The Day of Terror
- June 27, 2015
In his memoir The Devil in France, the German-Jewish novelist Lion Feuchtwanger looked back on the historical circumstances that had resulted in his internment in a French prison in Tunisia during World War I, and driven him into exile in southern France following Hitler’s ascent to power, and his internment in French concentration camps during World War II before he subsequently found another exile and salvation in New York. Feuchtwanger reached the following conclusions:
There are as many rationally adequate explanations as one may wish for the particular course of my own trifling experiences no less than for the issues of greater moment on which they depended. Ingenious minds stand ready to enumerate those reasons – economic reasons, biological, sociological, psychological reasons, reasons deriving from one or another of the philosophies of the universe. I myself, for that matter, could write a book on the subject, sharpening my wits to find logical concatenations.
Deep down in my heart, however, I know that I have not the slightest understanding of the causes of the barbaric turmoil in which all of us are writhing…Some day, one may guess, “all the documents” will be available. But what of that? At the most we shall know only a little more about the immediate causes and consequences of this or that particular fact. The judgment we pass on the course of events as a whole will still be a matter solely of the interpreter’s temperament and throw light only on him.
I read those words yesterday evening, on a day when the ‘barbaric turmoil’ of our own times erupted once again into the headlines.
It’s too early to say whether last month’s ‘day of terror’ was coordinated, or whether it was a random convergence of events whose perpetrators share the same commitment to ‘leaderless resistance’ jihad which makes it equally possible to murder ‘apostate’ Shia worshippers in a mosque or ‘kufar’ tourists in Tunisia.
These attacks have taken place at a time when Islamic State has experienced a series of military reversals in Syria and faces the prospect of being driven out of its base in Raqaa.
As for the attack in France, who can ‘understand’ why a Muslim employee decapitated his boss and left the head on a fence before driving a vehicle into a gas factory? When things like this happen, we want to say something, and we need to, because acts of violence like these are intended to shock us into silence.
And if we don’t speak, we will allow our governments and their representatives to speak for us, and what they have to say is too often inadequate, self-serving and duplicitous. Consider for example, today’s Daily Telegraph editorial, which referred to the Queen’s visit to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp this week in the following terms:
Bergen-Belsen is a reminder of why evil needs to be confronted and why the case for liberal democracy has to be remade each generation. Western values have to be rigorously defended and promoted in schools. Rights to free speech or assembly should be respected, of course, but laws necessary to root out extremism and defend liberty may prove decisive in this struggle.
Perhaps most importantly, the West must possess the capacity to resist terrorism with military means. There is an understandable reluctance to commit troops anywhere on the ground. But there is also a pressing need to do as much as is reasonably possible to push back the advance of Islamists in the Middle East. For the moment, the highest priority should be given to securing the Mediterranean border.
So more repression and surveillance at home. More of the ‘antiterrorism’ education of British Muslims that has had no demonstrable effect whatsoever on ‘radicalization.’
And above all more war abroad, including the unpalatable possibility of troops ‘on the ground’. And the Mediterranean ‘border’ must be ‘secured’ – presumably against the migrants who are trying to cross it who have nothing to do with ‘radical Islam’ – in order to address the collapse of the Libyan state that took place as a result of the last war that the West just had no choice but to fight.
And as for these ‘Western values’ – on yesterday’s ‘day of terror’ Saudi planes carried out another round of air strikes in Yemen, in a week in which the UN announced that 21 million Yemenis – 80 percent of the population – now require humanitarian assistance.
Some of those bombings may have been carried out with British-built planes, because Britain not only arms the Saudis, but has explicitly expressed its support for the war against the supposedly Iran-linked Houthi rebels.
Unless we are supposed to believe that the Saudis and the Egyptian dictatorship and the autocrats of the Gulf are standing up for liberal democracy, we can only conclude that this war has very little to do with ‘western values’ – and a great deal to do with the dark geopolitical games that are being played out across the region – of which terrorism is one of the consequences.
And like Feuchtwanger, we may struggle to understand the ‘barbaric turmoil’ that is roiling our era, but until we learn to look beyond ‘terror’ at the wider picture we have very little chance of stopping it.