The flags have been lowered to half-mast. The flowers pile up at the site of the killings. Vigils are held, tears are shed, and political leaders, shocked and angry, speak out against the violence and pledge war against the enemy.
But more than 14 years after 9/11, and a week after France’s bloody wake-up call, has the world changed its approach to radical Islam? Have we come to grips with the fact that we are dealing with a form of savagery and suicidal commitment that transcends nationalism?
Certainly the militants have changed in recent years. They have become increasingly emboldened, widening their reach in terms of land and people to conquer, and by spreading their message through social media. And they are, to our astonishment and dismay, succeeding in attracting disgruntled significant numbers of men and women to their violent ways through videos of beheadings.
Will the savage murders in Paris last Friday night change the way the world deals with Islamic militancy? More pointedly, will the White House and European governments view the Israel-Palestinian conflict in a new light — not as the pivotal issue in resolving Mideast crises but as part of a larger religious war between radical Islam and Western values? Or will they continue to view Islamic and Palestinian terror attacks as separate issues, unrelated?
The case is being made that, in effect, “We Are All Israelis Now,” an assertion that all those who cherish Western values of human rights and freedoms are under attack from Islamic fundamentalists, both Shia and Sunni, including Iran and ISIS, whose mission is to spread Islam and defeat non-Muslim infidels. There is truth to that, though we caution to maintain perspective at a time of great emotion, keeping in mind that the great majority of the 1.7 billion Muslims on the planet are peace-loving people, embarrassed and fearful when the radicals strike.
We must not conflate Muslims with ISIS. And knee-jerk efforts to severely restrict immigration policies — Jeb Bush suggests the U.S. only take in Christians — reflect our darkest impulses. A helpful gauge is to substitute “Jew” for “Muslim” in such discussions and measure our reactions.
(Gary Rosenblatt’s column this week describes a bold experiment in Jewish-Muslim dialogue that is particularly timely.)
As the government of France grapples with the struggle to balance personal freedoms with increased security for its citizens, it would do well to look to, and appreciate, how Israel has dealt with this dilemma for more than six decades. Rather than focus on which Israeli products are produced in the Jewish communities of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria, in biblical terms) and which from inside the Green Line, European leaders would be better served by seeking out advice from Israel on countering terrorism more effectively. Europeans should know by now that Israel is part of the solution, not the problem.
President Obama is under increased pressure for resisting a more muscular response to the ISIS attacks, which have grown bolder and more frequent. In recent days there were the suicide bombings in Beirut that killed more than 40 people, the downing of a plane of Russian tourists in Egypt, killing all 224 aboard, in addition to the Paris carnage. The president’s reluctance to launch another ground war in the Mideast is understandable. But he should heed the advice of his former special assistant on the Mideast, Ambassador Dennis Ross, who told us recently that “vacuums tend to be filled by the worst possible people.” American restraint in Syria is widely perceived as a sign of weakness, an invitation for more brazen attacks from our enemies. And there is cause-and-effect in having allowed the Syrian civil war to rage out of control (at the cost so far of some 200,000 citizens) and witnessing the stampede of Syrians seeking refuge, now in Europe.
It is true that there is no silver bullet to solve the roiling problem of Islamic fundamentalism. Defeating ISIS militarily will not be enough, though it is necessary. What is required, in the end, is a victory for the concept of Islam as a religion of tolerance as well as faith, one that must come from its adherents, confirming that we are all created in God’s image.