When terrorists strike, hawks always say it is our freedom and our democracy they despise.
This weekend was no different. After more than 130 people were killed in terrorist attacks across Paris, the Front national in France itself, the right-wing press in the United Kingdom and Republicans in the United States all gave the same explanation: The terrorists struck because they hate us for who we are.
It is not always that simple. But they are not altogether wrong either.
The leaders and ideologues do resent Western civilization and what it stands for. Their foot soldiers in the West are driven to madness less out of conviction than spite.
They tend to come from broken or unhappy homes. They are likely to be unemployed or perennially struggling to keep a job because they are hard to work with. They are often young man struggling to make their way in a society that is liberal and meritocratic — or, as they see it, feminized and unfair.
It is telling that most Islamic terrorists in the West are young men.
Muslim women, by and large, take advantage of the opportunities they could never have in the land of their parents or grandparents. They are more likely to get a high-school diploma and an advanced degree after that. Most want a career rather than be housewives — or at least they insist on having the choice.
Some Muslim men, on the other hand, just can’t accept that their gender and pride alone do not entitle them to anything in this part of the world.
Their radicalization is not unique.
Dylann Roof, the young man who massacred nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina this summer, was much the same story: an unemployed 21 year-old with an allegedly abusive father and an unhealthy fascination for apartheid-era Rhodesia and South Africa.
Roof found white supremacy and blamed blacks and liberal elites for his sad life.
The likes of those who went on a killing spree in Paris on Friday find God and blame a decadent and sinful West.
They didn’t attack the Elysée Palace or the Ministry of Defense. Their gripe is not with the French state or the French army so much as it is with everything France represents: the freedom to do as one pleases without fear of persecution or violence.
The terrorists’ “carefully chosen targets,” writes Simon Schama in the Financial Times, “were exactly the places where we go to pursue our little share of weekend pleasure: the football ground, the music hall, the café, streets such as those around the Canal St-Martin where people stroll and sit, joke, gossip, flirt.”
Suddenly these places, characterized by the pleasure-exterminators of ISIS as dens of “prostitution and vice,” seem bigger than mere resorts of casual entertainment. Instead, they seem to be at the heart of the urban innocence, emblems of the openness that the assassins of joy want to turn into a graveyard where sociability is patrolled by the morality police.
It is hard for anyone else to imagine that men can be so consumed with hatred as to no longer recognize joy for what it is; to have such a lack of humanity as to shoot and bomb innocent people while they are dining or enjoying a football match or a rock concert and think this is one’s purpose in life.
But their basic moral shortcoming isn’t complicated at all: Rather than accept responsibility for their own failures in life, they lash out — in the most horrendous way possible — at the society they have refused to assimilate into.
There aren’t many of them. But there are enough to cause serious harm.
On this, the hawks are right. They do hate who we are.
Let’s not forget who we are as we root them out.