The Paris attacks confirm that all Western civilization must act to repel the various threats to itself that radical terror poses. I agree with Pope Francis’s perception that such global violence, deliberately targeting ordinary people and intending to undermine the peace and order of civil society, represents a third world war. The values of toleration, openness, freedom, and mutual respect are the real targets of such bitter and retrograde attacks.
It is easy to imagine an end to ISIL, but more difficult to imagine assuaging the resentment and hatred of Western values that fuels all such violent extremist movements. Such hatred is never-ending, and, given the accelerating pace of modernity and the West’s pervasive influence in far-flung lands, destined only to multiply. Modernism and the universal creed of human rights pose a grave threat to tribal thinking and to some forms of religion and religious authority, outraging those who look to such certainties as a source of personal power and identity.
The doctrines of religious toleration and universal human rights, born out of the Enlightenment hundreds of years ago, remain radical, a centuries-old legacy that continues to transform human culture and behavior. These values belong to no one country but are being embraced by growing numbers of peoples and societies around the globe, partly because they promise liberation from the narrow tribalism and sectarianism that has been a principal source of violence throughout human history.
Live and let live. Viva la différence! These mottoes are the very hallmark of a tolerant and inclusive culture that (it’s no accident) enjoys the blessings of peace and order while guaranteeing its members safety under the rule of law. All that is under attack now.
The perpetrators of the Paris attacks wish to turn back the clock, to return all of us to a dark age where ruthlessness and rage would provide the sole organizing logic of human life. Strangely, though, the battle is already up with them: their weapons and tactics betray their pathetic dependence on the West and on its cultural hegemony. Their craven reliance on Western publicity and social media and their inability to live modestly and peacefully demonstrate the contradictions of their movement. Their notion of godliness is one that the truly godly eschew.