Secretary of State John Kerry, as the United States top diplomat, should have a tongue of silver. Unfortunately, it turned to ash in his mouth yesterday when he bumbled his way through an impromptu statement about the two terrorist massacres Paris has suffered this year — the shootings and bombings of last Friday evening, and the January bloodbath that decimated the Charlie Hebdo staff.
Here’s what Kerry said:
There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, “OK, they’re really angry because of this and that.” This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve [sic] one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for.
Apparently, killing writers and cartoonists isn’t an attack on everything we stand for.
It was to assault all sense of nationhood and nation-state and rule of law and decency, dignity, and just put fear into the community and say, “Here we are.” And for what? What’s the platform? What’s the grievance?
Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum has Kerry’s number.
Kerry quickly backtracked from saying the Charlie Hebdo attack was legitimate and ended up saying it was understandable, which is bad enough. After all, Kerry seemed to be saying, the paper had published some pictures that offended Muslims, so it makes sense that some of them decided to express their displeasure with bullets instead of sharply worded letters to the editor. Similarly, Pope Francis, who expressed incomprehension at Friday’s attacks, was more empathetic after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, saying it’s only human to respond with violence when someone insults your religion.
No, it is not understandable, and it is not “only human,” which implies that it’s natural and expected. Beating someone for disrespecting your deity, let alone killing him, is immoral, illiberal, uncivilized, and barbaric. If any act of violence is an attack on “everything that we do stand for,” surely a murderous assault aimed at punishing and deterring heresy qualifies.
But there is another forehead-slapping assertion in Kerry’s words: his pleaded ignorance of what led Friday’s attackers to do what they did. What’s the platform, he demanded. What’s the grievance?
Surely the Secretary of State knows that the Allahu Akbar-shouting terrorists were there to advance the cause of the Caliphate, and also that their vile acts were intended as payback for France’s military strikes against Daesh. The planners back home in Syria were completely clear about those reasons.
If Kerry is going to play dumb, he’s going to have to do it a lot more convincingly than that.
And it wouldn’t hurt if, next time, the Secretary of State stopped himself before using the word “legitimate” in connection with the murder of a group of artists who did nothing worse than drawing funnies about fundies.