Sometimes life guides us in the strangest of ways. Just last week my production team and I arrived in London to begin filming a series of news pieces dealing with immigration in Europe and the threat of domestic terrorism on the continent.
Our instincts had led us to believe that the Russian intervention in Syria and the downing of a passenger jet filled with Russian tourists meant Europe would be the staging ground for the next phase of the global struggle against Islamic extremism. We felt London, given its obvious historical relationship to the U.S., would be a place with which our American audience would easily connect.
But our travels confronted a major event; a terrorist attack in Paris that will surely alter the geopolitical calculus for the foreseeable future. Even in the eye of the storm though, as news from the ongoing attacks captured the world’s attention, London remained calm. The public mood seemed barely changed despite the desperation just across the English Channel. There was no obvious escalation in visible security, save for a few more visible officers in tourist centers. And there certainly did not seem to be any widespread alarm.
We began to talk to people on the ground about the Paris attacks. And the overwhelming sentiment we got was not fear or alarm, but weariness. People were so tired of living in fear that the fear no longer registered. I worried that perhaps many in America too viewed the attacks with some degree of detachment. Maybe the threat of terrorism had so conditioned them that eternal vigilance had already become the new normal. A terrorist attack at some point of some magnitude is already baked into the popular expectation.
Even in Paris, attacks of this sort are not entirely new or unexpected. The reaction in the immediate aftermath seemed not to be one of cowering behind a curtain fearing the next event, but of defiance, refusal to be cowed into submission. Despite a state of emergency, the people of Paris took to the streets, chanting in defiance, and came by the thousands to lay wreaths and notes at the monument at Place de Republique. Parisians shopped, they took their children out for walks in the park, they gathered at restaurants and pubs to share a beer, discuss the tragedy and comfort each other. And as they absorbed the shock, and seethed in anger and resentment, a new resolve seemed to overcome them.
There comes a time when evil must be confronted. And Europe has finally reached that point. No longer are Europeans willing to sit back and take it. Europeans mostly pride themselves on being an open society and had responded with uncharacteristic charity to the flow of refugees from Syria given its ongoing economic challenges. That pride — in negotiating dissent, strong and lasting democratic traditions, the rule of law and a sense of tolerance — sometimes could border on self-effacement. But this time the terrorists’ plot may have backfired. France has the military might and now the political will to strike at these terrorists where they hide.
And France will doubtless enjoy a strong showing of support from Syrians, Iraqis and Turks who have also grown weary and sick of these people turning their countries into a bloodbath and desecrating their own ancient monuments and traditions. Muslims all over the world voiced their disgust at this cowardly act, calling it an assault on the religion of Islam.
The hope of the terrorists in attacking Paris at this juncture was no doubt to try to cement a rigid dichotomy between Islam and the West. They wanted to create a situation in which Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their oppression would have no safe haven to which to retreat. They wanted Europe to close its border and its heart.
But that probably won’t happen. Sure, refugees will be more closely scrutinized. And before the weekend was over, France already had stepped up its attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq. But at the end of the day, the terrorists will not have succeeded in changing the essential character of modern Europe. In fact, they have shown that they are wholly incapable of anything constructive. They thrive only on negative energy.
The devil wanted a dance, and it will surely get one. But it will not be set to a waltz of despair, pain and fear. Rather, it will be a triumphant opus of hope, inclusion, enlightenment and progress. In this instance, the eternal schemer’s intricately laid trap has ensnared him. And we as citizens of the world, as the creatures of God, will be delighted in his ultimate humiliation.
• Armstrong Williams is sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee online magazine.
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