Tuesday, February 17, 2015

17-Feb-15: In defeating the terrorists, condemnation is essential but never enough

Mass protest rally in Copenhagen  February 16, 2015 [Image Source]
As parents of a child murdered in a terrorist outrage, we have received a great many letters and cards (and their electronic equivalents) expressing sympathy and support. Coming from places and people not always known to us personally, they provided comfort especially in the earliest part of our experience of loss. We learned to appreciate the bonds of humanity and shared decency that sometimes get overlooked in ordinary life.

Dealing with grief's multi-layered impact on our lives, we have also grown familiar with expressions of Solidarity (with a capital S) directed at us by politicians and government officials... and the disappointment they can bring on.

Everyone knows, of course, that people in public positions tend to express themselves in formulaic ways. Most of us accept there are limits to how sincere and creative a busy person can be. But it's also because what they say sometimes reflects a superficial, even wrong, understanding of what it means to lose a loved one to violent hatred. But if you have no personal experience of it, how can you know? And it’s a hard subject about which to learn from books. Far too little has been written, or even said, about coping with the death of a child or partner at the hands of terrorists.

The most disturbing aspect however has been the chasm between the clichéd slogans offered to terror victims like us in the immediate aftermath of the attack and the little/nothing that is done later. No public figure wants to sound indecisive on something as headline-grabbing as terror. Our experience is it’s rare for them to back up those supportive statements with policy decisions and actions later. And later, in public life, is when it really counts.

A powerful leader in yesterday’s The Times of London, reflecting on lessons to be learned from the lethal events in Copenhagen this week ["15-Feb-15: In Denmark, they may be thinking hard about Charlie Hebdo this morning"], resonates for us with the bitterness of our experiences. The title starts in Danish:
Vi er Jøder: Jews in Denmark have been targeted with lethal violence. Western governments need to declare their unreserved solidarity
An extract (it’s unfortunately behind a paywall):
...In the heart of civilised, democratic and tolerant western Europe, Jews are under lethal assault. They need not just sympathy but solidarity and support. A month after the terrorist attacks in Paris, a gunman in Copenhagen fired shots at an event discussing freedom of speech and then at a synagogue on Saturday night. He killed two men and wounded five police officers, and was himself shot dead as he began firing on police who were trying to apprehend him. These barbarous murders exemplify a sickness and a stubborn social pathology whose virulence is easy to overlook. Faced with such barbarism, there is a serious risk that European governments will underreact. They must not; not this time. It is not enough to condemn them as savagery, bigotry and barbarism, though they are all of those things. Antisemitism, it has been often remarked, is a light sleeper. Western democracies have a moral obligation and a pragmatic interest in declaring their solidarity and not only sympathy with Danish Jews. Western leaders should have no hesitation in declaring: Vi er jøder (We are Jews). [Times UK, February 16, 2015]
The message that we expect governments and public figures to do more than condemn terrorism for the savagery, bigotry and barbarism that it is has concrete ramifications. As egregious as the violations of freedom of expression in Copenhagen and Paris are, the ongoing assaults on the most fundamental of human rights - the right to stay alive - are no less crucial for policy makers and the people who protect our societies, families and lives. Hatred of Jews - yes, specifically Jews - is a fundamental part of the challenge. This does not turn it into a narrower battle but a broader one. The willingness of terrorists, propelled by Islamist messaging, to slaughter Moslem in their own villages and continents, along with victims of every other sort, is a reality that shows how the war now upon us transcends mere politics and prejudices. 

To win in war, you must know who the enemy is, and the steps that need to be taken to prevent further losses and to achieve the other side's defeat. Defending freedom of expression is part of this - among numerous human rights that our societies absolutely must safeguard. But no right takes greater precedence than the right to not be murdered - the right to live

As difficult as this is to protect, relegating it to a secondary goal plays into the hands of those who dispatch the human bombs and the men and women armed with meat cleavers.

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