Once again, terror has been let slip among us. And once again, it arouses the familiar, foul taste in the back of our mouths, a rancid mix of horror, helplessness, and hate. The first two, we will overcome, and quickly—not because we’ve had so much experience with them (though we have), and not because it is the “new normal,” (because it isn’t)—because our society is redoubtable and resilient.
The third lingers. If we’re not careful, it lasts.
The terrorists must surely know by now that any trauma they inflict on us is only temporary. It can’t have escaped their attention that New York, Madrid, London, and Mumbai healed quickly from their injuries. You have to look very close now to see any scars. They can’t have missed the image of One World Trade Center, its spire lit in the colors of the French flag, symbolizing both solidarity and defiance. Paris will mend swiftly.
The terrorists must know, too, that our fear is only fleeting. We will not long shun our theaters, our stadiums, our buses and subways, or our restaurants and bars. Nor will we curb our irreverence: Charlie Hebdo lives on, rude as ever. Light will return to La Ville Lumière.
And the terrorists must know, because they have had plenty of experience, that our resolve to fight them will not be dimmed. If anything, it will stiffen. President Hollande has promised a “pitiless” response to the attacks on Paris, and his people will hold him to his word.
Or perhaps they don’t know these things; maybe they’re just that stupid.
Let’s say, then, that our horror and helplessness will pass because those who profit by them are few, for the most part far away, and don’t really understand what makes us who we are. But those who prosper by our hatred are many, are at home among us, and, alas, know us all too well.
Hatred is political currency, coveted by Al Qaeda and ISIL, but more dangerously, by right-wing groups among us. These organizations, whether on the political center-stage or lurking in the wings, work hard at amassing animosity, and directing it mainly toward Muslims.
In Europe, they’ve had a profitable time of it in lately, as the arrival of waves of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan has provided so many more convenient—and vulnerable—targets. In France, an especially skilled wielder of Islamophobia as a political weapon is Hollande’s greatest threat: only hours before the attacks in Paris, a new poll had Marine le Pen of the National Front as the leading contender for the presidency.
(That said, it was an American Republican, not a French right-winger, who was first to use the attacks to argue against “refugee resettlement.”)
It shouldn’t, but does, require saying that hatred breeds more of the same. Or that it plays into the hands of the terrorists, who assiduously nurture the false narrative that all non-Muslims hate Islam. The man who calls himself Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIL, knows he can’t honestly claim that his maniac minions have filled us with fear and uncertainty. He’ll settle for filling us with hatred. Let’s not give him the satisfaction.