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Schubart: Violent Nihilism

I love France, the French people, and French culture. I’ve visited there at least fifteen times in my seventy years, most often by choice but also on business, attending the annual music, film, and broadcast markets in Cannes. Like so many, I was heartbroken to learn of the most recent violence visited on Paris by ISIS. When I first went to Paris in 1961, it was a distinctly French city but with a growing population of Algerians, who had fled their country as the Algerian War of Independence was winding down.

Today, like London and New York, Paris is an international city, peopled with natives, immigrants, and visitors of all colors, languages, and dress. All the world’s magnet cities struggle to absorb immigrant enclaves, as many are still in the early stages of integration. With its deep history of secularism, beginning in the Enlightenment with Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau and culminating in the Revolution, France shed the yoke of state religion and has since become a symbol of beauty, free expression, and light. Like all melting pot cultures, it struggles with fundamental religious traditions practiced in public that defy its secular culture, such as the wearing of the hijab.

When the towers came down on 9/11, a friend in Paris emailed me to observe that we, too, had now “lost our virginity,” by which he meant that the peace and sense of insular security we’d known for so long had now been violated, like that of Paris and London.

My reaction on watching the latest scenes of barbarism in Paris, was, “Welcome to the new normal.”
The UN approximates the number of people in worldwide migration today at about 250 million. These are individuals and families fleeing economic hopelessness, persecution, slavery, and violence. The fight-or-flight reaction, however, has two components. A small minority of young people with no hope of opportunity may choose to fight and join the violent nihilist movements striking out where there is no light. We become their targets.

Just as we once believed that interdiction and incarceration would make us safe from alcohol and drugs, we imagine that the billions we spend on surveillance, border patrols, and Homeland Security will protect us from massive global migrations or the vengeance of rogue groups bent on retribution.

True global peace and stability will come only when all nations offer their citizens Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité, the national motto of France, which inspired our own Revolution; and today… we share their grief.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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