Prepositions can be powerful.
On September 20th, 2001, President George W. Bush declared the USA’s ‘war on terror’ (soon to be aka ‘the Global War on Terrorism.’) On January 9th, 2015, Manuel Valls, France’s de facto President, stated that ‘We are in a war against terrorism.’ Valls wasn’t speaking metaphorically. During the past few days France has mobilized over 10,000 seasoned troops for–primarily–domestic deployment and defense. It’s been pointed out that this exceeds all the forces currently deployed in French campaigns in Africa and the Middle East, soldiers arguably also engaged in struggles against terror, however murky the lines of demarcation.
‘On’, versus ‘in’ and ‘against’. Little words that indicate direction and intent, that express differing perception of, and response to, a brutal interior attack. Granted, hundreds more lives were lost on 9/11 than on 1/7, and hijacked planes suggest greater coordination than do stashes of Kalashnikovs and other heavy arms. That said, ever since the assassinations at Charlie Hebdo and other places, the sense of pervasive unpredictable threat, of a gut-punch to a proud, free nation by a 90% invisible enemy, has been like déjà-vu all over again. A difference: the American government’s reaction was to hastily declare war on other sovereign states, to export punishment in the form of ‘shock and awe’, along with 2 million American troops and still counting. France, these days, is confirming a simple fact: here is war. We are in it. We will fight back.
Two million American troops, twenty thousand French called to action. For now.
Some other curious numerical juxtapositions, just for the hell of it:
– Estimated number of people in France who took to the streets on 1/11/15 to mourn the victims, demonstrate solidarity and resolve: 3.7 million. (E.g. around five percent of the total population of 66 million.)
– Estimated number of ‘Muslims’ living in France: a comparable 3.5 million.
– Number of Europeans estimated to have joined ‘jihad’ abroad: 3000+ by September 2014. (Source: BBC, euro antiterrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove.)
– Number of individuals on the US Terrorist Screening Center ‘no fly’ list: 47,000+ (as leaked in September 2013.)
Heard yesterday on a French political talk show, apropos the absence of Obama, Biden, Kerry or any other senior American official at the Sunday rally in Paris: ‘So is this how the US treats its closest ally?’ Come to think, where was Barack that afternoon? In front of the TV, watching football, according to the Daily Mail. Hey, we have our priorities! Take that, General DeGaulle.
Another difference in the response of the two great nations: After 9/11, America shut down. Planes were grounded, people stayed indoors–until the fearless leader reminded them of their patriotic duty: go out and shop! In France after 1/7, the airports and arteries stayed open, supporters from around the world poured in, and millions of citizens, including Muslims, marched in the face of risk, shoulder to shoulder.
The ‘In My Back Yard’ phenomenon. Our daily consciousness is littered with atrocities and suicide attacks that have killed and maimed far more people, children included. Why in this case my wracking grief: tears, and outrage, and deep anger? It’s not merely that the Hebdo offices are near my apartment. Nor that two of the murdered journalists were friends of friends. It’s not even the cheerful, cheeky humor of Cabu, one of the victims (martyrs? heroes?) of 7/1, as preserved in a radio interview that was broadcast the afternoon of the day of his death. I didn’t want to listen. I listened.
They had bodyguards–one was killed, horrifically, on Sunday. They knew something could happen. They’d been firebombed and threatened often enough. Most were getting on in years too, as is Charlie’s Weekly itself: less read, regarded as less relevant than in the glory days. So what? They shrugged and laughed and kept on doing the work that writers and artists do: asserting their absolute freedom to be smart or stupid, ugly or beautiful, wrong or right.