The juxtaposition could hardly have been more jarring: after completing today’s post, at morning break the lead story reported the attacks in France. In the worst violence since WW II, in coordinated attacks jihadists murdered as many as 120 people at three separate locations.
The reference to WW II is notable in revealing how much the world has changed. In relative terms, civil war and ISIL’s terrorist opportunism has brought Syrian suffering comparable to that of European populations during WW II. However, where indifference allowed Hitler to spread war across the continent from 1938 to 1944, cautious intervention in support of the rebels coupled with airstrikes and economic isolation has limited the spread of violence from Syria. As a result, to date the net cost to France of its intervention in the Middle East is tens of thousand of times fewer deaths than it suffered in WW II.
The natural response of the French government to these renewed attacks must be heightened scrutiny of Muslim populations, and Islamic authorities in France should be expected to both increase cooperation with security services and publicly condemn extremist activities.
But how do the events in France reflect on my post this morning, obviously an assertion that peace must be our aim?
While I will not participate in physical violence, I am not a pacifist. We fight cancers with surgery and chemotherapy. Both courses of treatment weaken the body. So with our struggle against terrorism, whether state sponsored (as in Syria and Ukraine) or indigenous, we must reduce its virulence by withholding resources and legitimacy from the perpetrators and seek when possible to destroy the mechanisms of its operation.
But there is more than that to the process. We must maintain vigilance in the spiritual domain to ensure that in the course of executing our campaign of violence, we do not become infected by the mentality that sustains self-justification in the mind of the terrorist. My practice extends even further: in manifesting that discipline, we also gain the power to immerse the jihadist in our knowledge of the benefits of peace.
It is this second battle that I have joined, and I am merciless in my own way. The mentality against which I struggle is ancient, and thrives when the actions of specific individuals are characterized as justifying violent prejudice against entire populations. That was the response of the victors to German resolve in WW I, with WW II the inevitable consequence. It is also the response of the jihadist to global inequity in the allocation of wealth and political influence for the benefit of Western populations that do not comprehend the egregious magnitude of our self-indulgence.
As I see it, every military action should be advertised as a failure of the mechanisms of peace, and reported with regret even when it is successful in reducing the threat of violence on tactical and strategic terms. Even more, I would hope that every announcement would be accompanied with a summary of diplomatic efforts to empower peace-loving peoples seeking to reassert control of regions in turmoil.
So in the months and years to come, I pray that the French people recognize the strength reflected in the asymmetrical results of Middle Eastern intervention. This will almost certainly not be the last such experience they will suffer, in a history dating back to attacks in the ’70s and ’80s, and modern access to secure communications almost guarantees that individuals committed to violence will continue to succeed in their aims. In absolute terms, though, the jihadists and their dependents, isolated and starved of resources in their caliphate, suffer far, far worse.
But to reiterate: it is essential, on the spiritual level, to recognize that the attacks reflect the insanity, in the context of modern technology, of the expression of ancient patterns of predation. While that mentality will lash out more and more violently in its attempts to survive the return of Christ, its impotence is revealed in the increasing brevity of the interruptions it can generate in the creative outpourings that emerge from love.