French riot police secure the area near the Bataclan concert hall following a fatal shooting at a restaurant in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Parisians marked the one-year anniversary of a string of gun and bomb attacks perpetrated by Islamist nihilists in a most fitting way – they celebrated life.
Refusing to be intimidated by those who see the freedoms afforded by Western culture as anathema, hundreds returned to the Bataclan, the Paris concert hall which was transformed into the epicenter of the jihadist rampage, and danced to music played by rock star Sting.
“Tonight we have two tasks to achieve,” Sting declared. “First, to remember those who lost their lives in the attack, and then to celebrate life and music in this historic place.”
Georges Salines, who lost his 28-year-old daughter, Lola, at the Bataclan, told AFP the concert was “almost a taking back of the space for music and fun from the forces of death.” Salines was among the 250 to 300 survivors and victims’ family members present.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed Saturday that Islamist terrorism would be defeated.
“Terrorism will strike us again,” Valls warned in a statement, “But we have in ourselves all the resources to resist and all the strength to beat it.”
Parisians’ response was reminiscent of Israeli responses to terrorism at home. After the April 2003 attack by Islamists affiliated with Hamas at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv, the bar and live music venue quickly reopened, managing to celebrate Independence Day just a few weeks after the suicide bombing.
More recent attacks at Sarona Market in Tel Aviv and on the streets of Jerusalem have not stopped Israelis from continuing to frequent places of entertainment or leisure. Caving in on their hard-earned freedoms is precisely what the Islamists want to achieve with their bombs and guns. The Parisians who gathered at the Bataclan Saturday night would have none of it.
Resilience is not just about continuing the old routine as if nothing has happened. Rather, resilience is about refusing to compromise one’s values in the face of intimidation. It is the awareness that concessions to terrorists only invite more terrorism. It is also the understanding that open, free and democratic societies have repeatedly defeated the forces of fascism, racism and nihilism, thanks to their inherent inner strengths.
In free and open societies, corrupt rulers and ineffective governments are voted out of office to make room for the promise of change and, it is hoped, improvement. Creative individuals are given the freedom to explore avenues of innovation. Opportunities to advance are open to all, regardless of religious affiliation, gender or race.
Of course too much freedom can lead to anomie.
This is the primary criticism of reactionaries of all stripes. In this sense, Islamists’ challenge to Western society is nothing new. Open societies, however, also offer the solution to this anomie, by providing people with the freedom to adopt any form of religious expression or tradition that provides meaning and direction, as long as the exercise of religious expression does not result in the trampling of another’s freedoms.
Resilience ultimately emanates from a strong conviction that one’s society embodies values worthy of defense. When Parisians returned to the Bataclan, when Israelis return to Mike’s Place or to Sarona Market or to the streets of Jerusalem, they are affirming Western values of tolerance and openness to diverse expressions. These public spaces are open to all regardless of race, religion or gender. Muslims, Jews and Christians interact freely.
Reactionary Islamists target these places with their suicide bombers and guns to destroy these oases of tolerance.
And Western societies have a moral obligation to never be intimidated by these violent reactionaries.
This Saturday, on the one-year anniversary of one of the bloodiest terrorist attacks France has ever known, Parisians demonstrated that they would not be intimidated.
Their resolve should inspire us all and remind us what is at stake in the war against the Islamists.