December 2015 - Civilized World vs ISIL

It is not a clash of civilizations; it is the civilized world against something else. Think the invasion of Rome by the Huns.  But ISIL’s attack is much broader than that of the Huns against the Romans. ISIL’s attacks extend far beyond a single city, or a single country, or even a single people. Since the beginning of October, they have killed almost 600 people who were just going about living their lives in Bangladesh, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and France.  They targeted Sharm el Sheikh, the Riviera of Africa, Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East, and Paris itself. In the Sinai, they attacked happy vacationers, in Beirut ordinary men, women and children on bustling city streets. Likewise in Paris, they did not attack the Eiffel Tower or the Jews (this time); in addition to a soccer stadium, they attacked cafes, restaurants and a concert hall in a multicultural neighborhood dominated by cosmopolitan and left-leaning students and professionals, a place of bourgeois bonhomie, symbolized by a bronze statue of Marrianne holding an olive branch in one hand and an engraved tablet with the words “Human Rights” in the other. It was an attack on the joy of life, a desecration of the innocent playful spirit that best characterizes Paris.

What has emerged from these attacks is a new sense of European solidarity. Far greater than a common currency and open boarders, the shared vulnerability in the face of a threat that transcends national borders has served to unite countries that are often at odds with each other. But this new bond comes at the expense of the millions of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya who are fleeing from the same terrorists.  While blood flowed at Comptoir Voltaire, at Café Bonne Biere, and at the Bataclan Concert Hall, the terrorist were also telling those fleeing from their native lands that their flight might well be futile, that they will find no safe harbor in the countries of the secular West as a result of their assault.

Xenophobic nationalists of the far right have gratefully received this ‘gift’ from ISIL, and have run with it. France’s Marine le Pen and her National Front have joined the voices of Eastern and Central European statesmen calling for a closing of borders, as have many in our own country. And still the suffering continues. Marie Hermonova, spokeswoman for a team of Czech volunteers who have been working with immigrants, noted that “What happened in Paris is happening in Syria every day, and it is exactly why the people are running away.” To refuse them refuge is to give ISIL yet another victory. To act on their behalf is to actualize the belief Elie Wiesel expressed in his autobiography “I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of humanity. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.”

May we use our words to advocate for safe havens for the oppressed even in the shadow of our terror.  Only then will we bring light back into the world.