Francois runs into Ahmed, an old pal from grad school, at Le Pain Quotidien near their old university.
Ahmed: Terrible, what happened in Paris, no?
Francois: Awful. But, I am not Charlie. What I am, actually, is that I am sick to the pit of my stomach. And, you, you don’t need to feel sorry.
Ahmed: I am not sorry. Just feel like people need to own up to what is done in their name.
Francois: Well, it is not like people have chosen the men who committed the crime as their representatives in some kind of election or referendum. On the other hand, those who invade other countries in the name of defending “freedom” are actually chosen by many. There, in societies who call themselves democratic, responsibility must be taken. But that rarely happens.
Ahmed: That is the beauty of democracy, in principle! Don’t you see? At least, it allows you to own up, and gives you a chance to accept responsibility. In terrorist ideology, no one takes responsibility. Even if terrorists do claim responsibility for their barbaric acts, they do so to take pride in their acts, and not to seek redemption. And that, my friend, goes against the spirit of taking responsibility. Taking responsibility means accepting the immorality of one’s actions, and hence suffering punishment, paying reparations, and even seeking unconditional forgiveness.
Francois: Ahmed, sadly, democracy allows anything but taking responsibility. But, first, can’t you see that your language is already tainting your call to ethics and responsibility. Calling some people “terrorists” already puts them beyond the pale of legitimate human order, and thus allows violence for which no responsibility can be assigned. “Barbarism” is a negative container, a term that artificially collapses the world of too many people, and turns it into some kind of a dark, unfathomable mode of being. There is a crisis of language here, you see—because the language of the ethics is already compromised by the self-righteousness of those claiming to fall in the “camp civilization”. By the way, if responsibility means paying reparations, I wonder if anyone has paid for slavery and colonialism of the past, and for the wars on, and dispossession of, defenseless people in the present.
Ahmed: To create fear and terror among people through acts of violence, especially if it is done in “defense” of, or to spread an ideology, is terrorism and nothing else. It is a belief that terror will change the thinking of people, their way of life.