Elif Shafak, in a well-intentioned but limited essay, argues that the arts were under attack last week in Paris.
They were, but so was the rest of Western culture. Since the 1980’s, radical Islam, whether it be Al-Queda or ISIS, has been attacking Western military, economic, and cultural targets whenever they can coordinate the attacks. There were, in the years before 9/11, at least twenty separate attacks on Western military targets in the Middle East and Africa. There was the first, unsuccessful but damaging attack on the WTC in the 1990s, which was what the later attack on the World Trade Center turned out to be–a blow against market capitalism. Let us not forget, also, that on the same day, September 11, 2001, there were two other attacks, one on the Pentagon (the heart of Western military defense) and an assault on the U.S. Capitol, which would have been successful had not the passengers on that flight given their lives to stop it.
Last week, the terrorists attacked in six different places, not just a theater. They assaulted restaurants and a sports stadium on a Friday night. All were places selected to inflict maximum carnage. All of those places, and all of the places attacked in the years before, represent not just attacks on art or sport, but on the totality of Western life.
It may be that radical Islam intends by the attacks to usher in a new Heaven and a new Earth, an Islamic paradise; I do not know. I do know, however, that the attacks are not tied to the gaining of geographic territory. ISIS and Al-Queda are not interested in setting up a physical government somewhere, whatever their spiritual goals may be. They are interested in attacking Western life wherever it may be found, in whatever forms that life manifests itself.
In the broadest sense, most of us believe ISIS cannot win; Western values will eventually prevail over Western territory, provided that radical Islam does not acquire or develop nuclear weapons. If ISIS is also aware–even dimly–that it cannot win, yet is launching attacks anyway, then the assaults we have seen for the last 35 years, including the latest hostage-taking in Mali, represent not conventional warfare but anarchism, the kind of anarchism that swept Europe in the nineteenth century but eventually died out because of its lack of achievable goals and stable leadership.