After the Paris attacks: Fly, Fight, Hide or Strive?

My previous blog, published mid-July 2015, concluded with my intention to address Europe’s obsession with Israel and the double-standard used against it, and how it affected the security of Jews in Europe. Two trends have been confirmed in the past 5 months, sometimes in horrific ways:

  1. The recent Jihadist suicide attacks and shootings in Paris, which targeted people indiscriminately, resulted in 130 lost lives, dozens of people injured and handicapped for life, hundreds of survivors and rescuers traumatized for years, and a society in shock & disbelief. The subsequent alerts that brought Brussels to a complete halt for 3 days, and further away the San Bernardino shootings in California are reminding us that, whether we like or not, the Jihadi idea is able to mobilise young Europeans living in large metropoles and small cities to go out on suicide missions, with the objective to kill as many as possible.
  2. In parallel, the massive drive of immigration targeting mainly Germany & the UK is turning into a mega-trend. From countries either failed, at war or in dire economic straits, hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle-East and Africa are risking their lives to make it to Europe, in the hope of a better life. By the end of 2015, Germany will have received 1 million migrants. What may be a blessing for an ageing European society may also well be a double curse in disguise, (a) if European states are not able to come up with the economic recovery needed to finance the initial social cost of integrating the immigrants and (b) if the consequent levels of social, ethnic and security tension fuel the populist parties to a point where the democratic rule brings them to power.

What consequences do these trends have for Jewish life in Europe? What are the new responsibilities of Jewish leaders in this new environment? On an international level, will European states develop a stronger understanding of Israel’s struggle against Islamist fundamentalism?

I would like to propose the concept of VUCA, for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous to help analyse this particular start of century 21. VUCA was coined in the 90’s from military strategy, and it is increasingly used in the way we (Strategic Leadership consultants) help clients apprehend weak signals and emerging ideas. It applies to a wide range of human organisations, from business corporations to non-profits to societies.

Applying a VUCA view on any reality is to enhance foresight (in terms of possible scenarios) and insight (in terms of organization, processes & individual & collective behaviours), in order

  1. to enhance organization learning,
  2. to prevent the repetition of the same (at times deadly) mistakes
  3. to anticipate and minimize the occurrence of unwanted scenarios.

In order to do so properly, one need to clarify the language tools we are to use, so here are their selected respective definitions in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Volatile: easily aroused; tending to erupt into violence (explosive); unable to hold the attention fixed because of an inherent lightness or fickleness of disposition; difficult to capture or hold permanently (evanescent, transitory)

Uncertain: indefinite, indeterminate; not certain to occur (problematical); not reliable (untrustworthy: an uncertain ally); not known beyond doubt; not clearly identified or defined (a fire of uncertain origin); not constant

Complex: a whole made up of interrelated parts (the military-industrial complex); a group of repressed desires and memories that exerts a dominating influence upon the personality; an exaggerated reaction to or preoccupation with a subject or situation; a group of obviously related units of which the degree and nature of the relationship is imperfectly known; the sum of factors (as symptoms) characterizing a disease or condition

Ambiguous: doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness (eyes of an ambiguous color); inexplicable; capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways (an ambiguous smile, a deliberately ambiguous reply)

Volatility introduces both the potential for the eruption of violence witnessed in Paris a month ago, in London 9 years ago and in Madrid 13 years ago, and the intrinsic inability of democracies to hold their attention fixed because of an “inherent lightness or fickleness of disposition“, probably due to the clash between the long term implications of the societal issues raised, which need long term action, and the short term requirements of the elective system, where one need quick and spectacular fixes to win the next elections.

