So what now?

On Friday, a handful of Islamic State militants launched a coordinated assault on multiple locations in Paris, killing 127 people and wounding many, many others.

Now we have to decide how we are going to respond to it.

I do not mean what our governments and militaries are going to do about it. I’m not qualified to comment on that. I also don’t want to argue over whether this is “true Islam”/Quranic. If you want to see my position on that, read this. What I do want to say is that it’s important for non-Muslim Westerners like me to a) put these attacks into context and perspective, and b) orient ourselves towards a productive social and cultural path forward.

First, it’s important to point out that what happened last night is a rare event in the West, but it is a way of life for some parts of the Middle East. The Islamic State is sweeping across the region, fighting against Syria, Iraq, Turkey, the Kurds and just about every Islamic nation within striking range of the area it controls. An event very similar to what happened in Paris also happened in Beirut. By far, the biggest victims of Islamic extremist groups like the Islamic State are Muslims, and yet the reaction by so many following attacks such as these is to pin it on the entire Muslim world.

Eiffel Tower, via Wikimedia commons

Eiffel Tower, via Wikimedia commons

It can be hard to get to that point of understanding because everything in our primitive, pattern-seeking lizard brains tells us to do the opposite. We see “us” being killed by “them” and we feel a lurch in our stomachs telling us that it is time to end “them.” We want to go in and do some damage. “They” are a great evil that wants to kill “us” and “we” are putting a stop to it — whatever “it” is. Forget nuance; we feel our evolutionary instinct to protect our own tribe, no matter the consequences to others. “They” have hurt us, and now “we” must hurt them back.

The message of Islamic extremism, the one they use to recruit, often centers around the idea that the West hates Muslims, that our military actions against extremism are a war on Muslims, and that Muslims need to unite and take up arms against the West if they want to protect their families. It is exactly the same instinct as the one we feel, except instead of 9/11 or Paris it is about Iraq or Iran or the oppression of Muslims in the Western world.

This instinct is why so many people are dying in these kind of attacks. Islam is not what causes people to behave like this — our instinct to create an Other and dehumanize it and think of it as a monolith is what causes people to behave like this.

In the war against the Islamic State, Muslims like those in Kurdistan are our natural allies. The Muslim refugees trying to escape with their lives are our natural allies. Last night, the West experienced what much of the Muslim world is fighting on the one hand and fleeing on the other. It should make us more sympathetic and open to refugees fleeing the Islamic State, not less.

If we treat our peaceful Muslim brothers and sisters with love and respect, as allies, we will create a contrast against the Islamic State that will help us work with peaceful Muslims against our common enemy. We will tear down the rhetoric of radical Islam that tries to paint our fight against them as one against Islam as a whole. The Islamic State wants us to equate them with the rest of the Muslim world. They’re counting on it. They need it so they can gin up a new round of recruits. They need it so they can show Muslims currently living in the West that they are not welcome; that we really do hate and fear them. If we’re serious about defeating the Islamic State, we can’t prove them right.

This great evil has left us an opportunity to rise above our history as a species, to stop thinking of people as monolithic demographics, to show love to the lovers of peace while also opposing the evil, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

In Romans, Paul said “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” You can eliminate certain sects of evil, but the only way for people to stop taking up arms and killing each other is if we overcome it with good, through the love we show our fellow humans. The vast majority of Muslims who reject and fight against the Islamic State don’t deserve to be kicked around between the West and the extremists. People who oppose the evil actions of militant groups like ISIS are all our allies.

There’s a debate to be had as to what (or if) the appropriate military response to yesterday’s attacks may be, but we need to remember who the actual enemy is. If we can’t, this problem will get worse and more people will die decades into the future. It’s 2015; it’s time to get over our instinct to discriminate based on imagined tribal boundaries.

Max Mills is a 26 year old Texan with a degree in Computer Science. Although he writes about a variety of things, his main focuses are education and political accountability. You can follow him on Twitter at @MaxFMills

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42 Responses to “So what now?”

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  2. benb says:

    ISIS’s American Checklist:

    #1 Houston (e.g.) Gun Show on weekend. Buy semis from private owners– no background checks needed.

    #2. Convert semis to full autos—what? Just buy ammo and high capacity magaziine..

    #3 . Go to any Elementary school. Go classroom to classroom shooting kids until cops show up and shoot me.

