In the aftermath of what is now being called the worst terrorist attack in France in modern times, I wonder. We have spent yesterday night watching the live footage and hearing the reporters describing this horrifying Friday 13th – a true night of terror. As I watched the news, I realised that the more than one hundred people who died yesterday in the Bataclan died while I was watching TV. As my father and I were sitting silently in the living room, watching the events unfold, feeling sad and worried and afraid for all those people in Paris, we were also feeling afraid for the future of our world. And as I heard the explosions and the bursts of gunfire, and as I watched bloodstained people being taken to the ambulances on stretchers, I wondered.
First of all, I wondered what is going to happen to Europe, what is going to happen to our entire world in the face of this new invisible enemy that haunts us: terrorism. Terrorism is, indeed, the act of spreading terror among all. It stems from the randomness and unpredictability: where are they going to strike, when are they going to strike? Terrorists attack without being expected: they unexpectedly strike in a place and time nobody could have guessed. That is why terrorism is so effective: because it destroys any sense of safety, it makes people feel unsafe and threatened wherever they are. And can you imagine what that will eventually create? A widespread sense of fear, a widespread sense of insecurity. The main goal of terrorism is to build a state of panic that will overpower its targets – to paralyze Europe, the West, whatever it is, with panic and fear and terror. What can you do? How can you fight back against an enemy you do not see, whose identity you do not know, whose location you do not know? What is, perhaps, even more terrifying about these attackers is that they are fully prepared to die for their cause. They often do not wish to negotiate or to run away from the Police, unless they still have more missions to undertake: they are ready to die, and they will take as many with them as they possibly can.
There are many questions on our minds today, as there will be in the times to come, but what is probably one of the biggest questions is: how are we going to fight this growing threat? How are we going to fight and defeat this Era of Terror?
This leads us to my second point. As I was watching the course of events yesterday, my father and I were talking about all that is going to come out of this horrible night. Who is going to suffer the most after yesterday night? The families of the injured and the dead, of course, the survivors who will have to deal with psychological traumas, of course, the very people of France who are now going to live with the fear of seeing this happen again. But what about Muslims? What about all the Muslim civilians who are going to be looked at sideways? What about all those Muslims that will be going down the street and be looked at suspiciously because Westerners (European or American) no longer know who to trust? The problem of terrorism is that it is closely associated with a face, a stereotype, an identity: Arabs and Muslims. The acts of these Islamic fundamentalists will only victimize their own people.
But here comes the question. Are Muslims their people? Muslim people from all around the world claim that they have no relation with these terrorists, and I believe them. Would we enjoy being tied to Ku Klux Klan members just because we’re white westerners? The acts of a few mentally disturbed sadists do not speak for the millions of innocents who are being stigmatized – and are only going to be more stigmatized – after these events. Muslims are NOT the same as these Islamic fundamentalists. They too are suffering at their hands, maybe even more than us, especially in terms of numbers. How many Muslim innocents can you imagine being arrested or killed, here or particularly in the Middle East, at the unwinding of this violent war?
France has already stated that these terrorist attacks are being officially considered an Act of War. And I do agree with that. But who are they going to strike against when they react to this act of war? How many innocent people are going to die in the middle of this war? How are we going to fight this invisible threat? Again we face this question.
There are at least two other consequences that we can only guess. 1) The refugee crisis in Europe. Are our borders going to remain opened to the migrants running away from their ravaged homes? Not that we were being very welcoming before this happened, but what is going to happen now? Watching the debates yesterday, I heard a strategic intelligence specialist yesterday saying how it is more than likely that ISIS will use this mass of people to infiltrate their own operatives in Europe. That is a public threat of theirs. How are we going to react to this threat? I am entirely supportive of welcoming these refugees, as I have always been, but there is no denying that fear now lies in our hearts: what if there are terrorists amidst the refugees coming into Europe? People will use this argument to stop more migrants from crossing our borders.
If you want to refute this argument, use this: has this attack not taken place yesterday? Have these terrorists not managed to kill more than a hundred people in the middle of Paris anyways? They do not need to come to Europe disguised as refugees. They can do it otherwise, they do it otherwise; who knows if they are not French? We know of the many Europeans who have gone to Syria and Yemen and Afghanistan to be transformed into these soldiers of death, we know of all the westerners that have been recruited by ISIS. I remember the fact that Belgium had to increase their border control because of the number of young Belgians who were trying to go to Syria to fight “the Holy War”. This happened in many countries, this is still happening today. Terrorists are reaching us through social networks, they are reaching us through undercover means. This crisis is much bigger than a group of terrorists infiltrating the thousands of refugees that are pleading to cross our borders.
But after having referred to all the Westerners who were/are being recruited by ISIS, another question arises: what are the motivations behind these people’s actions? What makes them so willing to die for “this greater cause”, to die “in the name of Allah”? And what makes them willing to kill so many innocent people as they do? What makes them wage such a terrible, violent war? What makes them take part in this “Holy War”?
The answer is – our civilization is in crisis. Terrorism, this new form of war, this new form of fighting, is in fact a reflection of the extremely serious, extremely worrying Crisis of Values that we are living. This civilization crisis derives from our way of living. We live in a manipulated system of deep consumption, consumerism and materialism. We live to consume: to consume more and more and more. Our materialistic way of life means that we have sacrificed sacred ideals in order to obtain more riches, to become wealthier, to have more, more, more. But people can not fulfill themselves through consumption and materialism. Humanity has always needed to live for a cause, to dedicate their lives to a cause. We need ideals to inspire us, we need values to guide us. And what values are these that guide us nowadays? What causes are we truly committed to? The truth is, most people in our society no longer have something greater than themselves to live for. They live in their same old routines, they are suppressed in stress and boredom. What are their lives going to be? Are they going to work nonstop until they die? What are they going to do to give their lives a meaning? What is the meaning of their lives?
It has been explained sociologically, anthropologically. These terrorists, these soldiers of death, these people who are recruited by these fundamentalist groups, they are joining a cause that is greater than themselves. They are told that, by killing others and killing themselves, they are offering themselves to God, they are fighting a “Holy War”, they are taking part in a cause that far surpasses them. It gives meaning to their lives; it gives a purpose to their lives. This may seem absolutely mad, but that doesn’t make it less true. We have to understand that we live in a deeply sick society. Our society is sick. Most people no longer have any ideals, any values, any causes to live by, and so they become vulnerable to the manipulation of others, to the vicious persuasion to belong to a group that lives by a cause.
When you finally understand this, it becomes clear that this problem is far, far away from being solved. If the source of the problem is a civilizational crisis, if it is not a palpable crisis, a material crisis (like an economic crisis, or even a political crisis, where you can see what is wrong and can name practical solutions to solve it) but a spiritual, a psychological, a social crisis… then we will have to work much harder to solve it.
Nobody can guess what is going to happen in the future to come – but one thing is certain: if we do not change our way of living, if we do not change the pillars of our own society, if we do not change the values that guide our everyday life… this Era of Terror will only become much worse. Much worse.