islamic counties, whether or not they are involved in this latest outrage, would be largely futile. After all, one of the messages of yesterday was a grand middle finger to us all.
And since we haven’t, and are not planning to, hit the shores of Syria, why would we imagine hitting the “shores” of Arab nations, Islamic or not, in a frenzy of destruction?
There is another way of fighting, which the US has adopted in the past. Change nothing. By all means, increase surveillance and intelligence, and be ready to act. But don’t let incidents like last night’s interfere with American daily life and customs. Don’t give in to fear. Don’t let ISIS “win.” But the longer we wait to act in some meaningful fashion, the more likely we are to face other, even more traumatic incidents as Paris has.
Which Republican candidate do you envision leading the US now?