‘The only news I care about,” came the thundering AM-radio voice, “is the news that they have been put down like the barnyard animals they are!” He was referring to the brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, the murderous jihadists responsible for the murder of a dozen cartoonists, editors, police, and others at the offices of the Paris-based satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The two are indeed dead, as excellent a use as a few bullets were put to all week.
But the vitriolic denunciation on the radio, between traffic reports and ads for miracle weight-loss supplements, lingers in the ear.
“Barnyard animals”? Surely not.
Barnyard animals are sometimes dangerous, as anybody who has ever been kicked by a horse or stepped on by a cow knows, but they are useful….
What about wild animals? Even as a metaphor, that falls short. The man-eating leopards that lurk in the forests of the night, the wolves that block the way to grandmother’s house, the toothy terrors of the deep — these we fear and fear rightly, and sometimes we do indeed have to put them down, without pity or mercy. But it is not hostility that causes the great white shark to take a bite out of the California surfer — only hunger and instinct. Bears may terrify us and rattlesnakes may awaken some ancient and atavistic fear, but we do not think that they are acting out of malice.