The Lesson of Paris

These attacks had all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy.

Of all the commentaries on the Paris massacres I’ve read, the one that seems most perceptive is a piece by Judith Bergman for the Gatestone Institute titled “How Can Anyone Be Shocked?” Indeed. The attacks had all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy: they were entirely predictable. Nevertheless many reacted with “shock,” including Angela Merkel, David Cameron, and the Vatican.

As Bergman writes:

After 9/11 in the United States; the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed nearly 200 and wounded 2,000; and the 2005 attacks on London’s transit system, where 56 people were killed and 700 wounded, world leaders have no conceivable excuse left to be shocked and surprised at mass terrorism occurring in the midst of Western capitals.

In the unlikely case anyone should have missed those incidents, there have been several thousand other Islamic terror attacks—some big and some small—since 9/11. How, as Bergman asks, can anyone still be shocked?

The answer, I think, is that the people who are shocked are still clinging to a false narrative about Islam. The narrative says that Islam, like all other religions, is a religion of peace and that terror is a perversion of Islam’s true nature. This is part of a package of other connected narratives: that human nature is essentially good, that all people share universal values, and that with the passage of time we have all become far more enlightened than our ancestors.

As with other deeply held beliefs, facts that challenge the narrative tend to be ignored. When they are acknowledged, they are perceived as one-offs—disconnected events rather than threads in a pattern. The shocking thing for many is not that awful acts are being committed, but that their cherished narratives are being disconfirmed—over and over. Yet they’re not quite ready to rethink their assumptions.

What will it take to wake people up? It’s a question one often hears. The answer is that they will wake up when they pay attention to facts rather than narratives. Indeed, many have already come awake. These are usually people who aren’t deeply invested in fashionable thought systems and are thus able to brush aside the narratives pushed at them by opinion elites.

The problem lies with the opinion elites themselves. Ideas do matter to them—sometimes, more than facts. And to acknowledge the pattern would be to admit that they have been seriously mistaken. They will be the last to face reality because it would mean giving up the unreality of their suppositions about the world. So we can expect that they will continue for a long time to treat each new atrocity as an out-of-the-blue event with no rhyme or reason to it. For instance, as I write this I notice an AP report that starts off as follows: “The public may never know what motivated a 24-year-old Chattanooga man to kill four Marines and a sailor in an attack on Chattanooga’s US Naval and Marine Center last July.” Could Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez’s motive have had something to do with Islam? There is abundant evidence that it did. But the official upholders of the narrative can’t bring themselves to admit it.

Unfortunately, many Catholic leaders are invested in these same false narratives. The memes that are popular with the opinion elites are popular with them as well: that violence has nothing to do with Islam, that immigration is an unqualified good, and that all cultures share the same values.

The latest explanatory meme—one that likely will soon be echoed by some Catholic leaders—is that the violence in Europe has nothing to do with mass immigration. Thus, Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, has instructed Germans that they should not link the terror attacks to the immigrant influx. This despite the revelation that at least two of the Paris killers are believed to have come into Europe posing as refugees.

Of course, the longer that people in power indulge themselves in the narratives, the more carnage there will be. That’s because the actions that are necessary to stop the terror—profiling, monitoring of mosques, a halt to Muslim immigration, exposure of the fault lines in Islamic ideology—are prohibited by the narrative.

Meanwhile, self-destructive policies that flow from the narrative will continue. European leaders will continue to allow in unassimilable numbers of Muslim migrants in the name of “humane European values.” And Catholic bishops—some of them at least—will continue to applaud.

Recently, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called for the US to take in 100,000 Syrian refugees. That’s a large number, and, as we can now see, it only takes a very small number of terrorists to create mass casualties. Eight jihadists in Paris killed more than 120 and wounded more than 350. In the 9/11 attack, 19 terrorists were responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people. And even though ISIS representatives have declared that they plan to take advantage of the refugee crisis by hiding among innocent refugees, the head of Homeland Security has said that we don’t “know a whole lot” about Syrian refugees seeking resettlement in the US.

The United States bishops, along with other Western leaders, seem to be welcoming in an almost inevitable disaster. For example, aside from the Paris attacks, the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe has already created a host of what seem to be insoluble problems: high rates of crime, disease, and violence, animosity between natives and migrants, and an increasing probability of open warfare in the streets. It takes a certain amount of hubris to keep calling for more immigration in the face of these realities.

As I said earlier, the whole thing is playing out like a Greek tragedy. And Greek tragedies, as we know, always begin with hubris—with leaders who are overly sure of themselves and their judgement. Our current tragedy seems to be moving inexorably toward its fated conclusion. Many of our leaders are being blind and foolish. Their policies, which are based on dreams, will almost certainly end in disaster. Yet no one seems able to change course. Like the characters in Oedipus Rex or The Bacchae, all seem fated to play their assigned roles up until the last bitter moment.

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About William Kilpatrick 81 Articles
William Kilpatrick is the author of several books on religion and culture including Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press) and What Catholics Need to Know About Islam (Sophia Institute Press). For more on his work and writings, visit his Turning Point Project website.