Beyond Je Suis Charlie

It's been difficult watching the horrific terrorist attacks unfold in Paris this past week. The offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo are in the 11th arrondissement, just a few streets away from rue Rampon and Place de la Republique, which is the central setting of the Venus Trilogy of novels. The 11th is "my" neighborhood in Paris since I first checked into what is now the Le General Hotel on rue Rampon nearly 20 years ago. There has also been an eerie similarity between some of this week's events and what takes place in Leaving Paris. It's made me rethink some of the scenes I've written, the dialogue from certain characters, the way the political atmosphere in Paris sets the mood for this final book.  I'm also a journalist, so the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff strikes close to home. Like many, I have asked why young men (and an increasing number of women) have turned to such violence? Here are a few thoughts.

In Paris, one trip to the banlieue outside the city and you will see the economic desperation, the class divide, the "us and them" writ large. With no job or education prospects, the so-called "wealth gap" has become a canyon. Terrorist groups promise more than virgins and wealth in martyrdom: there is fellowship for the alienated, a perverse call to right injustice, and because of the Internet, video games and portrayals in mass media, it looks cool. There's a reason all the ISIS videos look like slick video games and Hollywood film trailers. You don't have to travel to a training camp in Syria – although many are – but can become radicalized in your bedroom when what's outside appears hopeless. The hopeless are easily indoctrinated into radicalized religious sects who promise power, respect and glory.

We also cannot continue to believe the old conservative canard "They hate us because we're free." America and Europe have been undermining nations, killing untold numbers of civilians, occupying, weaponizing and dehumanizing on a global scale for centuries. That also leads to radicalization, whether we like to admit it or not.

When terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, America's response was to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has gotten us nowhere. Bombing civilizations to dust is a temporary fix (or no fix at all in Iraq's case) and only leads to more hopelessness, a sense of injustice, a call to radicalize. After every terror attack, there is a rush by conservative talking heads to paint all Muslims as would-be terrorists. There is an almost willful disregard of the differences in culture and psychology that also lead to terrorism.

The global solidarity with France this week has been amazing to watch, especially today's march and rally in Paris where a million people turned out. All religions and beliefs marched in unity – Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists. Once the rallies end and the #JuSuisCharlie hashtag fades from Twitter, there must be a turn to action and, hopefully, a hard look at the root causes that makes young men and women take up guns and detonate bombs. We must continue to condemn terrorism and its causes, reject fear and the twisting of religion and politics at the expense of humanity.


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