Getting It Right In Paris

As we pulled our wheeled bags down Rue de Cardinal Lemoine toward the Metro station last Sunday, leaving Paris, I noticed a hand-lettered sign in a shop window: “Vivre sans crainte.”

Live without fear.

The Parisian shopkeeper who wrote this message knows the truth: terrorists can’t hurt us, but if we give in to fear, we can hurt ourselves.

Of course, demented zealots with automatic weapons and explosive vests can slaughter people whose only affront to them is ordering a glass of wine or listening to rock music. The value of the destroyed lives is beyond calculation and the grief of those who lost loved ones is beyond imagination.

But we are millions. As families, communities and nations, we are far stronger than any deranged cult.

The terrorists know this. They are crazy but they are not stupid. They are counting on us to do their work for them.

They want us to punish the innocent. They know that if we lash out against Syrian refugees and Muslim immigrants, we will push more recruits into their arms. They welcome bombs because they hide among women and children. To them, collateral damage is a gift that keeps on giving more cause for revenge.

They want us to compromise our values, to undermine democracy, freedom of expression, privacy and rule of law. From their viewpoint, liberalism is the root of decadence. For them, the certainty of medieval religious authoritarianism is the only path to redemption. Come on, they say, join the party.

Most importantly, they want our attention. Like the unhinged shooter who slaughters classmates at a community college, they want to engage us in a conversation on their terms. But no fruitful conversation starts with an atrocity.

Meanwhile, we are getting another message from the City of Light. Posters and giant billboards on every avenue proclaim Paris2015, COP 21. The United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP, is sponsoring the 21st, Conference of the Parties, starting in mid-December, aimed at producing a meaningful international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Climate change is here and now. From the Middle East through North Africa, drought is forcing farmers and pastoralists off the land into overcrowded cities. Governments are collapsing. Fundamentalists and extremists are filling the void. Hence ISIS, the flood of Syrian and African refugees into Europe, and the atrocious Nov. 13 attacks around Place de Republique.

It is time to leave fear behind. We must take action now, in Paris and in Oregon. As the French say, “plus tard ce cera trop tard.” Later will be too late.

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