Friday, January 9, 2015

Stephen L. Carter ― Don't Give the Charlie Hebdo Attackers What They Want

When we condemn terror as a sort of madness, we refuse to look with a clear eye at the way the enemy is thinking. The enemy is not making the same mistake. He studies us, working out our weaknesses and our fears.

via Bloomberg View

Stephen L. Carter, a Bloomberg View columnist, is a professor of law at Yale University, where he teaches courses on contracts, professional responsibility, ethics in literature, intellectual property, and the law and ethics of war. 

A decade or so ago, in his book “Terror and Liberalism,” the social critic Paul Berman derided the West for repeatedly making the conceptual error of refusing to understand “that, from time to time, mass political movements do get drunk on the idea of slaughter.” Our mistake, he wrote, is “expecting the world to act in sensible ways” -- that is, “without mystery, self-contradiction, murk, or madness.”

But terrorism isn’t madness. That’s the true lesson that the West keeps refusing to learn. The terrorist isn’t irrational. Evil, yes; irrational, no. So although most of the world surely agrees with President Barack Obama’s condemnation of the fatal shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo as “senseless attacks against innocent civilians,” it’s useful to remember that to the terrorist, the attacks aren’t senseless, and the civilians aren’t innocent.

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