Paradise Lost

I lived on the Côte d'Azur for nearly ten years - the decade of the '90s, when Russian oligarchs, newly freed from Soviet shackles, arrived on their yachts with suitcases full of cash. They joined, more or less conspicuously, the summertime residents who were enjoying the season in a comfortable family villa, or at least, an apartment by the sea. The local year-round population rejoiced: their seasonal business was good. Maids, cooks, gardeners, carpenters, plumbers had plenty of work; local markets and restaurants were bustling. The only shadow on this paradise was security. Burglaries were common. Every villa had a wall or fence to assure some degree of protection, and very often a house alarm. A large dog might be an additional deterrent. The thieves in the area were mostly young men and boys from North Africa, especially Algeria. They were not armed; at most, they would have a pepper spray to numb you while they grabbed your purse in the street. (This happened to me several times, even once when I had just parked my car and opened the door.) The police took it all in their stride. If they ever caught one of the boys, they would simply take down his name and send him, presumably, home. From a sociological viewpoint, it was a community of wealthy homeowners, seasonal renters, year 'round townsfolk, and some immigrant families. There was no violence, there were no major crimes. Nice was only a 25-minute drive away from where I lived -- a constant lure for its restaurants, its excellent museum, its opera house, and the beautiful Promenade des Anglais. And horror struck that beautiful promenade on Bastille Day, July 14, during the festive fireworks display. Eighty-four people were killed, over 200 were hospitalized, and more than a dozen are still hanging between life and death. Men, women and children; French citizens and tourists. They were the victims of a 31-year old Tunisian who lived in the city, who held a French resident's card since 2009, and who merely rented a truck to mow down a crowd of strangers. Whether or not he was "recently radicalized", as French authorities believe, his rampage was claimed, and acclaimed, by ISIS. (ISIS is known as Daesh in France.) Thus, the horror of a vile massacre was made even more gruesome by the blatant approval and appropriation of an Islamic terrorist organization. Let us not forget that religious zeal is the excuse for today's terrorism. We look back at the Christian Crusades, the Hundred Years War, the Nazi extermination of Jews, and condemn all that religious bigotry. But where is our condemnation of today's murderous Islamic program? Where, most importantly, are the Muslim clerics who, in one voice, should be denouncing these atrocities? Unfortunately, Islam itself is divided: there are Sunnis and Shias. And most unfortunately, there is no ultimate leader -- a pope, an archbishop -- who can speak for the entire religion. And even the Koran is woefully unhelpful because the original version, written in Mecca and mild in tone, was abandoned in favor of a more virulent version during a period of warfare and strife in Medina. Regrettably, upon returning to Mecca, the second version was retained, and to this very day it serves as the guide and justification for all aspects of Muslim life, however illogical or cruel it may be.

Clearly, Western nations and their governments have also been illogical and cruel, have launched wars and acted deplorably in many parts of the Muslim world, and are still trying, militarily, to impose their blueprint on the region. But in no way does that justify the murder of innocent people in Nice, in Paris, in Brussels, in Germany, or anywhere else. Nor does ISIS even use that as an excuse. Unless we launch an all-out war, with unimaginable consequences, it is time now for everyone to call a truce, to halt the insanity, and literally return home; to heal the damage inflicted everywhere by years of useless conflict and irresponsible leaders. Failing that, we will be facing a tragic and devastating battle that will leave no one the winner, leave no one a home.