    #4 Go to Heaven while Americans continue to *insist* on protecting their “2nd Amendmant Rights”.

  3. cambridgemac says:

    Beautifully written.

  4. nicho says:

    Charles Pierce has written a column on just this issue. And he’s right. Saudi Arabia has been a supporter and purveyor of terrorism since its inception. That has to stop.

  5. Silver_Witch says:

    This is a wonderful article. Thank you – so wise for such a young person.

  6. kladinvt says:

    For starters, the West could get Saudi Arabia, Kuwait & Qatar to stop funding ISIS in the first place. Dry up the flow of money and ISIS will weaken. Instead of ignoring the Saudi connection, as we did on 911, it’s time to call them out for their involvement and force them to stop, if they refuse to cooperate.

  7. Don Chandler says:

    In the 60’s and 70’s, it was the establishment. We had 3 networks, abc/nbc/cbs. Two parties, the same (billp would like that line ;) But there was a draft until 1973. There was some dissent back then…Students for a Democratic Society were pretty vocal and the Black Panthers… Oh, and then there was Nixon! I don’t remember Nixon debating Kennedy on TV…all I wanted was my maypo.

    (And that’s the way it was….)

  8. Bill_Perdue says:

    My point is that they are the only ones who will be continuing to engage in aggressive wars in the region to benefit US and NATO oil interests. All we can do is to build the anti-war movement and reject both war parties.

  9. Max Mills says:

    As I said in the article, the article is not about what our government/military policy should be.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    There is no ‘we’ who can decide how to respond. Decisions about the wars of aggression conducted by the US and NATO have never been subject to democratic votes, plebiscites or referendum. They’ve been made by right wing capitalist parties like the Democrats and Republicans and always in the interests of oil companies and war industries. That’s one of the bad things that happen in countries, like the US, that don’t have a democratic form of government.

    Friday night French civilians began to feel what it’s like to be a civilian in Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Afghanistan and Pakistan where hundreds and hundreds of thousands have died at the hands of the Clinton’s, the Bushes, Obama and their NATO allies.

    In terms of the murders of French civilians, there are no excuses for killing civilians except in cases of self defense against armed racist gangs as is sometimes the case in the US for people of color and always the case for Palestinians and in places like Darfur, where predatory bands of Sudanese have murdered people on a huge scale.

    ISIS, like the Democrats and Republicans, uses religion as a cover for their right wing politics. The response of the left will be to fight to withdraw all US military and mercenary forces and end all military aggression by the US and it’s allies and client states.

  11. Don Chandler says:

    It’s Sunday, and I don’t have much religion in me. It always feels irrational. I see myself as an agnostic and sometimes people like to tell me what it means to be agnostic. Frankly, they are trying to label me. I just think, ” sure, if it means something to you.” But I just don’t want to think in religious terms. Maybe my agnosticism should be called, avoidance of religion. So, here is the thing, I’m calling ISIS, Daesh just like the Kurds call it Daesh. I like the Kurds. I don’t like Daesh. And I don’t want to think about what the Kurds consider Islam. Problem solved: no more ISIS, IS, Or ISIL: just Daesh. So Daesh claims to have taken down an Egyptian airplane. K, let Russia fight Daesh. Daesh commits acts of terror against the French. So the French are very angry and want to deal with Daesh. The US has been helping the Kurds fight Daesh and they retook Kobane and the Kurds seem to be the strongest resistance to Daesh. The Iraqis are trying to fight Daesh, so the US is helping them. Same with Jordan. So, it’s Daesh; the actual enemy is Daesh, not Islam.

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  13. The_Fixer says:

    But the media prefer the carnival of slaughter and social disruption, that has to change and I believe that shaming them will at least make a start on it.

    Yes, “If it bleeds, it leads” has become ingrained into the news business and as long as people are fascinated by tragedy, it will continue. Yes, shaming the responsible parties is one thing, but how do you get beyond the fascination with violence when it’s everywhere in popular culture? Look at what has passes for entertainment – Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal, and a host of other “action stars” who single-handedly bring empires to their knees with a whole bunch o’ guns and a cache of ammo belts.

    I’m afraid that, especially in the U.S., we’re like a 16 year-old kids with a fresh driver’s license and a new Lamborghini – not mature enough to realize just how powerful our “toys” are, and all too willing to go full throttle when we really should be hitting the brakes and cooling off.

