Uncertain Leadership in Perilous Times

by PEGGY NOONAN November 22, 2015

paris attack_POLICE_ 2015_ november

After great pain, a formal feeling comes- 

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs-

In the days after Paris Emily Dickinson's poem kept ringing through my mind as I tried to figure out what I felt-and, surprisingly, didn't feel. I did not, as the facts emerged and the story took its full size, feel surprised. Nor did I feel swept by emotion, as I had in the past. The sentimental tweeting of that great moment in "Casablanca" when they stand to sing "La Marseillaise" left me unmoved. I didn't feel anger, really. I felt grave, as if something huge and terrible had shifted and come closer. Did you feel this too?

After the pain of previous terror incidents, from 9/11 straight through to Madrid 2004 (train bombings, 191 dead), London 2005 (suicide bombers, 52 dead) and Paris 10 months ago (shootings, 17 dead), the focus was always on the question: What will the leaders-the political and policy elite-think? This attack immediately carried a different question: What will the people think, Mr. and Mrs. Europe on the street, Mom and Pop watching in America? What are the thoughts and conclusions of normal people who are not blinkered by status, who can see things clear?

I feel certain that in the days after the attack people were thinking:This isn't going to stop. These primitive, ferocious young men will not stop until we stop them. The question is how. That's the only discussion.

Madrid and London took place during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and could be taken as responses to Western actions. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was in its way a story about radical Islamic antipathy to the rough Western culture of free speech. But last week's Paris attack was different. It was about radical, violent Islam's hatred of the West and desire to kill and terrorize its people. They will not be appeased; we won't talk them out of it at a negotiating table or by pulling out of Iraq or staying out of Syria. They will have their caliphate, and they will hit Europe again, as they will surely hit us again, to get it.

So again, the only question: What to do?

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