This week saw one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in Europe's history, not because of the body count but because of the guerrilla nature and the deliberate target of the attacks. What the Charlie Hebdo episode and its aftermath tells us is that the terrorism of the future may not be a series of 9/11s but intensely personal and personalized murders.
What this requires from society is to recognize the personal nature of terrorism and respond appropriately. In other words, treat the terrorists as cold-blooded killers rather than making excuses for the condition that has produced them.
When a mugger from a poor background kills someone over money or a jealous husband kills his wife, there are no mitigating concerns. The law, and morality, are pretty clear on this: those who break the code of humanity are criminals. Whatever circumstances brought them to that state are not a valid reason for the crime. Violence, especially when directed at innocents, is the result of evil at work, not social breeding.
Yet when it comes to Islamist terrorism, we witness a strange phenomenon in the Western world -- namely an ardent desire to understand the terrorists, and more disturbingly, to blame ourselves for terrorism.
When militants massacred children at a school in Peshawar, many commentators rushed to explain the tragedy by connecting them to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. But drone strikes, whatever their justification or lack thereof, have nothing to do with the killing of schoolchildren. Millions of people all over the world suffer injustices every day, but they do not slaughter innocent children in response. That is the action of extremely demented minds and is the sole responsibility of the killers. Period.
Concepts like imperialism, colonialism, and racism are commonly touted as 'reasons' for almost any type of atrocity nowadays, whether it's in the Middle East or in the U.S. itself. Such arguments are not just disingenuous but destructive. By doing so, we are, in effect, giving killers the cover to kill again.
Personally, I found Hebdo's cartoons to be tasteless and unnecessarily provocative, but the issue is that no matter how provocative they were, that simply doesn't explain what happened. Even the discussion about freedom of speech is not really applicable here because freedom of speech is a concept that only becomes germane when we are talking about state or institutional repression. When it comes a bunch of extremist madmen, any type of civilized construct is meaningless to debate.
And so is the issue of Islamophobia.
For one thing, when an atheist objects to the religious beliefs of Christians, do we call it Christianophobia? No, because an atheist (like a Christian) is entitled to his or her views, and any discussion is just that. It's not a conspiracy against all Christians but the essence of (yes) free speech. Just because some people ask why so much of the world's terrorism today stems from Islamist sources does not make them bigots.
While it's important to recognize that all Muslims are certainly not responsible for the actions of a few fundamentalists, the Western media's constant refrain of 'Islamophobia' itself plays right into the hands of Al Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups, who can use it as an effective recruiting tool and to justify further violence.
In summary, if our hearts truly bleed for the dead in Paris, then let's stop throwing out platitudes and flawed logical explanations for the slaughter and instead address the serious problem that the attacks represent -- pure, unrelenting, and unmitigated evil that must be destroyed.
That at least would have a purpose.