Thoughts on Paris: radicalization, overt vs subtle racism, war profiteering, and more

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened in Paris – and more specifically, what people have said about what happened in Paris on the Internet. Here’s a serious of disconnected and unfinished thoughts on the subject.

In the popular Western imaginary, the figure of the jihadi is rife with internal contradictions. The jihadi is in some scenes a mindless automaton, thoughtlessly carrying out the orders of a far-away mastermind; in others, he (and they’re almost always hes) is driven by a fanatical medieval religiosity; in others still, he is the vision of purest evil, a miniature Hitler whose body count may be in the tens instead of the tens of millions but who is nonetheless a genocidal maniac.

Lost amidst all this frenzied fear and loathing is any real sense for why anybody might actually want to become a jihadi, why somebody might want to commit the kinds of hideous crimes we witnessed this week.

We now know with a fair amount of certainty that all of the men involved in the killings in Paris earlier this week were European nationals. All of them were born and raised in either France or Belgium; most were the children of immigrants. Some of them, like Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself (and nobody else) up with a suicide vest outside of a stadium, were up until a few years ago typical European young men, fanatical about nothing more serious than their favourite football teams. What makes these people turn to violent extremism?

Well, let’s start off with the obvious. Young Muslim men who feel accepted and valued in their communities, who have opportunities to live a good and fulfilling life, who are treated as equals by their peers and the institutions they interact with, who are free to pursue their religion and practice their culture, or not, as they please, who in effect are not stigmatized for being young Muslim men, are not exactly the type of people who are likely to run off and join ISIS.

I think we can all agree on that, right?

Well…what does that imply, then?

Look, here’s the thing: the type of overt, brutal, violent, KKK-style racism we’ve been seeing in recent days in Peterborough, in Toronto, in London – this shit is the easy stuff to call out. This shit is obvious. And for the “I’m-not-a-racist” white folks witnessing this shit, this shit is super-easy to condemn, to rally against, to disavow.

This is Montgomery, Alabama ca. 1955 shit. This transparently racist aggressive awfulness is repugnant to anybody raised on a steady diet of multiculturalism, because, as we all learned in grade school, you just can’t overtly target people with violence on the basis of their visible identities.

But you don’t get a cookie or a medal for calling this shit out, or for rallying against it. That doesn’t make you a good person. That makes you a minimally decent person.

Because the many many flavours of racism faced by Muslim folks in this country extend far beyond the overtly violent “police are investigating it as a possible hate crime” varieties, and if you’re a white person who thinks you’re not racist, then odds are you benefit from many of these forms of racism, and quite likely perpetuate several of them as well.

Let’s not forget about the overarching structure of the war that’s going on here.

Hollande called the attacks an “act of war”, and even “liberal” publications like the Toronto Star have gotten in on the act, with outrageously jingoistic bellicose front pages for the past several days.

But who the hell is this war against?

I would have thought that we’d have learned from the Bush years and their aftermath that declaring war on an abstract concept was a goddamn foolish idea. (For that matter, we could’ve learned that from Reagan’s War on Drugs thirty year ago.)

But if we were serious about “defeating ISIS”, then why not start with its known funders and backers?

To all the conspiracy theorists, the false-flaggers, the it’s-an-Israeli-plot-ites, I have this to say: Why not go with the most simple explanation?

It’s public knowledge at this point that the entity now known as the Islamic State is composed largely of rebels trained by various Western intelligence agencies, and financed and armed to this very day by Sunni Gulf monarchies.

Those would be the same Sunni Gulf monarchies that are aggressively courted by arms dealers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and yes, France – especially France recently. The French arms manufacturers are enjoying an extremely cozy relationship with the Saudis, primary funders and armers of ISIS, and current committers of war crimes and unspeakable atrocities in their indiscriminate bombing campaign against Yemen.

(And by the way, those would be the same French arms dealers whose stocks are soaring amidst a general downturn in French markets.)

If you ask me, this is a most curious way to pursue a war against “terror” – albeit an extremely profitable one.

The fact that out of all of this, refugees have somehow emerged as a scapegoat, a political hot potato, is nothing short of incomprehensible.

Just to reiterate: these people are fleeing from ISIS.

There is no connection between refugees and the Paris attacks.

What’s more, the attackers deliberately tried to create the impression that refugees were involved in the Paris attacks in order to try to increase stigma against refugees specifically and Muslims in general in the West.

And, worse, they’ve succeeded.

Here in Canada, there’s now a firestorm of debate over bringing in Syrian refugees, something that quite simply wasn’t an issue this time last week.

Down in the States, numerous governors and Republican Presidential candidates are calling for the total exclusion of Syrian refugees, or at least the Muslim ones. (“Not even five-year-old orphans” will be welcome, New Jersey Governor and walking embarrassment Chris Christie declared.)

In France, the governing Socialist Party[!] are calling for amendments to the friggin’ Constitution [!] that would allow them to expel foreigners considered a threat to public order, as well as legislation that will allow them to continue conducting warrantless raids and charge-free arrests against Muslims for three more months.

But, and forgive me if I’m repeating myself, the refugees fleeing Syria are running away from ISIS.

This is all about as rational as treating Jewish refugees in the 1930s as though they were Nazis.

John Oliver is absolutely right, too: the people behind this are fucking assholes.

If you want to talk about terrorism, let’s talk about Iraq.

Let’s talk about a half a million dead Iraqis, killed for nothing, for no reason, because Dubya thought that Saddam tried to kill his Daddy, who also fought a war of choice and aggression against Iraq.

Let’s talk about Iraq, occupied by Britain for more than half of the last hundred years.

Let’s talk about Iraq, invaded on not just false pretences, but deliberately falsified pretences.

Or let’s talk about Libya, shall we? We now know that French government and intelligence agencies promulgated this war and supported the reprehensible Libyan Transitional National Council in exchange for promises that French oil companies would receive preferential treatment in a post-Gaddafi Libya. France then took the lead in pushing a UN resolution for an ostensibly neutral “no-fly zone” over Libya which quickly transmuted itself into a regime-change bombing mission which ended in the current chaos engulfing the nation.

Or we could talk about Yemen – but most people in the West seem to prefer not to, despite the mammoth scale of atrocities being committed there, even as we keep selling the Saudis bombs to continue perpetrating their war crimes.

We could talk about Afghanistan, meddled to death by the Americans, or we could talk about Palestine, whose plight is ignored by those in power here in North America, or we could talk about Sudan, where the death of hundreds of thousands was an afterthought in Western news coverage for years.

We could go back in time and talk about Algeria. I don’t know how many times this week that I read that the Paris attacks were the deadliest in French history since World War II. Only once did I see it acknowledged that they weren’t, that the deadliest attacks in France since World War II were the murders of approximately two hundred Algerians demonstrating for their nation’s independence. They were killed by French police on the streets of Paris in 1961. Their lives mattered.

Although you wouldn’t know it, given the way that the mass deaths of Muslims is discussed here in the West.

As for what happens next, I hope I don’t know the answer to that.

What it looks like is that France is gonna go down the same road the U.S. went down after 9/11, and with similar consequences. Nothing will be accomplished, the cycle of violence and hatred will be perpetuated, hundreds of thousands more people in the Middle East will die, racism and xenophobia will be amplified and augmented, freedoms will be sacrificed with no concomitant gains to security, and a lot of self-serious white men in suits will make bank by going on TV and opining solemnly about the Clash of Civilizations.

I sure as fuck hope I’m wrong about all that, though.

Off-Topic Tuesday is when I write about whatever the hell I want to. You can reach me at or leave a comment below.

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