Pray For Paris: are the Perpetrators Cowards or Fanatics?

As Facebook and social media in general,  understandably went into meltdown with the “Pray For Paris” phrase, Damian Grammaticus of the BBC wrote on November 14 2015 –

It’s just 10 months since Paris was the scene of multiple terrorist attacks, first the massacre of staff at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and then a hostage-taking at a Jewish supermarket.

What happened in Paris on Friday night is exactly what Europe’s security services have long feared, and tried to foil. Simultaneous, rolling attacks, with automatic weapons and suicide bombers in the heart of a major European city, targeting multiple, crowded public locations.

The tactics have been used before, in Mumbai and elsewhere. But how they’ve come to Europe is one of many questions that will have to be answered.

Were the attackers French citizens? If so, how they were radicalised, armed and organised – was it in France, in Syria, and by whom? Why weren’t they detected? Is France, after two major attacks this year, uniquely vulnerable or does the carnage in Paris mean all of Europe faces new threats to our public places and events? And if a Syrian link is proven, will France recoil from that conflict or will it redouble its commitment to the fight against radical groups there?

 

These are all pertinent questions asked by the BBC’s Europe Correspondent. It now appears that the simultaneous attacks were carried out by the so-called Islamic State.

Islamic State

Islamic State burst on to the international scene in 2014 when it seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. It has become notorious for its brutality, including mass killings, abductions and beheadings. The group though has attracted support elsewhere in the Muslim world – and a US-led coalition has vowed to destroy it.

It may take a long time to destroy it, but  destruction has to be an imperative, and I sincerely hope that no state in the coalition weakens its resolve as a result of the Paris atrocities.

Not only are they atrocities, but they are criminal acts of murder and mayhem carried out by cowards. However, I fall into the trap of many people in using that word. Here is one dictionary definition of a coward: one who shows disgraceful fear or timidity.

Cowards or Fanatics?

You see, I am not at all sure the word coward describes these criminals. A coward was a suitable name for a soldier in times past, who rather than fight with his comrades in arms, would turn and run away or simply hide. These men who pulled the triggers and detonated bombs in Paris  were not displaying signs of a man “who shows …. fear (of any kind) or timidity.” They are fanatics. A dictionary definition of a fanatic is: [a person] marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.

You will notice the words “intense uncritical devotion.” This to me, truly signifies what these people are all about. How else can you possibly explain their actions. Unfortunately, fanaticism and religion have been bed fellows for many centuries. That in itself leads me to a further question – how can someone be a follower of an inherently peaceful religion, including both Christianity and Islam, and be a fanatic at the same time?

The answer has to be that these fanatics through the ages cannot possibly be true believers of the faith that they profess to follow. Surely there can be no room in God’s Kingdom for people who commit murder and mayhem in a state of “intense uncritical devotion?” I deliberately choose the phrase “God’s Kingdom” as many people do not realize that Christians and Muslims when referring to a God, are referring to the same God. All the great religions of the world including Christianity, Islam and Buddhism teach us that we have choices. If we exercise a choice to follow a certain path, either in accordance with or contrary to the tenets and teachings of that religion, then we are being critical of self. It follows therefore that we are not being “uncritical.” It strikes me that to be “uncritical”,  particularly in a state of “intense uncritical devotion” is contrary to all the tenets of all the major faiths. Of course, this has to be the case when the terrorist kills innocent people whether in furtherance of jihad or for any other fanatical cause.

The comparison between the words “coward” and “fanatic” is apt in the wake of the Paris atrocities. In times of conventional warfare when men fought shoulder to shoulder, from trench to trench, field to field –  the outcome depended in part upon frightened men who conquered their nerves and faced the enemy. A “coward” was an individual who was unable to conquer his nerves and slunk away from the battlefield. The real ignominy in this was letting down his “brothers” who remained to fight.

The fanatic, on the other hand, takes the “fight” to the “enemy” – in his eyes. This is the problem with “intense uncritical devotion.” First, how can it possibly be a “fight” to fire round after round of bullets indiscriminately into a public area? Secondly, where is the “enemy”? Who is the “enemy”? Certainly not all those innocent people enjoying their social activities in Paris, whether in a theater or in a restaurant.

So it is entirely understandable why the label coward is used to describe these terrorists. But I am not sure it is the aptest label to use.

A Coward and a Fanatic?

This does not mean that these criminals cannot be both a coward and a fanatic. Imagine a scene, if it were ever possible, where an ISIS fanatic was invited to unarmed combat in a room to take on say a US Navy Seal or a British SAS member. My money then would be on the fanatic being revealed as a coward too!

I hope the coalition does not weaken as it may take years to defeat the Islamic State but beat it we must.

So by all means “Pray For Paris”, but as all normal thinking people of the world turn their thoughts and prayers towards the victims and families of the Paris massacre, I cannot help wonder what my grandmother would have made of it all? She often used to say, “What is the world coming to?”