When it comes to terrorism, we are always told that we should not play into their “game” but what does it mean?
I have two main understandings to this statement.
The first one is to avoid what in French we call “La Loi du Talion: Œil pour œil, dent pour dent.” This can roughly be translated as the law of retaliation: eye for eye, tooth for tooth. This is the hardest part for everyone when it comes to dealing with loss and shock, the inner fight against what seems to be the only fair course of acting: retaliation.
La Loi du Talion is the first voice that arises from the sore throat of the ones looking at the blood of the victims. The vox populi forever demands revenge, the criminals have to pay. For murder, we have to find a cherished one of these killers and have them murdered by the grieved the way their beloved were killed.
And this what we must avoid at all costs.
I am not going to say that it’s because it won’t bring their loved ones back – nothing ever will, even civilised justice – or that it will not help with closure and coping with their loss – it might. The reason why I think the retaliation can never work is because bleeding your enemy’s children will only prove them right (1).
The battle for retaliation is always righteous and we will all end up having a good, a noble, a fair reason to harm each other. This is what we see between Israel and Palestine or between the US/UK and the Islamists: every side has become the victim and the executioner at once. Every side can prove the other has harmed them unfairly, unlawfully and therefore claim to be in the right when it comes to destroy their foe.
Once the idea of retaliation has sneaked in, it is almost impossible to call to reason anymore.
La Loi du Talion rests on emotions, it’s a kneejerk reaction. You push me, I push you. Case closed. Let’s move on. We discourage it in school playgrounds and there is a reason for this: this has always been the main source of hatred in today’s world with lethal consequences.
In Europe, this, coupled with nationalism, was the main reasons for countless, increasingly bloody wars, this idea that we always had a score to settle with a neighbour: a treaty that was unfair, a dispute left unresolved, an insult left undealt with, a region they took away from us at some point and we had to get back. The case of Alsace-Lorraine poisoned the relations between the French and the Germans since Louis XIV who conquered it in 1639, in 1870 where the Germans took it back then France took it back in 1918, an episode Hitler took for a terrible humiliation on the part of Germany. Alsace-Lorraine was therefore not “occupied” but “integrated” to the 3rd Reich during the war because it was still seen as a lawful part of Germany. That’s more than 300 years of revenge wars, millions of death to see who would have the last world.
The terrorists are in this logic. They believe they have a score to settle but they need a fight to quench their thirst for death. Thus they are pushing us into our darkest place. They are targeting the meek, the innocent, the ones who represent the most our democracy so we all become the stone-cold, intolerant, empty, calculating, bloodthirsty killing machines they have become a long time ago. They want us to retaliate, to strike harder, deeper. Drop an atomic bomb on Mosul (like some people are suggesting) and you will serve nothing but their purpose. They don’t care for other Muslims, they have been mass-killing them for centuries for disagreeing with their extreme beliefs. But then we will become the executioner again and they will claim yet more reasons to bleed us to the bones. How long will it last? How many innocent will have to die on both sides?
We have to be the ones who know better because they never will. We can’t lecture the world on civilisation and be nothing but barbarians.
We should resist the urge: punch a tree, scream, cry, rally and be with peers who will understand and share our anger so we can let it out but we should never retaliate. We should put our faith into the democratic system we have built, not matter how slow it looks when dealing with our need to avenge. It is slow in appearance because it wants to be fair and meticulous in punishing the right people. Yes, we could decide to punish all Muslims, it would be quicker but we would be no different than the Nazis towards the Jews.
If it’s a war of faith the terrorists want, I am putting my faith in the peaceful democracy we have been trying to build and improve since the voice of the first French philosophe broke out in the opaque midst of tyrannical absolutism.
That’s my second reading of this say: we have to trust our democracy. Not just “trust” but defend, even though they are not perfect because they are the expression of us, the people.
What the terrorists want is to destroy our state, what we built, what we died for, what we fought for for centuries. They loathe it, this state. These “God-less” democracies where everyone can say; think, be, act, wear, eat whatever they want, even women, gays and now, increasingly, children.
If you consider these terrorists, their view of what and how the world should be is based on some twisted interpretation of the prophet’s message back in the 7th century, right at the birth of Islam. That’s almost 1400 years ago in a world where men like them got to rule, oppress, control and kill freely. That’s the world they want and that’s a world we have to never give them.
We have to never play into their games like London and Washington did, for instance. Two countries where the fight against terrorism has, nowadays, given birth to the belief that every citizen is a potential terrorist, where surveillance is everywhere, righteously justified by its creators, praised and widened by the frightened ageing establishment of their parliament. For Washington, London or Canberra, we, the people, all have become a risk for the security of the state. But if the people is the enemy is the state, who is the state serving? Demo-cracy: “the power of the people”. The state must serve the people, not the state itself.
Totalitarism is where the state is serving the state. This idea that every citizen is a threat to the state and must therefore be tracked, watched, can be searched and arrested at all times is the one that rule dictatorships such as North Korea, Cuba, Nazi Germany and USSR – where the dictator is the state. These regimes served an ideology, whereas the terrorist serve a belief.
The idea of state vs individuals is indeed also deeply rooted the theocracy the terrorists want to impose to the world: a state that is the voice of God, a regime where criticising the state is to criticise God, a regime supposedly ruled by the book holding the message of God for the sake of everyone but truly ruled by the men who will have found the means to kill their opponent in the name of faith.
The terrorists want our democracies to become paranoid and unfair because, as the scandals of mass surveillance and the abuse of the Patriot Act have shown, they know it will lead the people to lose faith in the state and forsake it for more extreme views.
We have to protect our liberties, all of them; we have to carry improving not going back to darker more obscurantist times, we have to remind our leaders that when attempting to restrict movements, conversations, expressions, opinions to squash terrorism, they can also undermine our ability to be free, which is exactly what our enemy wants.
Democracy, the power of the people, the freedom of the people, will be our revenge because this is the terrorists’ greatest and darkest fear. We must stand in front of terrorism and tell our leaders that altering our freedom to be, think, speak, act and believe in any way will turn us into our very enemy and hand them the victory.
1 – See History will teach us nothing by Sting:
Convince an enemy, convince him that he’s wrong
Is to win a bloodless battle where victory is long
A simple act of faith, of reason over might
To blow up his children will only prove him right.