Reflections On The Horrific Events In Paris

Friday evening on my way home from work I heard about the horrific events that had occurred in Paris.  I began to think about writing this blog post as I continued toward home and then later after arriving home.  I wrote the majority of this post Friday evening but decided to wait until Saturday morning to see if sleeping on it would lead to significant changes.  And after some reflection this (Saturday) morning I realized that my post had a flaw.  But I am going to make this post with the flaw and then at the end add a short discussion of what I considered the flaw.

I expect that much ink will be used and many electrons excited about the horrific events in Paris being the responsibility of either religion in general or one religion in particular.  But I think this misses a crucial point.  In my opinion there is something even more basic.

The more I reflect on our world today the more I see there is a decision that each person needs to make.  Under what conditions will you take direct action to kill, kidnap or otherwise seriously harm another person?  This action could be by bomb, gunshot, knife, bare hands or many other methods.  The question is what situation would prompt you to take action?  And to be clear the question of harm coming to someone due to inaction is being left for another discussion.  So your ideology says that your particular set of beliefs about the transcendent are the most important thing in the entire universe; would you attack your neighbor who does not share that belief and chooses to live their life differently?

Just as not all persons professing to be Muslim advocate the killings in Paris so also not all Catholics sanctioned the mass slaughter at B├ęziers in 1209.  But what does the events of Beziers in 1209 have in common with the events of Paris in 2015?  What they have in common is that the persons involved took the position that there were ideas about which there was no personal choice; there was only obedience or be subject to attack.  In the thirteen century the murderers at Beziers and other perpetrators of the crimes of the Inquisition appeared to hold the position that it was better to kill than allow persons to choose their own theological positions.  And today there are still persons who will kill rather than allow others to choose how to live or which religion to follow.

But it goes beyond religion. If we consider the last half of the twentieth century we have a clear example in the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong which lead to millions suffering death, imprisonment, beatings and other assaults.  For example a scholar could not choose to continue studies nor a small shop keeper continue their selling but rather they were forced to the country to labor or into re-education camps; they were no longer free to engage in the basic choices of living.

The commonality between ISIS, Maoism and similar movements is that followers of these movements will kill people rather that allow persons to be free to choose.

Now I will address what I consider a flaw in the above.  The flaw is in considering the events in Paris as primarily a religious matter.  Based on early reports the attacks were prompted in large part by anger over the French involvement in the anti-ISIS military campaign.  If one looks at attacks in the USA and Europe many have been against countries that have been involved militarily in predominately Muslim countries; UK, Spain, USA, France.  If it was only a religious matter why do we not see these attacks in Brazil which has the largest Catholic population in the world?  If it is only a matter of Islamic fundamentalists lashing out against what is commonly referred to as  Enlightenment then why are the large scale attacks primarily in UK, Spain, USA, France and not other countries which have at least in large part embraced most of the Enlightenment?  Of course this is not an absolutely perfect categorization; for example consider the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh in Netherlands. [Update this example to include the Charlie Hebdo attacks which did occur in Paris].  But as a general trend the large scale attacks tend to be in countries with military involvement in the Middle East.  If those who are carrying out the attacks are combining a feeling of self-defense with a fundamentalist religious ideology then an analysis which focuses on just on religion is going to be incomplete.  I do not have a full insight into all of this but I very concerned that some people are focusing on just one aspect of the situation and ignoring the larger picture.