The last time I saw Paris her heart was warm and gay;
I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.
The last time I saw Paris her trees were dressed for spring;
And lovers walked beneath those trees and birds found songs to sing.
The last time I saw Paris her heart was warm and gay;
No matter how they change her, I'll remember her that way.
-- Oscar Hammerstein
Who bears responsibility for the atrocities in Paris?
1. The Terrorists
The immediate perpetrators were the terrorists. They pulled the trigger. They are responsible for the bloodbath.
The mass executions in Paris constitute a horrendous crime -- the ultimate crime -- murder.
What demonic force propels people to murder? What goes through the minds of those who speak of paradise in heaven and inflict hell on earth: "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven." (Milton)
Reverence for life, the protection of life, is the cornerstone of all advanced philosophies. In the enlightened West, emerging from the Dark Ages, we called it human rights. The fundamental right we possess by virtue, simply, of being human, is the right to live.
An agreement -- a compact -- was negotiated between the individual and society that the State must protect this right with all of its skill, energy, and resources. Otherwise, we would be nothing but human animals struggling for survival in the human jungle, a jungle even more brutal, more vicious and more dangerous than the animal kingdom. As Thomas Hobbes wrote: "There are no arts; no letters; no society; and worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of Man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."
Religion was even more emphatic. All living beings were created by God. Human beings alone were created in the image of God. Every religious principle flows from this axiom. If both you and I have been created in God's image, we have equal sanctity, equal worth and equal dignity.
In principle, this religious approach should establish even stronger protection of human rights than the Western legal tradition because the concept of the sanctity of human life has a stronger claim on us than the concept of the protection of human rights. Rights can be suspended based upon the needs of the hour. Rights need to be weighed against other rights. Sanctity exists at all times. Sanctity already encompasses all of the legal protections of Western jurisprudence.
The sanctity of life contains within it the concept of the dignity of Man that is the core principle of Western jurisprudence. Every life is precious. Every life is sacred. The Talmud states that to save a person's life is akin to saving the world entire, and to destroy a life is akin to destroying the world. "Whoever sheds blood destroys the image of God," proclaimed the sage Akiva.
Killing another human being constitutes the Final Solution. You have killed not only the present, you have obliterated the future. The victim's essence is extinguished forever.
Jewish tradition looked at Cain's murder of his brother, Abel, in an effort to understand the rippling effects of murder. God admonished Cain: "What have you done? Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground." Jewish sages noticed that in the original Hebrew the word for "blood" is written in the plural -- literally -- "the voice of the bloods of your brother cry out to Me."
In explaining why the word for "blood" is written in the plural -- "bloods" -- the rabbis wrote that when Cain murdered Abel, he killed not only one man but he also killed all of the future generations that should have descended from this man. In effect, God said to Cain, "you have murdered all of your brother's children -- thousands of future lives who will never be born because of you."
The monumental monstrosity of murder cannot be reversed. It is permanent; it is final. It goes against everything that is distinctively human.
"Almighty God, what crimes have been committed in Thy name?"
Who else bears responsibility for the atrocities in Paris?
2. A Murderous Philosophy
It was not only the individual terrorists. They were trained, nurtured, supported, inspired and embraced by a murderous philosophy.
I read that UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: "The cause of this terrorism is the terrorists themselves." The prime minister is no doubt correct; and in any case he was speaking politically, responding to a British politician who darkly warned of a Fifth Column in the heart of Europe.
But if the suggestion is that only they, only those four terrorists and the terrorist network that supported them were responsible for these murders; that their crimes were similar in kind and only greater in degree to any other murder -- that suggestion is preposterous. It is like saying that the cause of an accident on a dimly-lit, poorly-constructed, dangerous road is the driver himself. This is true, on its face, but incomplete. It whitewashes the reality and absolves from responsibility those who built and maintained that road.
We need to look the beast straight in the eye and speak the hard truth. If we cannot even identify the enemy we have no chance of defeating him: There is a murderous, cultish, violent, extreme interpretation of Islam that inspires legions of loyalists to want to kill. It inspires them to view Western-style freedom as deviant and corrupt. It inspires them to want to strangle liberty in her cradle.
This is so transparent that it is hard to understand why it is even debatable. Was there a person in the world -- in the entire world -- who, upon hearing of the events in Paris didn't immediately assume that the perpetrators must have been Muslim extremists? The Church had its issues with Charlie Hebdo. So did the Jewish community. And so did practically any person who served in a public position of authority. But did anyone even imagine that the terror came from these quarters?
