On Tuesday, November 17, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to the staff of the U.S. embassy in Paris about the latest terrorist attacks in that city. Some of his remarks, obviously off the cuff, related to the difference between those most recent attacks and the attacks in January of this year at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Here, in full context, is what he said:
“There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for. That’s not an exaggeration. It was to assault all sense of nationhood and nation-state and rule of law and decency, dignity, and just put fear into the community and say, ‘Here we are.’ And for what? What’s the platform? What’s the grievance? That we’re not who they are? They kill people because of who they are and they kill people because of what they believe. And it’s indiscriminate. They kill Shia. They kill Yezidis. They kill Christians. They kill Druze. They kill Ismaili. They kill anybody who isn’t them and doesn’t pledge to be that. And they carry with them the greatest public display of misogyny that I’ve ever seen, not to mention a false claim regarding Islam. It has nothing to do with Islam; it has everything to do with criminality, with terror, with abuse, with psychopathism – I mean, you name it.”
It is obviously true that Mr. Kerry was speaking extemporaneously and not from a carefully prepared written speech. Still, coming from our country’s most senior diplomat, the thoughts he expressed are astounding.
First, he almost says that the Charlie Hebdo attack could be thought of as having “legitimacy.” But, apparently on a second thought, he decides that it’s better to say that that attack had “a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that.” Presumably the “rationale” he’s referring to is anger generated in the minds of the Muslim attackers by cartoons that offended the prophet Mohammad. But, not all anger is homicidal anger. Perhaps any religious person can understand that disrespect towards important religious symbols can generate anger in believers, but homicidal anger? Anger that motivates a believer to murder numerous people? The U.S. Secretary of State can “attach [him]self” to that course of events? That is not a happy thought.
And, when he asks rhetorically, with regard to the most recent attacks, “What’s the grievance?” he overlooks the very explicit statements that ISIS has made regarding their motives. ISIS has said that it is attacking France because France is participating in the West’s aerial bombing of ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq, and because Paris is a den of sin and degradation. The former rationale is based on fact, whatever one thinks of the latter rationale. France certainly is bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq, so why can’t Mr. Kerry “attach” himself to that factual “rationale” for the attacks in Paris? It’s a mystery.
Moreover, in discussing the Charlie Hebdo attack, Mr. Kerry makes no explicit reference to the attack on the kosher supermarket that was coordinated with the attack on the magazine. Perhaps he used the term Charlie Hebdo as shorthand for both attacks. If he did, it might also be the case that he discerns a “rationale” for the attack on the kosher supermarket—it may be that Mr. Kerry can “attach” himself to the view that Muslim terrorists in Paris might be motivated to murder Jewish Parisians because Muslims are angry about the existence of the State of Israel or Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, or both. Mr. Kerry does not say, so we cannot know.
But, interestingly enough, when he comes to listing all the various groups that ISIS-affiliated terrorists have murdered, Secretary Kerry omits any mention of Jews. This is astounding in light of the fact that, during the January attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket, the Islamist terrorists asked victims to disclose their religion. If they said they were Jews, the terrorists murdered them; four Jews were killed. So, in the course of addressing the staff of the embassy in Paris, Secretary Kerry fails to mention the one group of victims–that is, the Jews–who were specifically singled out for death on account of their religion in the very city in which he was speaking.
Finally, Mr. Kerry predictably asserts the always-repeated assertion that what Islamist terrorists do–that is, murdering innocent people–has nothing to do with Islam. The terrorists beg to differ. By now, is there anyone who has not seen the picture of the so-called ‘mastermind’ of the latest attacks, with one hand grasping the ISIS flag and the other holding up the Q’ran? Why is he holding up the Q’ran, if Islam has nothing to do with his plans and goals as a terrorist? Why not hold up a book of recipes? It may be that there are many Muslims who believe that Islam prohibits the murder of innocents, but there are other Muslims (and I believe polling indicates that they are not really a tiny minority) who believe that such murders are justified and indeed obligatory on pious Muslims. Mr. Kerry may have lots of accomplishments, but expertise in Islam is not, I don’t think, one of them. The Islamist terrorists who murdered more than a hundred Parisians believed that Islam had everything to do with their actions, and they would know best.
I don’t believe and I would not assert that Secretary Kerry is a bad man with bad intentions. But I do believe that he is a very limited man who is prone to saying something foolish and thoughtless every time he speaks. That is a bad quality in the person who is the U.S. Secretary of State.