  • Volatile (as for “tending to erupt into violence“) are societies in European country-states, where the inability to integrate a small but increasingly radical fringe of young Muslims of North African ascent in France, of South Asian origin (Pakistan, India & Bangladesh) in the UK, and possibly tomorrow of Middle Eastern origin in Germany is raising challenges that politicians and authorities alike for the past 40 years have been unable to name, lest to address. The simultaneous rise of ethnic tensions, minority community claims and populist parties seem to reinforce the radical temptation of those youngsters of immigrant origins who reject any conscious identification with their countries of citizenship.
  • Volatile (as for “difficult to capture or hold permanently“) is the cohesiveness and coordination of the European Union, when Ms Merkel of Germany decides on her own that Europe should let up to 3 million migrants enter the Schengen space in the coming years, when Mr Hollande of France decides on his own to send French troops to save Mali from a Jihadi coup in 2013, declares war on terrorism and then orders airstrikes in Syria in retaliation for the Paris November attacks. The European Union is talkative when it offers lessons of diplomacy & defense to others, but remains driven by national interests of its member states when it comes to acting: do what we say, not what we do.
  • Volatile (as for “unable to hold the attention fixed“) is the resolve and the willingness of the international community that fails to act decisively in Syria where over 250,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011, the way it failed to protect the 8,000+ Bosnians killed in Srebrenica (1995) “under the protection” of UN Blue helmets, the 800,000+ people from Rwanda killed in the 1994 genocide, which took place in the idle presence of the UN Assistance for Rwanda Mission (UNAMIR) peacekeepers, the 3 million (yes, 3 million) Congolese in the second Congo war (1998-2003), the 300,000+ Sudanese and South-Sudanese killed in the Darfur war (2003-2010), the 80,000-100,000 Sri Lankans killed during its civil war (1983-2009), or among the current ongoing wars, the 20,000+ Nigerians killed by Boko Haram since 2009, , the 2,500-5,000 Yemeni killed mostly by Saudi bombings, and again the possible mass killings boiling over in Burundi or the Central African Republic.

Uncertainty is what characterizes the moral confusion pervading the equivalence drawn between Jews and their murderers in Europe, the indetermination of Jewish organisations in Europe these days, and the untrustworthiness of Israel allies in their constancy to see that all UN resolutions, not only the one calling for the withdrawal from disputed territories, be followed up and honored.

  • Uncertain (as for ”not clearly identified or defined”)  of what is at stake is the public opinion when a survivor from the Paris attacks declares on French radio that while he does not understand his attackers (“who had it all”), he “understands that people in Gaza blow themselves up”, when a friend of mine forwards me a “thoughtful” text from Gaza equating what happened in Paris with the fate of Gaza, when a leading well-meaning magazine publishes a reader’s note claiming our “brotherhood in suffering” with people in Lebanon, Syria, Mali … and Palestine…
  • Uncertain (as for ”indefinite, indeterminate”) are Jewish organizations and institutions in Europe these days, and their silence speak louder than words for their lack of strategy and willingness (or ability) to take a collective stand in front of:
    1. the rise of extremist parties that are borne out of individual democratic choices, that claim positions of confrontation with radical Islam that may reassure Jews living under police and (in France) army protection, but with ideologies that remain at their core deeply inspired by xenophobia and antisemitism.
    2. the hundreds of thousands of refugees desperate to enter Europe, who present our continent with a formidable challenge and possibly formidable opportunities for aging societies, providing our countries clarify what is the non-negotiable citizenship contract offered. At the same time, over 1,200 US rabbis (as of December 3rd) sign a letter in support of welcoming refugees in the US (see http://www.hias.org/1000-rabbis-sign-letter-support-welcoming-refugees), and conclude that “As Rabbis, we take seriously the biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger.” We call on our elected officials to uphold the great legacy of a country that welcomes refugees.”
  • Uncertain (as for ”unreliable”) of trustworthiness is the UN and the International Community when they claim the right of Israel to security, when the last war against Hezbollah was concluded under the auspices of resolution 1701, which “called for Israel to withdraw all of its forces from Lebanon (done), a long term solution based on the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon (Hezbollah never disarmed, and instead multiplied its arsenal of long-range missiles 10-fold, with an estimated 100,000 missiles to date), and emphasized the importance of full control of Lebanon by the government of Lebanon (which Hezbollah never allowed)”. How could the Israeli government, no matter its political inclination, and the Israeli public opinion, feel confident enough to relinquish further disputed territories, when the darling of the International community, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mr Mahmud Abbas, who has been running the PA without any mandate since 2009, declares on PA television on November 16, 2015 (see the excellent http://www.palwatch.org/), about the recent wave of attacks that killed 22 Israelis and wounded 215 in 108 stabbings and 8 shootings: “No one called for this uprising and no one asked for it. It stemmed from the hearts of the young… We said to everyone that we want peaceful popular uprising, and that’s what this is. That’s what this is. [my highlight] However, the aggression of firing bullets has come from the Israelis.” Where is the foreign press so eager to cover the fact that Israelis have the chutzpah to kill the aggressors who are out to kill them?

