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What Is To Be Done?

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A couple of weeks ago two jihadist terrorists entered a small church in a French village, took hostages and slit the throat of the 85 year old priest performing mass there. Business as usual here in the West, it seems. We read about it in the papers, hear the reports on cable news, cluck, cluck our disapproval and get on with the business of our lives: going to work, recreating, visiting friends, enjoying our dinners. Somebody’s gotta do something, sure. But not us. The French government or the German or the Belgian or the British or the American need to improve their intelligence work, do more outreach to the angry residents in communities that routinely produce these terrorists. Do something. Beheadings and all these shoot ’em ups and suicide bombings are just so déclassé.

Surely something is seriously wrong in the West when we don’t seem to care anymore that we’re under attack. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to it by now, or don’t see it as “existential,” a genuine threat to our existence as a nation or civilization. So a priest somewhere in a small French town is beheaded? So what? People are victimized all the time, so why should we care about it this time? Or all those times before when terrorists have shot up or blown up or beheaded or burned countless others alive? We aren’t directly affected except for the news reports. What can THEY do to us directly? Well what do THEY want to do?

Is their purpose to shake us up and shatter our confidence in ourselves and our way of life? Lure us into open warfare with them to bring on the end times spoken of in Islamic lore? Scare us into converting to their beliefs, to enrolling in Islam, too? Or do they just want to make way for their own civilization’s predominance by tearing ours apart? Or is it just to vent their rage and envy and hate upon a system and people they reject and despise?

The rise of Islamic terrorism seems so hard to explain in this contemporary world of ours with our modern amenities and global prosperity (at least by comparison to all the eras that came before). So what is it that they want? Why don’t they sign onto the good life with the rest of us and just work harder and become like us?

And why don’t we yet see a groundswell in the West to take them on and put paid to their jihadist threat? Is it just our complacency? Fear of offending them and thus prompting them to do even worse to us? Are we, in effect, trying to sue for peace through our affected indifference?

What, if anything, can we really do in a world where transportation and communication are so easy, where the technology of violence is so deadly and where the love of our privacy and democratic norms (which protect the rights of citizens) is so ubiquitous? In a world where so few of us really want to go to the trouble of actually going to war, with all its attendant inconveniences, sacrifices in lives and wealth, the demands it puts on our attention, our will to see things through just seem overwhelming? Haven’t we better things to do with our time?

There are so many other things that bother us, from economic sluggishness, to income disparities, to the right to marry whomever we want in full public view, to the right to ensure our ongoing ability to end unwanted pregnancies. There are so many more important things for us to worry about than jihadism. Why get ourselves in a tizzy over a few beheadings or similar violent incursions. Send in the police, deploy the investigators, but don’t violate my rights and do bend over backwards not to offend people from whose ranks the jihadists keep coming.

That seems to be the case now in France and in Germany and here in America, too. So what will it take to wake us up from this feverish nightmare, to shake off the bonds of sleep and do something? What will it take to cause us to finally act to put the nightmare of jihadism behind us?

Another attack like the ones on September 11th, 2001? Must we wait for that again? Can only a massive surprise attack killing upwards of 3,000, and demonstrating how really vulnerable we actually are, do the trick? How much more evidence do we need regarding the intentions of these people, our self-avowed enemies, before we stop shrugging them off and do something?

About Stuart W. Mirsky

Stuart W. Mirsky, a former New York City official who last served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002, wrote a column, "The Rockaway Irregular," for The Wave, a south Queens based weekly, for more than a decade (until Hurricane Sandy changed the equation). He is an original founder of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and author of a number of books, including The King of Vinland's Saga, an historical novel of the Norse in 11th century North America, A Raft on the River, a memoir of Holocaust survival, and Choice and Action, a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs.

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