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  • Are We an Intelligent Race?
  • Michele Emmer, mathematician, filmmaker, writer, journalist (bio)

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One evening at 9:40 pm, a father, mother and their two daughters (aged 11 and 13) were having dinner in their dining room, whose windows faced a street corner. One daughter went to her bedroom for a moment and the shooting began. The family did not immediately understand what they were hearing, but after a while, despite never having heard automatic gunfire, they understood. The parents told the girls to lie down in the kitchen, away from the windows.

The gunfire continued for 3 or 4 minutes, relentless, repetitive. They began to hear the screams of the wounded, as well as the shouts of those who were shooting. Then a brief silence before a car fled quickly (to target others, as would be learned later).

Firemen, ambulances, police arrived, all late, all long overdue. There is a police station behind the building, but the police did not arrive until 20 minutes after the gunfire. Nearby, special forces arrived to escort away Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

After the silence, the screams, the parents looked out of the windows and saw the blood, the dead, the wounded. They did not allow the girls near the windows. It was only a part of a very long night: Paris, 13 November 2015. Many more were to die that night and in the following days.

There is no doubt that many circumstances led to this event: economics, politics, vengeance, hatred. A few months before, the Pope had spoken of war—but this was a different kind of war, widespread, which did not spare anyone. Like all wars—at least those called modern.

"War," said French President Hollande, and others followed suit. Others did not want to pronounce that word and did not want to take part in the ensuing bombing of Syria, a bombing that would probably be useless in that the Islamic State does not have a regular army but fighters who disappear into tunnels dug under the ground, only to return after the bombings. It was not a war in which only military power would count, but also the will of people willing to die, willing to commit suicide for their cause—an ideal that could not be further from that of the European and U.S. armies. People willing to kill anyone, anywhere, without any strategic goal other than that of spreading terror with various means and objectives similar to those of the carpet bombing in World War II.

There is no doubt that many economic and political reasons have led to this: the inability of International Powers to handle the Syrian crisis, despite it being clear that a civil war in one of the most sensitive parts of the world could not be left to go on for years with the interests of the great powers clashing amid ethnic, cultural and religious differences. It was entirely predictable that there would have been an explosion of violence linked to the possibility of training many fighters in a free zone. It was the creation of a kind of ideal war, a war against the oppression of the great powers, also camouflaged as a religious war. A war that would attract young people from many countries to an area where fighting has been going on for decades and where massacres, killings, bombings are still on the agenda. The war has been "prepared," through the incapacity of governments and intelligence agencies, with the help of the many economic interests related to the energy resources of the area. It is a perfect storm that exploded as widely as expected. Was it only incompetence, or did it suit somebody's interests?

But to all the people involved in these wars, does it matter much if the impasse was created intentionally or unintentionally—and do we know which of the two is worse? The situation immediately affects the elections in the countries involved, as happened in France with the regional elections. Democracy is difficult to manage when there are serious problems. It is better to rely on a single head, on...


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