PARIS — Islamists determined to impose dread, paralysis and terror. People shocked, saddened, stricken, worried. Some angry, determined to fight by any means. Since last week — or indeed going back months, years even — everybody has been looking at the same situation, one that's become so obvious, so well-known, that we've ceased to notice its singularity: It's all about emotions, feelings, sentiments.
They've become the causes of the tragic events, present effects, levers of the future. And never mind that these various feelings are being forced upon us, endured, rejected, created. And that we are made to react, in one way or another. Psychology transforms, overwhelms and replaces practically everything else, from social life and information to political analysis and logical action. Emotion is now political — and strategic.
It's not hard to see why. Infusing fear is indeed the particularity of terrorism, its main goal, its raison d'être. Repeated attacks and murders intensify the dread, while their images, shared everywhere, spread their impact, thus affecting everyone. The hyper-mediatization of our connected society increases permanent emotionalism, the sharing of feelings even surpasses the sharing of facts.
Do live reports, day and night, bring information? More like shock, anxiety, distress, sensations. The news is engulfed, bogged down by this affective mishmash, and it seems impossible to escape it. That's why we now have to act within it and through it. Provided we know how.
What dominates in the days after the attacks is the compassion. Candles, flowers, anonymous messages of sadness, of incomprehension. These are the gestures of people suffering, of impossible but obstinately attempted consolation. In silence and sorrow, they kiss each other, hug each other. Despondency dominates, with all its inevitability and dignity. But also with all such depression, that there is the risk that resignation and dejection are all that's left.
Affliction cannot be avoided, but if it lasts too long it can paralyze us. That's why, without discarding the emotional ground, we also need to activate other registers. We also need rage and anger.
Scores of innocent people are being killed in the heart of Paris, and we should content ourselves with only tears? Have we become so spineless that we don't even feel the need to crush the murderers, a duty to avenge these deaths?
In the face of such savagery, that lump growing in our throats isn't just filled with distraught embraces. There's also fury, wrath and hatred. Of course, we shouldn't give in to these emotions, not without control and measure. But neither should we systematically suppress them in shame.
On the contrary, we should stop loathing rage as if it was always wrong. It can be legitimate and desirable to give in to it, and maintain within our hearts hatred towards the executioners, hatred towards totalitarianism, hatred towards injustice. It isn't true that everything must be forgiven, always and everywhere, and love isn't the universal solution. There's no dignity in turning the other cheek to those who fired a Kalashnikov through the first one.
These assertions, which are self-evident, are not widely acknowledged nowadays. By seeing only the outpouring of nobler feelings, refusals of all aggressiveness and naive indulgence, we could also have the impression that we lack the energy necessary to resist.
If that's really the case, then the Islamists have already won. Their victims, past and future, will be wept over by petrified survivors, but the killers won't be taking any risks. And their Caliphate, meanwhile, will continue to grow and move closer. On the contrary, if we identify with the rage to avenge the victims and to exterminate the executioners, it becomes possible that we can prevail. As far as feelings go, it's as simple as that.
The concrete actions that stem from this primal choice raise a number of concrete and complex issues. We all know the long list: international coalition, reversal of alliances, air strikes, ground troops in Syria, border controls, and so on. But the psychological choice, alas, is more straightforward. In the face of terror, we can either choose sadness and defeat, or rage and war.