PARIS WAS STILL counting its dead last night, after terrorists launched a wave of brutal attacks in the French capital. The nature of the targets — the killers struck a soccer game, a concert, and a restaurant — suggested an effort to attack not just French civilians, but French civilization: The terrorists turned their Kalashnikovs on the je ne sais quoi that makes life enjoyable, and that makes Paris Paris.
It’s difficult to imagine the nihilism, and contempt for humanity, that could motivate such cold-blooded rage. Investigations into the crimes are just beginning, but it appears the coordinated attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists. It is the second major attack in France this year, after the killings of journalists at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
World leaders said all the right things Friday night, as the death toll ticked higher; more than 100 were killed. “Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France or the values that they stand for are wrong,” said President Obama. “We will do whatever we can to help,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Of course, it should go without saying that the United States will stand with France, and aid in the investigation of the attacks. It should also go without saying that jumping to conclusions would be a mistake. In the fog of war or terrorist attacks, many initial reports turn out to be wrong.
But failing to face up to reality would also be a mistake. The reality is that whatever the particulars may turn out to be in this case, countries across the world face a serious threat from young, radicalized Muslim men. Boston experienced that threat firsthand in the Marathon bombings in 2013, which were orchestrated by a pair of Chechen brothers. Those threats demand a strong law enforcement response, but they also require leaders, religious figures, and society at large to directly confront the twisted ideology that justifies indiscriminate murder for political ends and, in doing so, slights the value of all human life.
Indeed, France is one of the birthplaces of modern notions of human rights. On both sides of the Atlantic, there’s a tendency to express those ideals in vague, lofty terms (liberty, equality, fraternity). But what they boil down to is the right to go out to dinner on a Friday night, to listen to the artists of your choosing, to live one’s life free from force. In Paris Friday night, those rights were violated in gruesome fashion. France, the United States, and the rest of the world, must rise to their defense.
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