Paris: An Atrocity Foretold

November 16, 2015 | Adam Kirsch
About the author: Adam Kirsch, a poet and literary critic, is the author of, among other books, Benjamin Disraeli and The People and The Books: Eighteen Classics of Jewish Literature.

After January’s attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket—not to mention the jihadist attacks on New York, Madrid, London, and Mumbai, and the decades of terror in Israel—nobody should be surprised by Friday’s horrific events. Adam Kirsch writes:

There [is], in fact, a kind of syllogism of terror at work here: a movement that begins by targeting Jews and writers will end by targeting the West at large. Those who extenuated those earlier attacks by pointing to Israeli policies or cartoonists’ provocations may now realize that terrorism is not a form of critique, but a form of attack. Religious pluralism and free speech are the glories of liberalism, and so they are what the enemies of liberalism attack first.

By the same token, in the terrorists’ decision to target a football stadium and a concert hall, they declare a puritanical hatred for Western pleasures—just like the terrorists who blew up the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv in 2001, and a nightclub in Bali the next year. This dimension of the Paris attacks seems especially resonant, since for Americans the French capital has long stood for a particular kind of pleasure—the pleasures of civilization, of cosmopolitanism, of the cultivation of grace. . . .

Fourteen years ago, after the 9/11 attacks, France joined much of the world in declaring “We are all Americans;” if Americans now say “We are all Parisians,” that is not just gratitude or sympathy or homage, but simple acknowledgment of fact.

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