Getting things into perspective

The terrible thing about atrocities is that they cause us to lose our judgement just when we need it most. We saw it with 9/11 — but, interestingly, much less with the 7/7 bombings in London. The events in Paris are terrible, but they took place in a context, and it will be the context that decides what happens in the coming months and years.

That’s why it was good to see Adam Shatz’s piece in the LRB today:

Already, anyone who dares to examine the causes of the massacre, the reasons the Kouachi brothers drifted into jihadist violence, is being warned that to do so is to excuse the real culprit, radical Islam: ‘an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades’, as George Packer wrote on the New Yorker blog. Packer says this is no time to talk about the problem of integration in France, or about the wars the West has waged in the Middle East for the last two decades. Radical Islam, and only radical Islam, is to blame for the atrocities. We are in what the New Yorker critic George Trow called the ‘context of no context’, where jihadi atrocities can be safely laid at the door of an evil ideology, and any talk of pre-emptive war, torture and racism amounts to apologia for atrocities.

We have been here before: the 11 September attacks led many liberal intellectuals to become laptop bombardiers, and to smear those, such as Susan Sontag, who reminded readers that American policies in the Middle East had not won us many friends. The slogan ‘je suis Charlie Hebdo’ expresses a peculiar nostalgia for 11 September, for the moment before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, before Abu Ghraib and extraordinary rendition, before all the things that did so much to tarnish America’s image and to muddy the battle lines. In saying ‘je suis Charlie Hebdo’, we can feel innocent again. Thanks to the massacre in Paris, we can forget the Senate torture report, and rally in defence of the West in good conscience.

The other interesting fallout of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity is that Sam Huntingdon’s ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis will get a new lease of life.