How we act/react right after a senseless tragedy such as the murders in Paris is important.
How we act/react next week, in two years, is more so. Will the current phrases "Je suis Charlie" "Nous Sommes Tout Charlie" "Not Afraid" be the lasting French response, or will they follow the American/British path?
Will the French people and their government choose to blame, isolate, punish people because they are ethnically similar to the terrorists or practice a similar form of religion? Will they abandon basic principles of equality and the rule of law for a theater of security?
These are reactions we know too well from the aftermath of 9/11. These reactions in this country and elsewhere have led to taking your shoes off to get on an airplane or militarizing our police forces to the point they too often look and act like an occupying force more than a part of our communities. When we lose essentials elements of who we are and the aspirations for a healthier society, the terrorists do win.
The terrorists want to cause distrust and discord. They want increased isolation and blaming. They want young men and women to feel increasingly victimized, marginalized, oppressed -- because that breeds more fear and loathing, more angry and hopeless young men and women as fodder to the terrorists' cravings for power borne from strife. And when we feed that beast, when we manifest our fear by acquiescing to the demands for higher walls and greater control, we are silently surrendering to their cravings and hatred.
If instead the French and other peoples and countries stand together, reaching out rather than withdrawing in, we can send a message of both strength and values. "No, we will not abandon our values of equality of life, liberty, and the rule of law just because some fanatics demand it. Let them withdraw into themselves, we will not let their twisted and perverted ideology poison our future."
It's easy in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy such as what happened in Paris just now--or London in 2005, Madrid in 2004, or 9/11 in the United States--to hold up our candles and our pens, our flags and our fearful pride all while plotting revenge, accepting less liberty and ultimately joining the circle of terror/fear/retribution/rinse/repeat.
It is much harder to live the life those candles and pens and thousands marching in unity really represent. To isolate the actual terrorists by working with their neighbors and true religious and community leaders to include and raise up. To look at fundamental elements of division and work to resolve those rather than draw figurative and literal battle lines. To create opportunities for education, economic opportunity and acceptance.
Fear is powerful, terrorists live for that power. France, Western Europe, the United States are again tested: will we follow our own fear as we have since 9/11? Or will we consider other possibilities such as the path chosen by Norway following the domestic terrorism massacre in 2011. Two days after the Utøya tragedy, Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg said:
We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values. ... Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. ... We will answer hatred with love.
How will the people of France respond to the terrorist murders of 7 Jan 2015? Will their right-wing zealots follow the American and British paths of fear and security theater, giving the terrorists more power? Or will they look to their Nordic neighbors and strive to build on the Republic's founding values of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood)?
Only time will tell.