Terrorism is defined as the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
Whenever terrorism is inflicted on the West, like the recent attack in Paris, it invariably takes on two phases.
The first phase is the act itself. It is an act that makes sense only to the perpetrators and their supporters. To the rest, it embodies the classical definition, made famous by the French existentialist Albert Camus, of the absurd.
In this case, absurdity is the tension created when the tools of the human condition which naturally seeks meaning for something that is beyond the scope of an attainable definition.
Through the lens of the West, what answer could be given that would satisfy the soul as to why four coordinated attacks in Paris that left at least 129 dead who were simply enjoying a meal, listening to live music, or attending a soccer match?
The first phase is where we realize the frustrating emotions of hurt, dismay, and anger. They are frustrating because in our shared grief they offer no real answers.
It pits individuals against each other for absurd reasons. I recently saw myriad Facebook posts questioning why the outcry of empathy for Paris was not shared when people of color were needlessly killed by terrorism.
Assuming momentarily it is a true observation, was that the time to unleash one's frustration emanating from absurdity onto to others dealing with the same?
It is nonsensical to offer: "My absurdity is greater than yours," as both parties are drowning in the same caldron of frustration.
As bad as the first phase may be, the second phase is potentially more pernicious on the society. The second phase represents the fear that society's victimized by terrorism place on themselves.
The natural reactionary impulses that tend to rise to the top in the wake of absurdity are the ones that need to be tempered most. The fear created by the terrorist act craves for certainty. But certainty, which should not be comingled with confidence, can blind one to other considerations.
This is the moment when those, whose place is usually reserved on the fringes of public discourse, are given an audience and a platform of legitimacy. It was true after 9/11 that America test-drove the neo-con's muscular foreign policy into Iraq on a fool's errand to export democracy.
Will the nationalistic, anti-immigrant rhetoric of France's ultra right engulf the nation away from the gravitational pull of ration and accountability?
Was it not the blustery musings of certainty by America after 9/11 that contributed to the recent attacks in Paris? We hit the hornets nest of Iraq, removed Saddam Hussein from power (See Colin Powell's Pottery Barn Rule: "You break it, you own it!), leaving the door ajar for ISIS to enter.
It is in the second phase where xenophobia makes sense. Fear makes it much more difficult to see that ISIS as just as problematic for Muslims. The use of the word Islam in one's rhetoric to justify a perverse morality does not mean it possesses any linkage to the Abrahamic tradition.
But the most dangerous aspect of the second phase, if left unchecked, is society's desire to turn on itself by disregarding its democratic values. Fear places an asterisk denoting this level of barbarity is greater than the values we've committed ourselves.
So this nativist political speak by elected officials from both parties that want to block Syrian refugees from entering the country undermines the nation's values. Though not a governing document, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" cannot simply be a creed based on convenience.
This is a moment to ask the Obama Administration tough questions, to insure that measures are in place to keep Americans safe, not searching for the closest microphone in order to give a reactionary, uninformed fear-based sound bite.
The second phase offers little time for tough questions because this is a time for action. Dissent, the oxygen of democracy, is rendered as nothing more than an inconvenient tool used by those already viewed as unpatriotic because they see the same problem but have reached a different conclusion.
Hopefully, France will resist the temptation of the second phase and America will avoid the lure to return to the false refuge of the absurd.