We need to be very careful and very clear. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Overwhelmingly, they are peaceful and productive. They want what almost everyone wants: a home, a job, a family, education, respect and some joy in life. I despise those hate-mongers in Europe and in our country who castigate an entire religion, and exploit these tragedies to further some ranting racist ideology that views anyone different as suspect.
We are in an extremely dangerous and delicate moment because racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic political parties in Europe will likely benefit from the terror in Paris. They will benefit because we know that "the cause of this terrorism is (not limited to) the terrorists themselves." And because we know this, and anti-immigrant xenophobic parties seem to be the only ones that are saying this, many Europeans will naturally gravitate to these parties.
Islam, per se, is not the problem. I do not know much about Islam, but I do know something about religion. It is not difficult to claim divine sanction for murder. Even those who have a casual understanding of religion can cite chapter and verse to justify acts of violence. There are proof texts to support any position you choose to take. Some religious people defended slavery, others did not. They relied on the same biblical verses for support.
It is not about the religion, itself. It is about the interpretation. Who interprets the texts and what is their interpretation? Who follows them? Can Islam be aligned with Rousseau? This is the question. Can it coexist with Voltaire? Can the mosque meet Mirabeau, Montesquieu, and Montaigne? On all the issues that define Western freedom -- minority rights, women's rights, gay rights, free thought, free expression, free assembly, the rule of law -- who will prevail -- the moderates or the extremists?
There has been an outpouring of indignation and condemnation from prominent Muslim leaders throughout the world. These are our allies. The war cannot be won without them. They are the ones who will either seize control from the fundamentalists, from within Islam, itself, discrediting their insane cult of death, or go down in flames in the fires of fanaticism.
Who else bears responsibility for the atrocities in Paris?
3. Good People Everywhere
First and foremost the good people of France who have allowed a deviant weed to grow in the garden of liberty. The surest sign is the increasing exodus of French Jews who hardly recognize the France they knew. The Jews are always the canary in the mine, forewarning that the oxygen of freedom is depleting and the light of liberty is dimming.
The good people of France are so confused that they do not even see a connection between the struggles of Israel against Islamic extremism and their own struggles against Islamic extremism. They believe these situations to be completely distinct. Islamic extremists who barge into a Jerusalem synagogue and slaughter worshippers in prayer have legitimate grievances. When it happens in France it is just plain terrorism.
Good people everywhere are also responsible. Good people are in the same family; we are on the same side. We are comrades and compatriots no matter where we live in our hyper-connected world.
As we are approaching the Martin Luther King holiday, remember what he said, relying on Edmund Burke: "All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."
"Cowardice asks the question 'is it safe?' Expedience asks the question 'is it politic?' Vanity asks the question 'is it popular?' But conscience asks the question 'is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but one must take it, simply because it is right."
I have been reflecting this week on why I have been so deeply affected by these atrocities. Practically every week, terrorists murder people here, there and everywhere. What was different about Paris?
I think it is the sense that in some significant ways we are all Parisians. We are all French. France is the cradle of liberty. France is the capital of fraternity. France is the cornerstone of equality. Her glory is our glory. But the glory of France is blemished with the stain of collaboration and defeat. Does she have the fortitude to withstand and persevere?
We must never take liberty for granted. It is vulnerable; it is under constant threat; it is often bartered away for a mess of perceived security. We have become fat and content and lazy and complacent. We have forgotten that rivers of blood were spilled for our liberties. The air is heavy with the stench of fear. The airwaves are static with the silence of self-censorship.
Free speech is the beating heart of democracy. Liberty is my freedom to say what you don't want to hear. Compromise on this and we have taken a giant step towards tyranny. The movies we watch, the books we read, the magazines we buy are not the province of two-bit dictators and medieval warlords, emerging form their dank caves and dark hideouts to regulate our tastes and preferences under pain of death. Using the latest technology, the fruits of the labor of centuries of striving towards the light, they would take us back to the dark ages and wreak havoc and destruction on the most advanced and most humane civilizations in the history of the world. What took centuries to build could be destroyed in one moment of murderous insanity. Millennia of human progress wiped away in the blink of an eye.
France represents the dreams of an enlightened humanity even if she has sometimes fallen short of her own aspirations.
And Paris is that magical place: As Victor Hugo put it: "To breathe Paris is to preserve one's soul."
And therefore, all of the civilized world stands today and proclaims:
Vive la France!