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Believing that benevolence to those seeking your annihilation will somehow melt away their resolve is a deadly mistake

Despite Paris bloodbath, much of Europe wants to turn the other cheek

Op-ed: While chest-beating politicians declare ‘war on terror,’ many citizens think kindness to Muslim refugees is the best way to fight terrorism

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A bullet hole in the window of the restaurant on Rue de Charonne, Paris, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, where attacks took place on Friday. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks on a stadium, a concert hall and Paris cafes that left more than 120 people dead and over 350 wounded. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A bullet hole in the window of the restaurant on Rue de Charonne, Paris, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, where attacks took place on Friday. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks on a stadium, a concert hall and Paris cafes that left more than 120 people dead and over 350 wounded. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Kneeling on a Paris street, right next to the place where hundreds of people have placed flowers and candles to commemorate the victims of Friday’s atrocious terror attacks, a French reporter interviews a little boy, maybe four or five years old. Do you understand why these people did what they did, the reporter wants to know.

“Yes, because they’re very, very, evil. They’re not very nice, these bad guys,” the boy replies. “You have to be very careful and you have to switch houses,” he adds. “Don’t worry,” his dad interrupts, gently stroking the boy’s head. France is our home, he declares, and we’re not going anywhere.

But, the young boy argues, “they have guns and they can shoot at us, because they’re very evil.” True, but we have flowers, the father retorts, pointing at the sea of people showing their respect to the victims. “Look, everybody is putting down flowers. That’s to fight the guns.” At first the boy is skeptical — “flowers don’t do anything,” he says — but his father reassures him that the flowers, together with the candles, protect us from the evildoers. The boy looks relieved. “I feel better now,” he says, as his father gives a satisfying smile to the reporter.

This heart-warming exchange, a clip of which is currently making the rounds on French-speaking social media, illustrates an attitude shared by large segments of the European public in response to the brutal slaughter of 129 civilians. While governments make tough and defiant statements, declaring war on the terrorists and vowing to change constitutions in order to prevent the next attack, many Europeans abhor such belligerent rhetoric and want to confront violence with benevolence.

A woman lights candles at a makeshift memorial next to the Bataclan concert hall on November 16, 2015 in Paris. (AFP/ BERTRAND GUAY)
A woman lights candles at a makeshift memorial next to the Bataclan concert hall on November 16, 2015 in Paris. (AFP/ BERTRAND GUAY)

True, a five-year-old boy in Paris shouldn’t be told too much about the Islamic State’s cruel and fanatic agenda. He also doesn’t need to know about the various measures the free world intends to enact to combat the plague of Islamic terrorism. Europe’s problem is that too many adults believe that flowers and candles are an effective tool against a fanatical ideology hell-bent on destroying Western civilization as we know it.

‘The only weapon against hate is reconciliation’

Even in staunchly secular France, the Christian notion of turning the other cheek seems alive and well. The sense that goodwill, compassion and human kindness can prevail against Islamic terrorism — call it a new kind of appeasement — can be felt across the continent.

“You cannot defeat terrorism by coming to resemble it,” columnist Jakob Augstein opined on Spiegel Online, the largest news portal in Europe. “That’s the problem with the ‘war on terror’: Whoever wages it has already lost it. The only weapon against hate is reconciliation.”

This doesn’t mean being naïve, Augstein added. But the draconian measures to fight terrorism proposed by French President Francois Hollande — more weapons, more surveillance, more limitations to civil liberties — violate Western values and haven’t worked in the past, he argued. You can’t protect our values by trampling on them, he insisted. “Everybody can make war,” he wrote, but have you tried “love”? (Yes, he actually used that word to make his case.)

The best way to face down Islamic terrorism is by welcoming Muslim refugees in Europe, Augstein explained. “Never has the West caused a greater loss to Islamism than when it offered protection to Muslims suffering from war and terror. One can imagine how the IS henchmen were shocked by this disarming act of altruism.”

Many Israelis — nay, every Israeli — imagined quite a different response when they saw the growing stream of Muslim refugees making its way toward Europe. Living in close proximity to IS and facing the group’s bloodthirsty associates on a near-daily basis, Israelis likely imagined the terrorists laughing out loud as they realized that well-intended Europe had opened its borders and its hearts to the refugees without much concern about rotten apples among them.

Europe’s willingness to offer shelter to those who have lost everything is commendable. There is something admirable about people’s willingness to absorb masses of Muslim refugees, especially after some of their co-religionists committed a bloodbath in the capital of Western liberalism. But since Friday it can no longer be denied that Europe has a problem with Islamist terrorism, homegrown and imported. Compassion for those in need is warranted. But believing that benevolence to those seeking your annihilation will somehow melt away their resolve, is a deadly mistake.

“Love the foreigner for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt,” Deuteronomy commands. But, suspecting that love and compassion won’t go very far in preventing jihadists from carrying out their murderous schemes — or worse, actually embolden them — Israelis can be forgiven for remembering another famous Jewish dictum: kabdehu v’hashdehu. Treat others with respect, but never let down your guard.

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