Thursday, November 19, 2015

Paris attacks were actually a skirmish in a war of values

The dust has settled around last Friday's Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and with the perspective of an elapsed week it is interesting to reflect on the responses to the attacks. French President Francois Hollande has conducted himself surprisingly well, I think, with his almost Churchillian comments ("the terrorists [that] are capable of doing such acts...must know that they will face a France very determined - a France united") and his ordering of immediate military retaliation against Islamic State targets in Syria.

However, there were also plenty of the sort of self-indulgence responses we have come to expect after these tragedies (remember Michelle Obama's "#BringBackOurGirls" hashtag following the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram), with the guy who dragged a piano to the street outside the Bataclan theatre to play John Lennon's Imagine perhaps being the lamest. There were the usual futile gestures on social media, particularly the Eiffel Tower-cum-Ban-the Bomb symbol and French flag photo on every second Facebook posting. But I think President Obama's response takes the prize for the most disingenuous. He described the events thus: "an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share."

What universal values? Does he really expect us to believe that all of humanity shares a respect for Western values of individual rights, freedom of speech and religion, the rule of law, etc.?  Of course it doesn't. These values are actually fairly unique to that small section of humanity that grew out of Ancient Greece, survived the fall of the Roman Empire and persisted in small pockets during the Dark Ages to finally flourish in the Enlightenment that took hold in Western Europe. But perhaps Obama didn't mean these Enlightenment values, perhaps instead he meant Islamic values such as submission to their god and the killing of those who reject or blaspheme him. Certainly with the way Islam is growing there's a fair chance that those values will be more universal than the values of the Enlightenment.

In the war of values, the West has declared unilateral disarmament. We don't believe in our values anymore and instead believe in nothing, or more precisely, in everything. This is the religion of cultural relativism - that all cultures and beliefs are equal. The only universal value that the West seems to hold dear these days is that no one should have to be offended by anything. Our values have become as unsubstantial and pliable as a squishy tomato.

The problem with this is that fundamentalist adherents to Islam are not relativistic - they believe that Islam is the last religion and that its teachings in the Koran and the Hadith are perfect and absolute. Their values are like a sharp knife to our squishy tomato, so in a contest for the hearts and minds of some of the disaffected youth of Western cities, it is any wonder that the Islamists increasingly win?

The fight against Islamic terrorism is a fight about values and we can't fight it if we have disarmed ourselves. Our values - our original Enlightment values as expressed by John Locke and Thomas Paine - are the right ones, the moral ones, and if we aren't prepared to re-adopt and defend them then we will never win the battle of ideas against the evil of religious fundamentalism. We must decide what we believe in before we can defend it.

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