Friday, the 13th, but in Paris. At least 129 people were killed, more than 260 injured. My country is in shock. Another round of blind hatred, brutal terrorism, disdain for the highest values in life.
Since January, France has suffered a wave of violent Islamic terrorism. First it was Charlie Hebdo, where 12 journalists, cartoonists and policemen were murdered. The following day a municipal policewoman was killed in Montrouge by a jihadist, who went on to kill four customers at a kosher store. Four days later, a jihadist thought to be heading to Syria was arrested after threatening to kill a police officer in Elbeuf. A few days later, three soldiers guarding a Jewish community center in Nice were attacked. In Villejuif, an attack on a church was thwarted when its perpetrator was injured while trying to steal a car from a woman he killed. In Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, a terrorist beheaded an Air Products worker and tried to blow up the factory. In Port Vendres, security forces prevented an attack on the Fort Béar military base. And in August vacationing American soldiers foiled an attack aboard a train in Thalys. France has been a favorite target of Islamic terrorists. ISIS claimed responsibility for Friday's multiple, simultaneous attacks in Paris, the worse terrorism to strike in the center of France, at the heart of Europe.
Whether attacks are against policemen or soldiers, against freedom of expression, or against Jews, what is being systematically, violently attacked are French democratic and republican values.
Yet, French society has not grasped the magnitude of the war declared against it, the reality this terrorist threat poses to our democracy. Some have argued that terrorism is the fruit of despair. This refrain was heard among those who accused the Charlie Hebdo journalists of being "Islamophobic" and of having somehow sought what happened to them by depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Some view the murders of Ilan Halimi, the Jewish children in Toulouse, and the Hyper Cacher customers, as a conflict between Jews and Muslims, a byproduct of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These are the same people who tell us that France's real problem is "Islamophobia," not radical Islam. They tell French Muslims that they are not really part of the nation, because it ultimately rejects them and is prejudiced against them. The objective is to separate Muslims from the rest of society. And there are the opportunists, who will use Friday's massacres to further denigrate all Muslims and foreigners. These xenophobic arsonists, in a twisted way, benefit from the terrorism. During this year of terror, opinion polls have shown the French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen rising in popularity for the next presidential election.
But there is also a silent majority. They are not susceptible to reactionary jihadi speech. Nevertheless, they also are not inclined to fight for republican values. They are characterized by apathy or fatalism. Our society must oppose radical Islam and to fight against the distorted ideas that aim to splinter our society and turn one part of the population against the other.
It is definitely time for us to wake up, to end the denial that continues to shroud the magnitude of the terrorist threat to our country. We must reaffirm our values and, rediscover such virtues as solidarity, courage, sharing, and vigilance. This is what the Ministry of the Interior planned to do with the "we are all vigilant and involved" campaign. Clearly, it has not been as effective as envisioned. Our way of life is under attack, yet we keep looking elsewhere, hoping for the storm to pass. This is not sustainable. We must collectively change our attitude.
It is certainly no coincidence that Americans acted to avert a bloodbath on the Thayls train. Since September 11, 2001, the "see something, say something" campaign united America's diverse population to be vigilant against the terrorism threat and of protecting the nation's values. State officials, police officers, ordinary citizens, Hollywood actors, and NBA stars took part in videos shown in public places to remind the population of the need to stay alert while maintaining a united society against the terrorist threat. When will French society realize that the very ideas and values it represents are under attack? Should we wait for the next bloodbath? Haven't we all suffered enough? This is about having a common goal of no complacency to terrorism and of collectively fighting against it in all possible ways. The goal of Islamic fundamentalists is to divide society, create a clash of civilizations, strengthen extremists that pretend to fight against them, and turn the Muslims of every democratic country that they target against the rest of the population. Let's not give them the gift of fragmentation. Let's show them a united face.
Fighting terrorism successfully can only work by uniting all citizens. This means rejecting hate speech against our Muslim compatriots, as well as speech that treats all Muslims as Islamist terrorists. There are allies in the French Muslim community who must speak up, joining with wider French society.
Given the double danger of terrorism and extremist distortion, French society has no alternative other than unity. So let the challenge before us become a unique opportunity for us to come together. Friday the 13th was the ultimate wake-up call. There can be no more hesitancy in recognizing, publicly, the reality of the Islamist terror war against France -- indeed, against western, democratic societies -- and taking concerted actions to both win the war and solidify the core of our nation.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Paris Office and of AJC Europe.