In wake of Paris attacks, US should not ditch compassion

By Benjamin Clabault

(Rasande Tyskar/ Flickr)
(Rasande Tyskar/ Flickr)

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have understandably shaken the Western world to its core. The death toll is harrowing and the potential for more violence is terrifying.

The West has been attacked, and it wants to strike back. The terrorists ended over 100 precious lives and sent a strong message filled with fiery hate. It is only natural that we want to send an equally strong message back, an insistence that we will not stand idly by as our people are slaughtered and our values attacked.

But why then does much of the Western response make me feel sick? Why do I fear that the attacks have succeeded in bringing out the worst of us? I think it is because I am noticing a worrying trend. We are flirting with the dangerous idea that to protect ourselves and exact revenge, we must necessarily abandon any notion of compassion.

The conservative response to the attacks here in the United States was swift and predictable. It echoed the traditional mantra of being “tough on terror,” and while I might not agree with certain measures like putting American boots on the ground, I understand the need for debate after such an atrocious attack.

But several prominent politicians crossed an important line. They did not only call for increased military action against ISIS or safer security measures on the home front. They also demanded a suspension of moral values, an acceptance that this fight must be won at any cost, no matter the suffering inflicted on members of the non-Western world.

How do we defeat ISIS in the Middle East? “I would bomb … them,” presidential candidate Donald Trump declared at an Iowa rally. Senator Ted Cruz agreed, adding that we need a bombing campaign with a “tolerance for civilian casualties.” He defended this stance by pointing out that, “the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent human life.” How strange to hear a member of the Congress assert that we should base our own sense of morality on that of ISIS.

On protecting the home front, the general conservative consensus has been to deny Syrian refugees entry into the United States. Again, I understand the reaction. We saw what happened in Paris and we know something similar could happen here. But the policy is nonetheless cruel, and the undue harshness of the rhetoric has me truly worried.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, said that we should not allow “orphans under the age of five” into the country. While these children pose no security threat, Christie´s remarks pander to a worryingly large portion of the American electorate that sees compassion in the face of terror as a weakness.

I already know that plenty of readers will contemptuously call me a ¨bleeding heart liberal¨ for my opinions, but that is a label I will gladly accept. I want to be proud of the country I live in, not just for its economic and military might but also for its commitment to taking the moral high ground.

In 1983, Irish political scientist Benedict Anderson famously argued that nations are in fact simply “imagined communities.” The United States of America is a community I would like to continue imagining myself a part of, but not if its members care so little about other people´s lives.

Benjamin Clabault is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]