    Yes, we can shame those holding the reins of power, and we should. That’s truly the only way social progress has been made and can be made. But this is not going to be fixed anytime soon no matter what we do.

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  15. mf_roe says:

    I’m old enough to remember the CBS of the 50’s & 60’s, all they did on news shows was quality informational reporting. Of course it was because they had to present both sides—damn government regulation.

  16. Don Chandler says:

    moderator was very good. Informative debate between all three.

  17. mf_roe says:

    Hillary’s defense of Wall Street “because 9-11” was priceless. Sanders has to stop going back to his strong issue and flesh out a foreign policy agenda. O’Malley has decided to fight the noble fight, good for him, CBS made a mess with all the commercial breaks, but I give the moderators credit for a very informative line of questioning.

  18. Don Chandler says:

    Good debate so far.

  19. lynchie says:

    This whole country is obsessed with war, bombing, better weapons and agression. But we haven’t won a war since WWII and have so totally screwed up the middle east that it is coming to bite us. ISIS will appeal to the muslim youth because they see they have no opportunity so why not take a shot at the government which has killed thousands and supports the Saudi King. Best we all take care of where we go, who we are with. I am not trying to be paranoid but it will happen and there is no security force nor money enough to stop it.

  20. bluevistas says:

    As absolutely horrific as these attacks and deaths and creation of terror are, if ISIS is behind them, what should the US and allies expect from folks who are angry/hurt/furious with the US and allies’ invasion and destruction of their lands?

    What will be the result of all this violence? More violence, more attacks, retribution, more counter attacks? Gotta get out of this cycle of violence!

    I may watch the “debate” tonight to see if Bernie can distinguish himself from warmongerer Hillary.

  21. Don Chandler says:

    I still remember the assassination of Anwar Sadat and the later assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Why Rabin was assassinated would be a good starting point. You can also look at how the West Bank has been systematically ‘settled.’ It’s not so complex. I don’t want to say Israel doesn’t want peace, but they vote for Netanyahu, ‘religiously.’

  22. mf_roe says:

    One of my issues with Sanders is his total support of Israel, look for him to parse it better than Hill, but I doubt he will talk about the true problems of the ME.

  23. Indigo says:

    As long as our Lords & Masters continue to profit from these skirmishes, attacks, bombings, and mini-wars, that entanglement won’t be undone because it’s too profitable to keep the fighting going.

  24. Indigo says:

    The Peace of Wetsphalia (1642?) managed to establish that principle and it held for a good long time. It wasn’t that anybody won or lost, it was that they were equally over the slaughter that was the Thirty Years War. They stopped fighting and got on with the business of living their lives. I doubt we’re at that point but we’re getting there.

  25. Don Chandler says:

    Should be an interesting democratic debate tonight. The republicans are pretty much all anti-muslim and pro war. I don’t need to wonder about Hillary and war, she is pretty hawkish. But Bernie will get to speak on the issue. Hope he can distinguish himself from Hillary and provide a substantial choice for voters.

  26. mf_roe says:

    The STATE religion of Rome usurped the myths of the Christians and used them to support the STATE being transformed from an instrument of man to the Creation of God.

  27. mf_roe says:

    Remember Lebanon? Consider the stewardship of the knowledge of the Ancients that Islam performed during the Middle Ages. Islam is not a brutish religion, as viewed thru history, even today it is remarkable in just how tolerant it has been when the provocations it has suffered are fairly considered.
    Much of the turmoil in the ME has been provoked from the West, that the response has been hostile to Western values makes perfect sense,

  28. nicho says:

    Unfortunately, Christians, throughout history, have never been satisfied with separation of church and state. They may knuckle under and be quiet when they have to, but their goal always is to set up a theocracy. We’re seeing it today in the US. We’re seeing it in Russia. Now, even China. They want to subjugate everyone else. Maybe you personally don’t, but your co-religionists sure as hell do. It is poisonous.

  29. nicho says:

    Well, WW1, which began really in 1905 has never really ended. The assassination of the archduke didn’t cause the war — just gave everyone a convenient excuse to put into action the plans they had been making for a decade. No one really gave a rat’s ass about Franz Ferdinand. No one liked him and they hated his wife. There was no official morning at his death. His funeral lasted 15 minutes, and then everyone went shopping or hunting.

    I believe it was Marshal Petain who said the Treaty of Versailles wasn’t a peace treaty — just a 20-year truce. How right he was.