Complexity offers various definitions that are a formidable diffraction to our analysis. The central implication is that there is not one single explanation to what is happening around the extended Mediterranean world (from the Persian Gulf to the shores of Morocco and to Paris, London or Berlin), and that there is no silver bullet to solving the challenges of Jewish life in Europe.

  • Complex (as for “a whole made up of interrelated parts“) are the ripple effects of multiple conflicts with one another. In Yemen for example, the assassination on December 6 (in an IS attack) of the Aden Governor will have consequences on the degree of military involvement of the Saudis, which may in turn increase Iranian support to the Shia Houthi rebels, and to the Hezbollah & Alawi troops fighting against Saudi-sponsored Jihadist groups fighting in Syria. This may in turn have an impact on more Syrians making the decision to leave their homes and country and run to Europe for their lives, which may in turn have an impact on the anxiety and fears of European public opinions. This may in turn translate in more votes for populist and/or xenophobic parties in the weeks and months to come.
  • Complex (as for “a group of repressed desires and memories that exerts a dominating influence upon the personality“) is how the desire of Europe to get rid of its guilt complex towards the Shoah has led it to look for substitution victims, and consequently adopt the Palestinians as the new “victims of the victims” in the words of Edward Said and to increasingly consider Israel as a rogue state. There would be a lot to be said and written about the not-so repressed desire of European intelligentsia to see the Jews of Europe dissolve their Jewish identity in the new, postmodern, post-national, borderless, multicultural and global society. In France, editorialists “analyzing” the November attacks are desperate to bring up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the mother of all evils, days after the Paris attackers shot people while shouting that this was done in retribution “for what you do to us in Syria”.
  • Complex (as for “an exaggerated reaction to or preoccupation with a subject or situation“) is the relationship of European media to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when their treatment of information is devoid of the most basic professional carateristic of journalism, i.e. the omission or perversion of “the most meaningful information”. Two examples from AFP, which is the main source of information for French media.
    • Example 1 : “New violence hit the Gaza strip and Occupied West Bank, where two Palestinians were killed and three Israelis injured with firearms“. The reader is invited to read that the two Palestinians died defended “their land”, while the Israeli “occupiers” were injured because they stood in a place they “do not belong to”. This false evidence hides the most meaningful information, which is that the two Palestinians were killed only for attempting to kill Israelis. Had they not tried to kill people, they would still be alive. So the two Palestinians were not innocent civilians killed passing by, but rather armed militants looking to kill civilians.
    • Example 2 : A recent tweet of the AFP hours after the Paris November attacks, which featured for a few days (the page was since taken down) on the France24 TV web site, read : “eight militants killed paris attacks, investigation source“. Yes, you read right: 8 militants killed in Paris, why not assassinated ? As Stéphane Juffa from the Metula News Agency, who raised the 1st example, puts it, the WTC attacks on 9/11, seen through AFP lenses, could have been presented the following way : “Massive blaze at the World Trade Center, four arab pilots reported missing” ; and the 2012 Toulouse killing of three pupils and the principal of a Jewish Day School could have been reported as “New violence hitting Toulouse, one French man of North African origin killed by firearm, as well as four French people of Jewish belief “.
  • Complex (as for “the sum of factors (as symptoms) characterizing a disease or condition“) is the call of leading journalists & mainstream politicians in France to Jews who, representing 0,8% of the population, have been subjected for the last 15 years to 50% of all racist acts, are constantly criticized for their “ghettoization”, the “bunkerisation” of their schools (one wonder why since the 2012 Toulouse killing of 3 children and a principal in a Jewish day school) and more generally their “community withdrawal”!
  • Cecity is also a complex of the Europe Union which, together with the US administration, is pressing to have Israel renew a negotiation process, at a time where anyone with open eyes willing to use them cannot but see the renewed rearmament of Hamas in Gaza, the security chaos at the Golan border with Syria, the ongoing supply of sophisticated weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah (in violation of UN resolution 1701) in their joint fight against the Jihadis in Syria, the increasing lawlessness and rise of ISIS cells in Sinai, etc…

