Monday, November 16, 2015

Europe (and America) at a Crossroads

I have been reading a lot of news and opinion about the Friday the 13th attack in Paris. Perhaps too much.

It is certainly a very personal tragedy for those killed, those wounded, those who survived, and their loved ones who are trying to cope with the senselessness of it all.

It is numbing to the thousands who live in the vicinity of the attack sites, including a friend of ours who frequents one of the cafes which was suicide-bombed. Will it ever be possible to walk those streets again and feel the same spirit that they loved about living in Paris?

Will we ever be able to go to Paris again, or London, or any city of significant size or symbolism in Europe without regularly looking over our shoulder, being ready  to run for our lives, even at a car backfire?

The same can be asked of cities in America. Did people in Boston ever imagine a pressure-cooker bomber would attack during the Marathon? Did soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas think one of their own would gun down dozens? Do students expect to go to school and hide under their desks from a drugged-out psychotic?

The reactions from political leaders and pundits are predictable. France's Hollande, in classic Bush-Obama fluster-bluster, wants to bomb ISIS into dust. But is it possible to eradicate radicalism the world over? Can you kill an ideology? Or do you just fuel the hatred further?

Trump thinks if some of the concert-goers in Paris were armed, they could have fired back at the gunmen. Perhaps so. Maybe fewer people would have died. But what other risks are there from pistol-packing patrons who get hopped up on heavy metal music and maybe some meth as well?

Le Pen and other right-wingers in Europe, as well as several governors in the States, are lashing out at the migrants, most of whom are trying to escape the extremist destruction of Syria and other countries. Could there be jihadists hiding among the refugees? Probably. But what do you do with the millions who have flowed into the eastern and central parts of Europe and who have no shelter ... with winter coming? Tex Cruz said the US should only allow in "Christian" Syrians. Really? Are you going to check baptismal certificates? And do they need to be notarized by a priest?

I think, too, of the Halal meat merchant in Argeles, our home in the south of France. There was word of racial slurs when he first set up shop, so we've patronized him when we can. He has a wonderful, friendly personality. Is he now suffering from the Islamophobia backlash sweeping France and other Western nations? If we continue to buy our sausages and chickens there, will we too be ostracized in the community?

Should I start carrying my Swiss Army knife wherever I go? Avoid eating at sidewalk cafes? Pass on concerts and any other crowded events? Stay off the streets at night? Maybe just hide at home for the rest of our lives and order groceries online?

I don't know if stopping the bombing of Syria and Iraq and stopping the drone killings of civilian "collateral" elsewhere will encourage ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other radicals to back off on their retaliatory strikes against innocents in the West. I think it's worth a try. Get the US, UK, France, Russia, etc. out of the Middle East and let the Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, etc. fight it out among themselves.

Surely we can't be fighting there anymore for oil. Maybe we're doing it to fuel the Western war machine which lines the wallets of defense contractor executives who in turn buy off politicians.

If we think "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" is the strategy, think again. That's obviously not working anymore. 

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