The real lesson of the Paris march

Story highlights

  • Cindy Storer: French are demonstrating power of unity to confront hatred and violence
  • Government proposals to fight terror are all things we've tried over and over, she says
  • No one has identified a magic formula or a silver bullet, she says

Cindy Storer is a 21-year veteran former analyst of the CIA who specializes in terrorism and intelligence education, and is an adjunct professor at John Hopkins University. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN)The French people marching on Sunday are demonstrating the power of unity to confront hatred and violence. The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo did not hunt down a terrorist or storm the barricades or take another's life. But they weren't simply innocent bystanders either. They were brave, knowingly placing their own lives at risk for our freedom of speech and for the right to treat everyone equally.

This is what martyrdom is about -- not seeking death, but recognizing instead that life is precious. True martyrs seek to preserve and enhance life.
And there has been an outpouring of support, not just for their own bravery, but for the cause they stood for. This is true of other so-called martyrs. But there is something profoundly different in the reaction to the shooting of those 12 people last week. Sunday's rally was not a call to kill the "enemy," but to celebrate and emulate the positive values of unity, tolerance and bravery.
    Well, that's the public response. Governments and media are talking about increasing cooperation and putting "boots on the ground" to capture and kill terrorists. This sounds like a good idea, but we've been doing it for 20 years and where has it gotten us?
    In studying and teaching about terrorism, I've noticed that we have done nothing that hasn't been tried over and over throughout history, with the same results.
    First comes a police response to the crimes of murder and destruction while most intelligence and policymakers ignore the threat. Second, an intelligence response that becomes a game of cat and mouse between the terrorists and the intelligence forces, while policymakers commit increasing, but still severely limited, resources. Third, a military response against what have become powerful terrorists, after they strike in a way that cannot be minimized.
    Throughout it all, cooperation, information-sharing, resources and attention wax and wane. There are tactical victories and defeats, perfect plays and mistakes. It just goes on and on.
    When does it end? No one has identified a magic formula or a silver bullet. However, historically there are some similarities. In each case, something fundamental must change in the background while the war goes on. People become tired of the violence on both sides. Terrorists marginalize themselves through outrageous attacks and statements. Governments devote more resources to marginalized peoples, and often grant them more power. In short, it's about ceasing to rely primarily on coercion and finding ways to establish new and better relationships.
    That is what the crowds in France are demonstrating Sunday. They are calling for "liberte, egalite, fraternite," not revenge or defensiveness. They see the threat, and they are willing to stand up to it by embracing a still radical, millennia-old idea: Love one another.