    But the real skullduggery in WW1 was taking place in the Ottoman campaign. We never hear about it in the US because we weren’t directly involved. That’s when Sykes and Picot — unofficial bumblers — came up with their plan to divide the Middle East. We’re still suffering from that piece of shit “treaty” today. It is the root cause of all the trouble.

  30. mf_roe says:

    My point, shortly put, is that the only time Peace ever had a chance was in the ruins of War. As long as we spend more time building monuments to War than reaping the benefits of Peace we are doomed to eternal strife. Blaming the loser is perhaps the most damaging thing we can possibly do, yet it is the very first thing on our minds.

  31. FLL says:

    No, I wasn’t intending to indicate that there has to be a change in religious demographics. I think we often strike that balance in the United States, which is clear when many American Christians explain that they prefer the separation of church and state, even noting when Jesus says to keep separate those things that pertain to Caesar and those things which pertain to God. That happy balance is the product of the last three centuries of political and social reform, which unfortunately has not yet occurred in the Middle East. I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t Kurds who are devoutly Muslim. I’m just saying that Kurdish society is willing enough to let their government rule in a nonreligious way, which I think offers a good model, and a model that is similar to Western countries like the U.S. and France.

  32. Indigo says:

    I would phrase the concept a little differently, but yes, I agree with your analysis in substance. Historians sometimes call the 19th century “the longest century” because the events that fill pages and pages of narrative about the doings of the 19th century actually begin in 1796 with the French Revolution and just keep on spinning and churning horrifying consequences through the entire run of the 1800s right into the collision of empires in 1914 with the assassination of the Archduke. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 closed that horror show.

    At the same time the end of World War I, as we persist in calling it, set up the redistribution of political lines that haunt us even now. Here we are in 2015, haunted by the collapse of the Turkish Empire. Nobody likes to word it that way but there is substantial agreement that those artificial political lines in the Middle East are exactly that. First it was Germany fussing and feuding Europe into an internal civil war we glamorize as World War II, and then a continuing set of feuds and border disputes that the United States continues to mismanage and here we are, 15 years into the 21st century, continuing to worry issues that arise from the astonishing mismanagement of political boundaries back in 1919 at Versailles.

    We’re not done with the 20th century yet and, in my crystal ball at any rate, we’re not going to dissolve these issues without also dissolving the international structure we pretend to be defending. Poor Kaiser Wilhelm, he stuck to his guns to the end and the end was a beginning of a fresh mess that we’re sticking to. He couldn’t preserve the Austro-Hungrarian Empire or stabilize the Sultanate any more than we can hold our NATO-NAFTA-TPP quilt together in the face of the angry mob that is blowing in from the desert.

    Yes, there’s a war going on, it’s a conflagration of civilizations the like of which will have to burn itself out before we can grasp what global peace looks like.

  33. Max Mills says:

    Well, some of the things you mentioned which I could have developed more (like the historical reasons why the ME is how it is and the West is how it is) I didnt pursue because I felt like it would be a deviation from my core point, not because I wanted to communicate that the reasons were difficult to ascertain.

    I dont disagree with a lot of what youre saying except that I disagree with the idea that a society which is “secular” (I would have said “progressive”) is one which is necessarily areligious or antireligious. As a devout Christian I think a progressive society in which women can fight alongside men and there is a separation of Church and State is the most Christlike form of governance I can imagine. Similarly, most of the people responsible for the secularism you are pointing to were religious. The Kurdish are still very much religious, and not necessarily less religious, even if they are also more secular and progressive than their peers in the region.

    I think the move youre describing is a social and political one but that it does not have to come with a change in religious demographics.

    But perhaps you were not intending to indicate otherwise, in which case disregard it :P

  34. mf_roe says:

    Human history, which started after we stopped using our lizard brains, is written in violence. War DOES reward the winner, don’t expect it to be rejected as a strategy until that fact is replaced with a more powerful system of motivation.

    Human civilization has once again reached a point where there is no escape from the grievances that predate anything scribed into stone. We teeter on the brink of another global configuration and there will be no escape. Direct causalities will quickly tally in the millions, the collapse of the world economy will reap billions. The aftermath will outlast anyone alive today, but given the tenacity of life it is highly likely that billions will survive and be forced by the new matrix of survival to avoid war, at least until they clean up the carnage.

  35. mf_roe says:

    Thank You.

