“An act of war”, thundered French President Francois Hollande. The nation would respond “ruthlessly” towards the “barbarians” who planned this “cowardly” attack.
The past few days I feel like I’ve been living in a strange time warp. All the worst aspects of the reaction to 9/11 are playing out again – the flag-waving hyperpatriotism, the muscular aggressive posturing, the xenophobic threats, the total erasure of historical causes, the incessant vapid useless questioning of “why to they hate us?” – only this time, we’ve got Facebook and Twitter to amplify the loudest and stupidest voices.
And, to be fair, to act as a corrective.
After the recent carnage in France, my social media feeds have been filled mostly with the exact kind of critically-minded anti-racist don’t-forget-about-all-the-Muslim-victims-of-Western-state-terrorism thoughts and feelings that I’ve had myself – so much so that the odd anti-refugee post that strays into the mix is immediately drowned out.
Honest to God, I live in a little progressive/radical bubble.
It’s a pretty comfortable bubble, but it’s insulating, and when it comes right down to it, I haven’t got much of a clue what’s going on outside of it.
And so it came as a big surprise to me when I found out earlier today that the only mosque in my hometown of Peterborough, Ontario was set on fire last night. The mosque is not five minutes away from where my parents live. Nobody was inside at the time, thank goodness, but just half an hour before the fire was started, around seventy people were apparently there celebrating the birth of a baby.
It shouldn’t have surprised me, really. Peterborough, lovely and progressive as it can seem, has a deep undercurrent of ugly racism running right through it – and in that sense, it’s a lot like most every Canadian city or town I’ve ever been in.
And really, when even people like the supposedly “socialist” Hollande deploy hateful vicious rhetoric, it shouldn’t be shocking that some fragile white folks feel incited to take some kind of grossly misled “revenge” against people who had literally nothing to do with what happened in Paris.
“Barbarians”, “cowards”, “we will be merciless”.
These words have power.
They incite a blinding outrage. They cast the perpetrators of this vicious attack as inhuman, motivated by nothing less than pure evil. They Other the attackers so thoroughly that the credulous among us feel comfortable nodding along when the idiotic question “Why do they hate us?” is answered with the equally vapid “They hate us for our freedoms.”
I wish it didn’t have to be said, but it does. “They” – who are “they”? Are we talking about all Muslims here? Or members of the Islamic State?
For that matter, how exactly do we know that IS was behind this attack? There has yet to be any concrete proof released to the public on this aspect of the attacks. Sure, IS claimed responsibility for it – but terrorist organizations thrive on publicity and the public perception of their power. With the whole Western media apparatus speculating about their involvement, why wouldn’t they claim responsibility?
But let’s for the sake of argument assume that “they” are IS. Why do “they” hate “us”?
(For the purposes of our inquiry, let’s assume that “we” are the white Christians of the West, even if this characterization is on the face of it absurd – there is no definition of “us” that isn’t equally bad, since the separation between “us” and “them” is a purely arbitrary one.)
We, the West, overthrew Saddam by violence. We overthrew Gaddafi by violence. We are trying to overthrow Assad by violence. Harsh regimes all — but far less draconian than our Saudi allies, and other tyrannies around the world. What has been the result of these interventions? A hell on earth, one that grows wider and more virulent year after year.
Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq — which, by the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than a million innocent people dead — there would be no ISIS, no “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” Without the Saudi and Western funding and arming of an amalgam of extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East, used as proxies to strike at Iran and its allies, there would be no ISIS. Let’s go back further. Without the direct, extensive and deliberate creation by the United States and its Saudi ally of a world-wide movement of armed Sunni extremists during the Carter and Reagan administrations, there would have been no “War on Terror” — and no terrorist attacks in Paris tonight.
Though it may not be very sporting to point this out, it’s painfully true: for every person dead in Paris, there are ten thousand dead in Iraq after a war of aggression deliberately launched on false premises.
The horror and carnage of the Paris attack is played out day after day after goddamn day in drone strikes across the Islamic world, when death is rained down seemingly at random from the sky by American “pilots” half a world away blowing “military-age males” whose identities they don’t even remotely know into a spray of blood and bones and body parts. These strikes hit wedding parties, funerals, and medical teams dispatched to try to salvage the lives of those struck at weddings and funerals.
The terror felt by those held hostage in the Bacalan Theatre was repeated over and over into infinity in illegal secret CIA prisons, and in perfectly legal ones like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and in torture chambers that we haven’t heard of and may never fully know about.
Those who fled, fearing for their lives, from stadiums and restaurants and rock concerts in Paris, got just a taste of what the four-million-plus Syrian refugees who have abandoned their whole lives for a chance at survival have felt in the years just past.
Going back even further, nations like France built their modern affluent facades on the foundation of the systemic and massive exploitation of black and brown bodies and on the resources of their lands. To this day, no less than fourteen former African colonies are paying massive debts to France for the supposed “benefits” of colonization, an “investment” which led mostly to the extraction of wealth and the marginal education of a bureaucratic class to ease this extraction.
So take another look at those words. “Barbarians”. “Cowards”.
Whom do they seem to best describe?
“Act of war”.
Who started this war?
To be absolutely crystal fucking clear: I am not suggesting for one second that the victims of the Paris attacks in any way “had it coming” or that they deserved it. I do not even remotely condone the actions of the perpetrators of these attacks, whoever they may be.
What I am saying is that maybe, just maybe, these attacks are not the result of superstitious religiosity, or fanatical extremism. Maybe these attacks are a relatively rational response to decades and centuries of similarly indiscriminate and wanton violence.
The implications of this notion for Canada are, when you get right down to it, terrifying.
Because although on a scale from one to British Empire, Canada isn’t quite in France’s territory, we haven’t exactly had a great few decades when it comes to causing widespread death among brown and black folks.
We were enthusiastic participants in baseless sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s which resulted in the deaths of nearly half a million children.
We eagerly joined an aimless and interminable war in Afghanistan which resulted directly in the deaths of thousands.
We were complicit in handing over detainees to be tortured in Afghani prisons.
We are currently involved in an illegal bombing campaign in Syria, and, notwithstanding our Prime Minister’s earnest campaign promises to end that campaign, the bombings have continued uninterrupted since his election.
Many on the right – and even on the ostensible “left” – seem to think that the Paris attacks seem to undermine Trudeau’s case for ending Canada’s bombing mission against IS, as well as his plan to bring 25 000 refugees to Canada by year’s end.
On the contrary, I think that they strengthen his case. If we could bomb our way to peace then war would have been over a long long time ago. It is not by trying to impose our will on primarily Muslim nations that we will bring the spectre of Islamist terrorism to heel. In fact, every attempt the West has made at this has ended up failing spectacularly, with the ranks of anti-Western terror groups swelling in every nation “we” have invaded.
“More war” is not the solution to what Hollande termed “acts of war” – nor is it the solution to the refugee crisis!
Although obviously Hollande disagrees:
The French government launched what it said was a “massive” air assault against Islamic State’s self-declared capital in Syria on Sunday in response to deadly attacks in Paris that officials say were orchestrated by the extremist group.
The air strikes destroyed two camps operated by the militants in Raqqa, one of them used as a command post, recruitment center and arms depot and the other as a training site, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
A dozen aircraft took part in the attack, including 10 fighter jets, and 20 bombs were dropped, the ministry said.
No word yet on how many mosques were destroyed, how many children orphaned, how many innocents struck dead, or how many hearts hardened irrevocably. Truly, IS couldn’t have asked for a better recruitment drive.