At Home in a World of Terror: First Thoughts on the Paris Attacks

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While innocents were being slaughtered in Paris, my wife and I were preparing for a night out. By the time we arrived at our destination, a quaint bed and breakfast in the Ohio woods, more than 100 Parisians were dead. We stowed our bags in our room and returned to the lobby. A few minutes later, the chef emerged from the kitchen to talk about the meal we were about to begin.

He apologized for putting so much effort into what seemed trivial in light of the violence across the sea. We urged him on. What is good in the world needs to be affirmed, we said, the human capacity for joy and pleasure and companionship must be encouraged, especially in the face of an evil that would, if it could, eliminate all those things.

So, we affirmed. We ate. We laughed. We shared stories with strangers at tables we’d pushed together to make room for everyone.

There can’t be many more incongruous places to ponder mass murder than by the fire in a cozy bed and breakfast. The innkeepers were eager to make sure our every wish was fulfilled. The other guests were friendly, the food delicious. The whole place was a monument to hospitality.

Maybe it’s obvious that the conflict between the events of our night and the events in Paris was about hospitality. Hospitality and its practice may seem like it has no place in the discussion of the threats that abound in the world, but it does.

Hospitality is more than inviting friends over for a meal. It’s more than letting somebody you know crash on your couch. Hospitality is a willingness to answer yes to whether others have a right to exist in the world and accommodating yourself to their exercise of that right. Hospitality is about making room for others to find an approximate home for themselves. Hospitality is about aiding the lonely and the vulnerable in their attempts to shore things up just a little.

Those who shoot up restaurants and blow up concerts have no concept of hospitality. They certainly have no concept of hospitality that extends to those with whom they differ who, of course, are the ones to whom we ought to offer it most.

How does hospitality, this necessity of affirming others right to be in the world, mean we should respond to the terrorists? Do we invite them into our homes; offer them a place at our table no strings attached?

Certainly not.

There are times when hospitality may be practiced and times when it must not be.

A hospitable host ensures the safety of his guests. These murderers, by their routine disregard for life, have proven themselves unfit for the company of decent men. There is no space for them at our table until they surrender their weapons and repent. To offer hospitality without demanding change would encourage their violence and endanger those with a legitimate expectation of safety in our presence.

Instead, the violence visited upon the city of Paris Friday must be met with further violence. This is difficult for people to accept. Decent men incline toward hospitality and are loath to inflict suffering on others no matter how much they deserve it. That is what makes them decent men.

The best we can hope for is that the violence to come will be measured, moderate and just. Still, violence now is necessary to protect the public order that forms the foundation of all private flourishing. Violence is necessary for the protection of every home, happy or otherwise, and of the families they contain.

More than anything, the terrorists’ desire to destroy the stability undergirding individual homes and families justifies our calling them not merely terrorists, but barbarians. They are a force of darkness seeking to blot out whatever remains of the goodness of life in these times. Responding to such barbarians requires force.

Fortunately, most of us will never be called upon to enact any of this violence directly. That does not mean that in the conflict between those who despise hospitality and those who wish to cultivate it we must do nothing. The proper response to seeing other people’s sons and daughters, parents and friends killed is to redouble your efforts to love your own well.

Pay them closer attention. Be more patient. Hold them all close. Make your home a hospitable place so that the light of all human kindness might not be extinguished from the earth. And know that in doing so, you are engaged in an act of war.

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