AS THE EVENTS IN PARIS UNFOLDED last week, I was sitting in my hotel room with my TV on and my computer on my lap, looking back and forth between the two. On CNN, there was constant speculation about the total body count and about whether this was ISIS or Islamic terror, and the general fearmongering you can expect from cable news, while online, my friends in the travel world flooded my feed with messages of support, solidarity, and defiance.
Some posted the Parisian soccer fans who, while being evacuated to safety, spontaneously burst out into La Marseillaise, à la Casablanca.
Others posted pictures and videos of the defiant, “Not Afraid” Paris street rally on the Place de la Republique:
Paris Making the World Proud pic.twitter.com/ubufLH5NBC
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 7, 2015
While others still drew attention to the trending hashtag #PorteOuverte (“Door Open”), which was designed specifically by Parisians to help other Parisians find a safe haven in the midst of all of the danger.
There was one trending post, however, that I found deeply disturbing:
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) November 14, 2015
After seeing this apparently violent image calling for the United States to immediately jump into battle, other messages focused on vengeance rather than grief started to pour in. There was the statement from French President Francois Hollande, who promised to be “merciless” in response to the attacks, and committed to destroying ISIS, while news sources in the United States started clamoring for a War on ISIS as well.
It’s an understandable response to such horrific violence against innocent people in one of the world’s most beautiful and culturally rich cities. But a revenge war is a terrible idea right now. Here’s why.
1. Revenge doesn’t really work.
Americans over the age of 20 will likely know how the French are feeling right now. September 11th was an awful event to live through, and it brought about a lot of terrible feelings: sadness, despair, fear, and insecurity. But as the months wore on, those feelings congealed into a vengeful rage, and that rage ended up fundamentally changing our world. We invaded Afghanistan. We invaded Iraq. We began torturing prisoners. We began spying on our own citizens. The America immediately after 9/11, the America that had the rest of the world’s support, started becoming a global boogeyman, a country that no longer lived up to the ideals it claimed to represent.
We did, on the one hand, eventually get our revenge: we captured Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11, and we did eventually kill Osama bin Laden. But by that point, the destruction left in the wake of our revenge was huge. Hundreds of thousands — a significant proportion of which were civilians — had died in Iraq and Afghanistan, global trust in America had eroded, and, as even the likes of Tony Blair admitted, the invasion of Iraq likely contributed to the rise of ISIS. The Middle East is still incredibly unstable, and democracy — in spite of the Arab Spring — has failed to come to the region, as so many Iraq War supporters said it would.
The cost of revenge really didn’t justify the revenge itself. Psychologically speaking, research shows that revenge doesn’t actually make you feel better. And when it’s played out on a global scale such as this, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise: has the death or capture of the terrorists responsible for 9/11 really been worth all of the innocents that have died in our wake?
2. Revenge tends to hurt the wrong people.
One of the most heartbreaking parts of the situation in Syria is that many have chosen to blame Syrian refugees or Muslims as a whole for the tragedy in Paris. In the U.S., there have been calls by Republicans to only let in Christian refugees from Syria. All of this, of course, is missing the fundamental point of the Syrian refugee crisis: ISIS is who the refugees are fleeing from.
To people blaming refugees for attacks in Paris tonight. Do you not realise these are the people the refugees are trying to run away from..?
— Dan Holloway (@RFCdan) November 13, 2015
This is how revenge tends to work. Certain groups — often marginalized minorities — are wrongfully blamed for the attacks, and are targeted and persecuted as a result. In post-9/11 America, this played itself out in attacks on American Muslims, who were 10 times more likely to be attacked after 9/11 than before.
In France, a revenge mindset will likely target Muslims, immigrants, and refugees: groups that very much could benefit from a helping hand rather than a clenched fist.
3. Revenge is exactly what these assholes want.
It’s worth noting that the assholes who did this (and yes, I think it’s journalistically objective to refer to these terrorists as “assholes”) are actually shooting for a ground war with Western forces.
The ideology of ISIS is an apocalyptic ideology. They believe that the apocalypse (which, incidentally, is something they want to happen) will occur when they, God’s chosen warriors, face off against the forces of “Rome” in the city of Daqib in Syria. “Rome” is loosely presumed to be the Western world.
It’s this delusional ideology that is causing ISIS to lash out in attempts to provoke the western world into overreaction. It may well be that any solution to the problem of ISIS will have to have a military element to it, but a blind, kill-all-the-bastards solution will likely not solve the problem. As Rami Khouri, a Jordanian-Palestinian journalist, put it in an op-ed for al-Jazeera:
“If the underlying threats to ordinary citizens’ lives in autocratic Arab-Islamic societies remain unaddressed — from jobs, water and health insurance, to free elections, a credible justice system and corruption — the flow of recruits to movements like ISIL or something even worse will persist and even accelerate. When issues in Arab societies raised by the Muslim Brotherhood were not addressed, we got Al-Qaeda. When issues raised by Al-Qaeda were not addressed, we got ISIL. Disrupting such groups militarily without removing the causes that give them life is a fool’s strategy.”
What we can do instead
A better approach? Celebrate Paris. Celebrate its resilience. Paris, as one Charlie Hebdo cartoonist put it, is about life.
And Paris is about life in spite of its tremendously tumultuous history. It was rocked to its core during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Throughout the 19th Century, it experienced several violent uprisings, including the June Rebellion (of Les Miserables fame), and a two-month long radical socialist takeover (known as the Paris Commune) that came on the tail of a four month Prussian siege of the city. In the 1850’s, they constructed Paris’s famous, wide boulevards in part to make it harder for insurrectionists to put up barricades in the previously narrow, labyrinthine streets. In the 1890’s, the city was besieged by a series of anarchist terrorist attacks. In the 1910’s, it was put through the meat grinder of the First World War. In 1940, of course, it was occupied by the Nazis. In the 1950s, it was targeted by Algerian separatists, and in 1968, it was the epicenter of massive, nationwide strikes and unrest.
During this time, Paris has remained the cultural capital of Europe. It produced artists like Claude Monet and Victor Hugo. It housed the great artists of other countries, like Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso and James Joyce. It pioneered cinema in the early 20th century, and then reinvented in the middle of the 20th century. It modernized philosophy, and it basically perfected food.
Paris survives. This much is a given. As John Oliver put it, “If you’re in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck.” So instead of rallying ourselves for more violence, let’s mourn the dead, give ourselves some time for sadness and healing, and then celebrate the city that has never, ever, let the bastards keep it down.
Revenge is a dish best served not at all.
In one of the very first scenes of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1, the protagonist only referred to as “The Bride” kills the first assassin she’s seeking revenge against, only to look up and realize the assassin’s young daughter was watching the whole time. The Bride bashfully wipes the mother’s blood off of her knife, and says to the daughter, “It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that I’m sorry. But you can take my word for it, your mother had it coming. When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.”
Then she walks out.
It’s a rare moment of reflection in a movie that otherwise gleefully celebrates the justice of the Bride’s violent roaring rampage of revenge. And it serves as a reminder: no matter how just your revenge is, it will inevitably leave other victims in its wake. Those victims will someday seek their revenge, too.
Those of us who were living in the United States after 9/11 will remember the feeling of intense satisfaction that came with killing Osama Bin Laden nearly 10 years later. But we also remember the violence and destruction that our roaring rampage of revenge left in its wake. And hopefully, we will think twice before responding the same after Paris.