Ladies and gentleman, your Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry:
In the last days, obviously, that has been particularly put to the test. There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for. That’s not an exaggeration. It was to assault all sense of nationhood and nation-state and rule of law and decency, dignity, and just put fear into the community and say, “Here we are.” And for what? What’s the platform? What’s the grievance? That we’re not who they are? They kill people because of who they are and they kill people because of what they believe. And it’s indiscriminate.
When I first saw the key line here — “there was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale” — I thought that Kerry had likely been misquoted. Alas, he had not. In fact, his words are even worse in context.
There really is no way of reading these comments other than as a craven ranking of outrages. Forget Kerry’s brief flirtation with the word “legitimacy” and assume that he said “rationale” from the start. That changes precisely nothing. The top diplomat in the United States just publicly argued that because the victims at Charlie Hebdo had spoken risqué words but the victims at the Bataclan had not, the violence against the former was more comprehensible than the violence against the latter. Has he lost his mind?
Even if Kerry’s assumptions were all correct, the moral problem here would be obvious. We hear a great deal about “blaming the victim” in our domestic debates, especially as it relates to sexual assault. Does this not apply to other realms? In essence, the American Secretary of State just announced before the world that he could grasp why the woman in the short skirt was raped but that he had been left scratching his head by the attack on the woman in the pantsuit and the overcoat. “Sure,” he said, “I get why they knocked off the hate speakers, but why would they go after progressive kids at a concert? Now things are really serious.”
In and of itself, this assessment is abhorrent. But he also screwed up the facts. Implicit in Kerry’s reasoning is the assumption that the perpetrators of the attacks against Charlie Hebdo had a clear purpose whereas the perpetrators of last week’s abomination did not. Or, as he put it, that in one case the killers were “really angry because of this and that,” but that in the other they were not. But this isn’t true. In fact, both set of attackers gave reasons. With Charlie Hebdo, the killers’ purported motive was revenge against ”blasphemous” expression; in Paris last week, it was disgust at Paris’s reputation for “obscenity.” In consequence, there are only two choices here: Option 1) That John Kerry believes that killing people for speaking rudely is more understandable than killing them for being secular; or Option 2) That John Kerry doesn’t actually know what the most recent attackers used as their justification (and also doesn’t remember that at the same time as the Charlie Hebdo assassinations, associated gunmen targeted a market simply because its owners were Jews).