  36. FLL says:

    The principal argument of your post is well taken. There are plenty of people in Syria and Iraq who are appalled by the Islamic State and its practices, so much so that they are willing to risk their safety and give up their possessions in order to escape the fate of living in the Islamic State. Those people are indeed our natural allies. Before I put any of my own ideas into writing, let me just make a few observations on a couple different parts of your post.

          “…what happened last night is a rare event in the West, but it is a way of life for some parts of the Middle East.”

    You note this fact, but then drop the subject, suggesting that the reasons are difficult to ascertain. There have actually been times when the West has suffered under religious authorities who perpetrate mass murder for all the same reasons that the Islamic State does now… but those times ended in the 17th century. The intervening events that have made that state of affairs impossible in the present-day West are: the 17th-century scientific revolution, the French and American revolutions, the Progressive Era (during which women achieved basic political and civil rights) and the post-Stonewall era (during which gay and bisexual people achieved basic civil rights). All of this has been absent in the Muslim world during the past three centuries. I understand that there are complex reasons for this, and I don’t assign blame to Muslim people. They didn’t have the chance to develop politically and socially during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries because of the Ottoman Empire, and during the late 19th and early 20th century because of the British and French empires. I’m only noting that the Muslim world needs to catch up with political and social progress—both for their own sake and for the world’s sake. When they do, it will be likewise impossible for bloodthirsty religious fanatics to exercise control over large parts of the Middle East.

          “In the war against the Islamic State, Muslims like those in Kurdistan are our natural allies.”

    You are very perceptive in seeing that the Kurds are our natural allies, but I wish you would go on to note why that’s true. The Kurds are mostly secular in practice, and as such, they represent the only largely secular culture in the Middle East. Why is that important? To find the answer, just take note of the part of the statement by the Islamic State which denounces Paris as a “capital of prostitution and obscenity.” The French tradition of official secularism has earned that country special enmity from the religious fanatics in the Islamic State. The reason why the Kurds are a model for a better Middle East and a better world is not based on any religion (e.g., your own Christian religion, Mr. Mills, or the “historical Islam” that you defend in your linked article); the reason for the unique value of the Kurdish people is their largely secular way of life, which can be seen in the fact that women fight as soldiers in their army alongside men. There are plenty of Tea Party types in Texas who would call Paris is a capital of “prostitution and obscenity” simply because Paris is too tolerant for their tastes. I’m just saying that religion won’t offer a way out of the current dilemma but the more secular way of life in Kurdistan will.

  37. nicho says:

    Imagine if we had had wall-to-wall TV coverage when the US knowingly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital full of doctors and patients.

  38. Don Chandler says:

    This song always gets me:

  39. Indigo says:


  40. goulo says:

    Well said, thanks for this article, even though I fear that too many people will not heed it. :/

    Besides the similar attack in Beirut, there was also the terrorist attack in Ankara which killed 100, for example, and repeated massacres committed in recent years by Boko Haram in several African countries (estimated 17000 killed). There are strikingly different levels of empathy and outrage when Westerner are killed by violent attacks… which seems both a symptom and a contributing factor of the whole endless cycle.

  41. rideforever says:

    I don’t think we can have a sincere discussion without recognizing that USA/ UK / The West has bombed Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan in dust murdering millions of people.
    What do you expect them to do ?
    You think 500,000 dead babies killed by the West is going to have no reaction ?
    All commentary about the 120 dead in France doesn’t want to talk about the half million children we killed.
    Perhaps the West is so dishonest it cannot face itself.
    Yes the Muslim world is going completely bat shit right now.
    But that happens when each successive country is bombed to shit by the West that is vastly militarily superior and the muslims have no hope of defending themselves whilst the West takes their oil, kills their countries, and then goes on TV to talk about moral superiority.
    Talking about whether muslims are real islam or not is very tongue in cheek from the Atheist/ Christian west that has bombed these people for 20 years and helped with the murder of Palestine since 1950.
    I await a single honest appraisal of all this.
    Let’s say it again. Since 2000 US and UK have dropped millions on bombs on these Middle Eastern countries pretty much destroying the country as well as the people.
    Taken their oil.
    Then the US/UK go on TV talking about how the Middle Eastern people are savages.
    For fuck sake, have you no shame ?

  42. This is horrible!

    Sadly, more Americans have already been shot(!) since the bombing (just last night*) than died in France in this attack.

    * “Every day, 297 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention.”

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