Published November 25, 2015
George Weigel's Weekly Column The Catholic Difference
Shortly after jihadist murderers killed over 130 people in Paris, seven of the terrorists blowing themselves up in the process, President Obama spoke to the nation and described the massacres as “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”
No, Mr. President; with all respect, it was not.
According to one claim-of-responsibility, those murdered were not attacked because they represented “humanity” but because of who they were specifically: the targets were men and women of “crusader nations,” who deserved violent death because, whether they thought of themselves as such or not (and none of them did), they were aggressors in what the jihadis claim is a war against true believers and true religion.
Nor were those murdered killed because they shared certain “universal values.” They were murdered because they embodied, for the murderers, the West and its commitment to freedom.
There is no generic “humanity” for jihadist kamikazes to attack. The jihadis do what they do because of specific, religiously-warranted convictions. Their targets are people who live certain specific “values.” And the attackers lived (and died) in the belief that those values are satanic and must be extirpated, along with those who embody them.
Anyone who doesn’t understand those four points has, literally, no idea of what happened in Paris on the night of November 13, 2015. And those with no idea of what is going on are ill-fit for leadership in a war the West did not seek, but which the West must prosecute if the world is to be safe for freedom. Now there is something for Americans to ponder this Thanksgiving Day—something that might lift our politics out of the morass of silliness (and worse) into which it has been led by the likes of Donald Trump.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington is best seen after a snowfall, as its most striking features are nineteen stainless-steel statues of American GIs slogging through frozen terrain in defense of another people’s freedom. The figures march up a slight slope toward the memorial’s Pool of Remembrance and a wall inscribed with the simple affirmation, “Freedom Is Not Free.” And here, too, is something to ponder at Thanksgiving, that most distinctively American of holidays: freedom must be earned in every generation. Absent a commitment to living freedom nobly and thus earning it, freedom decomposes into license at home (and becomes its own undoing), or freedom is conquered from outside by enslaving enemies, or both.
The proper Preface for Thanksgiving Day Mass in the United States teaches this, noting that we have been “entrusted. . . .[with] the great gift of freedom, a gift that calls forth responsibility and commitment to the truth that all have a fundamental dignity” before God. That truth, we must believe, includes those whose religious faith has turned them into pitiless, homicidal monsters. But we may leave to God how their monstrosity will be addressed after jihadist murderers detonate themselves into eternity, deliberately taking innocents they consider “infidels” with them. Our living out of the “responsibility” that freedom carries with it must include the commitment to resist jihadist evil with every legitimate means at our command, calling the wicked by their right names and preventing their wickedness from defining the human future.
I happened to be in Jerusalem when the Paris attacks happened—ironically, hours after the conclusion of a seminar I had led for Israeli, European, and American scholars on the interaction of religion and politics in the future of the West. Less than two days after the attacks, I participated in Sunday Mass at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. As on so many occasions since 9/11, there was a prayer for terrorist victims, this time of the Paris attacks, in the General Intercessions. But I heard no prayer for the conversion of the wicked, for the foiling of their future plans, or for the ultimate defeat of the evil that is jihadist terrorism. Why not?
So by all means let’s thank God, this Thanksgiving, for the gift of freedom. But let’s pray, too, for the defeat of the jihadist wickedness that has declared freedom its mortal enemy.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.