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Why Paris is even more shocking than Peshawar

Author: Tunku Varadarajan
Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 11, 2015
URL:   http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/deep-focus/Why-Paris-is-even-more-shocking-than-Peshawar/articleshow/45839338.cms

Terrorists massacre satirists in Paris to avenge a mocking of the prophet, Mohammad, and the usual earnest chorus of Muslim spokesmen says that this bloodbath isn't the reality of Islam—which is, let it be intoned for the umpteenth time in the aftermath of carnage, a religion of peace. Terrorists massacre satirists in Paris in the name of their religion and the usual self-flagellating chorus of Western liberals says, "Wait, don't judge Islam harshly, for the West can be just as barbarous," followed by references to the Inquisition, colonialism, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, drones and Islamophobia. Mass murder by Islamist terrorists offers an opportunity to list, afresh, all the sins of Western history.

 A particularly egregious example of the latter sort of chorister is Hari Kunzru, an Anglo-Kashmiri novelist. Writing in The Guardian the day after the murderous assault on the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Kunzru delivered a pompous, maundering meditation on "self-dramatizing young men who prefer the abstraction of death to living a meaningful life"—a preening euphemism for terrorists. Kunzru declares that he wants "to hear nothing about barbarism," or "the caricature of the jihadi as a medieval throwback," and states, instead, that "serious repression by the French state will complete the circuit of the Charlie Hebdo attack." The Nigerian-American Teju Cole, writing in the New Yorker, strikes a similar chord: "France is in sorrow today, and will be for many weeks to come. We mourn with France. We ought to. But it is also true that violence from 'our' side continues unabated." The moral equivalence between the West and Islamist jihadis is presented to the reader as an unquestionable truth. There is something deeply corroded and flaccid about the Left now. It is clapped out, morally. It cannot be the custodian of Western civilization any longer.

 The assault on Charlie Hebdo — terrorists killing cartoonists — can have left no rational person unscathed. As an assault on the moral senses, it had, arguably, an even greater impact than the mowing down of schoolchildren in Peshawar only days ago. In that last attack the children were pawns who had death dealt to them because of their institutional association with the Pakistani army. Their deaths were blood-curdling, but also random. They were a hapless conduit to another target: the army itself, and, by extension, the Pakistani state.

In Paris, at Charlie Hebdo's offices, the dead were chosen by name—yes, names were called out, and men who answered to them were shot; men who had been staked out and stalked, chosen expressly for slaughter for acts they had committed in the pursuit of their profession. It was cosmic justice that the murderers of these magazine-men died at a shootout in a printing works. But before this justice was delivered, these murderers had, themselves, delivered a message to the West: We, and many others like us who were born in your midst, who live in your midst, who mingle and melt away in your midst, will kill you for the things you say, and think, and draw, and write. Be warned!

 The West faces a disconcerting crisis. How are cities like Paris and London and Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin and Copenhagen, to protect themselves from attacks from within, carried out by religiously inflamed "sleepers" whose ranks now include battle-hardened jihadists who have been to Iraq or Syria and returned to Europe with the skills and the hunger for mayhem? The political politesse of these societies has disabled their own defenses. Bien-pensant liberals sniff, still, at harsh pre-emptive measures— some of which are, or will be, uglier than the West's business-as-usual— and warn instead of a "backlash" against Muslims.

 But fears of such a backlash need not be an alibi for paralysis, and the longer it takes for the West to find ways to combat the Islamist cancer in its cities, the harder it will be for the vast majority of law-abiding Muslims who live in the West to distance themselves from the poison of a rabid few. Writing in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, the British anthropologist Theodore Dalrymple observes that "there is more to fear in one terrorist than there is to celebrate in 99 well-integrated immigrants." The fear he refers to isn't merely the fear that the host communities have of home-grown terrorists, but the fear, also, that Muslim immigrants ought to have of them. For the terrorists have it in their power to destroy the societies in which they live, and with it the dreams of those tens of thousands of Muslim men and women who fled to the West from their own benighted lands in search of a better life.

- Varadarajan is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution
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