Donald Trump says “Of course we can !” “If only”, he said recently on CNN, “if only those people in Paris – in the concert-hall, in the sidewalk cafés – had guns on them, it would have been a different story.” In today’s “The Guardian”, after his triumph yesterday in the New Hampshire primaries, he is quoted as saying : “I always have a gun on me. Had I been at the Bataclan, I would have opened fire.” The Bataclan become OK Corral, Paris streets become the Rue de Rivoli in 1944, with the Resistants in a shoot-out with the last of the German occupation forces ! Naturally we scorn the tough talk of the bellicose redneck, typical of the 80 million owners of guns in the States and of the powerful gun-lobby which is the N.R.A. But French President François Hollande has said – debatably – that we are “at war”. So what is so absurd in imagining a new armed militia, a latter-day French Resistance, brave patriots ready to die to defend la Patrie, citizens prepared to protect their lives and those of their families against the fanatical assassins ?
It is, perhaps – initially – an attractive thought, but a temptation we must … resist. Allowing French citizens to have generalized easy access to, and to possess and carry guns, would turn us into Texans. But the alternative looks like the collective suicide of a nation of lambs waiting to be slaughtered. Surely it is the responsibility of the State, its gendarmes and policemen and women – not the individual citizen himself – to protect us from terrorists ?
We need to take a hard, honest look at our options, beginning with the embarrassing question of why, at Charlie Hebdo in January, 2015, there was only one policeman to protect the staff – he was himself summarily shot and killed – and few to protect the people in November attending a soccer match or a rock-concert or having a drink at the corner café (though we all know we cannot protect everyone everywhere). In spite of official government self-congratulation on the number of terrorist attacks foiled by the dedicated vigilance of security forces in identifying and arresting potential terrorists, the Kouachi brothers and their accomplice Amedy Coulibaly – in spite of a paper-trail of their use of credit cards to finance the operations and their excursions into Syria – found no difficulty in bursting into the Charlie offices and the Hyper Cacher and opening fire. Can we count on being protected from the attacks being planned for 2016 and beyond ?
The French press in recent months has carried cover-stories entitled of “How to Conquer Daesh” (“L’Obs” of November 19, 2015, and “La Revue pour l’Intelligence du Monde”, January-February 2016, and “How to Smash Daesh”, “L’Express”, November 18, 2015). I have no pretension of competing with professional, highly competent, well-informed journalists with access to sources I do not have. But for what it’s worth, here’s my amateur take on what has become a terrifying threat and a permanent source of anguish and insecurity for all of us.
Different from World War 2, we are facing a faceless enemy. Some of them have been identified as security-risks, but we know that we don’t know who all the others are. We will be called upon to finance greater surveillance and “vigipirate” operations but know that it is an impossible mission to reduce risk to zero. We will be told we must accept regulations that will impinge on our comfort, privacy and personal freedom. And we will hope we are not caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Terrorism’s arm is fear, and it is here to stay. Unless, unless . . .
- International cooperation is dramatically increased in sharing vital information and intelligence, and in the permanent surveillance of all identified suspects.
- National unity is promoted with a new sensitivity to the racism and prejudice that promote mutual distrust.
- Security becomes a national priority, with adequate means put at the disposal of those dedicated to protecting the population. But also . . .
- There must be a permanent and constantly updated media blitz in which the best experts in communication, geopolitics, philosophy and psychology are given the means to educate the public as to what is at stake here by conducting televised campaigns to convince terrorists and those tempted to join and imitate them that their cause is absurd, inhuman, self-defeating, evil and devoid of any logical or theological justification.
The challenge calls for an exceptional degree of courage and an outstanding level of competence. Without both, our cause is lost and our future dark indeed. But, if we respect these four conditions, we have at least a chance to overcome. Carpe diem !