The pain of terror

It was late Friday night, Israel time, when the news came in from Paris. A terrorist attack was in progress against civilians of all ages, gender, colour and race. What had they done to face such a death? For what radical cause were they being killed? Who were the killers?

It was late Friday night, Israel time, that a small elite unit of the Israel navy undertaking a routine patrol was informed that they should be more attentive than usual. Modern communication on smart phones, being what it is led the unit to know that Paris had been attacked; and that the perpetrators were of Middle East origin.

The commander of the patrol broke into tears, cringing on his knees, taking in deep painful breaths; his American fiancee in her fourth month of pregnancy had been killed in the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11. He knew, understood and felt the pain that hundreds of families in Paris would be feeling. He was not alone. Three others of the same unit also broke into tears. They too had lost family members and friends in terrorist attacks in Israel. One had been orphaned at age 7 when his father and mother had been killed by a suicide bomber in the Second Intifada.

The pain of terror is not the same as the pain of having a loved one die of natural causes or even in an accident. The pain of terror is to question what had they done to face such a death? And for what radical cause were they being killed? Both on 9/11 and in Paris the answer to the first question was simple. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The terrorists killed without discrimination.

The answer to the second question is harder to answer. The commander of the Israel Navy patrol gathered his unit together and asked them to join him in the Jewish Friday Sabbath night prayer and a prayer for the dead. Most of the unit were secular but on this occasion they downloaded the prayer onto their smart phones to join in. There was a deep feeling and understanding that France was feeling what Israel and Jews constantly feel; the innocent being killed simply because they were born somewhere of some identity. This gave a feeling of Jewish unity on that night to the unit. Afterwards he explained to the unit; by placing himself in the shoes of the terrorists.

He spoke that political theory can explain nationalism; sociology the quest by the individual for the dignity of the community; theology of disputing divinities; economics of resource struggles; psychology of insanity; and many more plausible reasons why one army should fight another army. The reason for killing civilians has only one reason. It is to inflict terror. Terror is not the act of violence. The dead are dead and feel no pain. Terror is the pain and fear experienced afterwards by others who fear another terrorist attack.

Terror can change the threads of society; some to paranoia and some to combat. However terror alone cannot attain victory for the cause in which the attacks have been perpetrated. The killers have not placed themselves in the shoes of the French people and the French government. The terror attacks in Paris will not destroy France; they will not prevent the French government and her allies from responding. The terror attacks in Paris will however make life harder for Muslims in France. These too will have to live their own terror; their own fear of reprisals. The killers have inflicted terror but can never win by acts of terror!

The commander of that patrol of the small elite unit of the Israel navy spent that night and the rest of the Sabbath in conversation with his soldiers; with constant tears streaming down his face. He had also served in Iraq in the US Army and had seen many such terrorist attacks in Baghdad on a daily basis. The carnage was so great that it was not possible to have individual burial ceremonies; there were communal graves for hundreds. After many years these attacks and the struggle is still ongoing.

On Saturday sunset he read them the story of the Three Musketeers written in French by Alexandre Dumas 1844. The plot is based on unity; of all for one and one for all. This is same policy that political and military alliances such as NATO espouse. Indeed France over the forthcoming days, months and years will experience this brotherhood from Israel; who hopes that France will reciprocate.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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