When they are far away, they are just news items we may or may not pay attention to. It is different when they happen in your neighbourhood.
Throughout the day Wednesday, people in Canada were forwarding me news stories about the terror attack at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France. It is only an hour’s drive from our home in Sulzburg; it is conceivably a place we might visit. Indeed, I was in the city on business in October.
News of the attack brought a jumble of thoughts to my mind. As a journalist I was bemused by the coverage I read that described the suspect as having been radicalized in prison. It was supposedly a religious radicalism, though the particular religion wasn’t mentioned.
I get that. The media don’t want to imply that all followers of a certain religion are dangerous, so they omit the name. It was obvious anyway, given that the attacker, since killed by police, was allegedly shouting in Arabic.
I didn’t fully realize the effect locally until my wife mentioned she passed through two police checkpoints Wednesday on her drive home from a neighbouring town. It was thought the suspect may have crossed from France into Germany.
If the intention of terrorist attacks is to stop people from gathering, they are pretty much a failure. There was a deadly attack on a Christmas market in Berlin two years ago, but that doesn’t stop people from attending them today. I think most of us figure the odds are that there won’t be an attack while we are there.
I don’t know if there is much thought to security at these things, though from the news reports there was a lot of police presence in Strasbourg. Certainly there is none at the small-town markets in my area.
Even the bigger markets I have attended haven’t had much visible security. I don’t recall seeing police last year in Colmar, France or Vienna, Austria, this year. I did see police in Freiburg last month, but they weren’t at the Christmas market itself, rather keeping an eye on a street demonstration a block away. There have been lots of people at every market I attend – and I don’t expect that to change.
My first thoughts though upon hearing news of the attack was not about market crowds but of individuals, people I know here and how they would feel upon hearing the news. Becasue I think the intention of many terrorists, though they may not be able to articulate it, is not to strike fear into the general populace, but to sow a generalized fear of Muslims
In Europe, certainly here in Germany, it seems to me most of Muslims are immigrants and refugees. They don’t speak the local language well, they don’t dress like Europeans, they seem different. Integrating into European society (or any new society) can be challenging at best. When people view you with distrust because of your background, it is much harder. When they stare at you when you walk down the street, when you feel the mistrust when you shop for groceries, you wonder if it is worth it to try and fit in to this new society. You might as well give up – you will never be accepted as a full member of society.
That is the terrorist’s ideal. They don’t want Muslims to become French, or German or Canadian. They want them to remain part of a closed society. They want them to remain in bondage.
How we react to a terrorist attack says a lot about who we are. Are we willing to allow terrorists to set the agenda and convince us that all members of an entire religion are evil, intending our destruction? (Please note, I do think there is a difference between the religion and most of its adherents.)
Think about it. How would Jesus have responded? That is how we should too.