Ambiguity is a valuable exit door to this post, which only attempted to highlight the mental inability of certain important components of our societies, but also of our Jewish leadership, to decipher events that look inexplicable. I will draw for most of this dimension on the brilliant analysis and deconstruction authored by French philosopher & sociologist Pr Shmuel Trigano (“Quinze ans de Solitude”, Berg International Editeurs, 2015)

  • Ambiguous (as for “capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways“) is the guiding postmodern philosophy of our day, the rights of the nation as a national community of citizens should bow to minority rights, elective democracy (based on the rule of the majority) should give way to participative democracy (based on interest groups), the nation-state should let the International community take over, the Executive power should submit to the (unelected) Judiciary power, and the rights and duties of citizens should be forgotten in favor of the rights of the Human. In the words of Mr Trigano, it is easy to see where the state of Israel sits along that line of divide, with the aggravation born out of the European love for the “positive Jew”, that is, the stateless, the errant, the nomadic, the intellectual, the weak Jew. The more the prevailing political philosophy loved and valued the Jew as a victim, the more it hates the sovereign Jew, within its sovereign borders, capable of defending its own interests, even when it has to use force in the asymmetric wars and in the realm of realpolitik.
  • Ambiguous (as for “doubtful“) is the evolution of that hatred, which started in traditional societies as a religious hatred targeting the deicide people living as pariah in the ghettos, moved on in democratic modernity to become a racial hatred targeting the conspiracy plot linking the individual citizen Jews, and nowadays has taken a new face as “humanistic” hatred targeting Zionism as the symbol of obsolete nationalism and Israel as the quintessential sovereign state resisting the injunctions of the postmodern “International community”.
  • Ambiguous (as for “inexplicable“) is the “Enlightened Left“, for which (post)modern societies should promote Human Rights at all cost, above any other cause. Confronted to a new totalitarian radicalism, this Enlightened Left is left at a loss about what to do. In the words of Michael Walzer (see 2015-2016 winter edition of Dissent magazine): “… But individual liberty, democracy, gender equality, and religious pluralism aren’t really Western values; they are universal values that first appeared in strong, modern versions in Western Europe and the Americas. (…) And the values of the left are those “Western” values, taken very seriously. So the opposition to those values is really something that the left should confront—and the strongest opposition right now comes from Islamist radicals. And this is the very reason that many leftists are reluctant to confront the Islamist radicals.”
  • Ambiguous (“uncertain especially from obscurity“) at best finally is the strategic choice made by the Jewish leadership in Europe for the past decades to invest considerably in the memory of the Shoah, consequently diverting much needed resources, energy and attention which could have been allocated to explore, conceive, test and offer vibrant, creative, daring, engaged and diverse ways to experiment Jewish life. This is probably a factor in the loss of interest, investment and commitment of many of the active, less observant or less Zionist Jews in Europe, for who would choose to build one’s Jewish identity mainly in relation to the memory of the “holy” martyrdom, instead of embracing the psychological promise than comes with willfully joining an collective experience that engages its participants with meaningful questions about their past, present as well as future, with stimulating and challenging perspectives, with the 70 faces of the Torah and the many more ways to live as a Jew in the 21st century?

A month after the IS suicide attacks in Paris, we need to confront strategic questions such as:

  • What meaning should we draw from what is likely to be only the latest episode in an increasing deadly series of attacks on Europe by Jihadi Islam?
  • What are the scenarios for Jewish life in Europe for the next generation?
  • What should Jews and Jewish organisations do to anticipate these different scenarios?
  • What strategies should we develop to influence the web of relationships between our countries of culture, citizenship and residence and Israel, the country of historical centrality & spiritual aspiration to Jews throughout times ?
  • What alliances could or should we contract with secular, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist & other components of our societies?
  • What new coordinations should be explored and implemented among the various streams of Jewish life that we hold in our local, national & European Jewish galaxies, using our differences and diversity in ideology, political opinions, religious observance or areas of Jewish interest as a formidable lever to apprehend that VUCA world of ours?

I look forward to your ideas on these !

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Michel Montreuil

About Michel Montreuil

Co-founder & President of t3c International, Former European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC) Director and current Leatid trainer.

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