The Paris Atrocity & the War of Terror
Sunday 15 November 2015 16:36
The recent events in Paris are terrible for many reasons. Firstly the sheer horror of death coming to so many in such a short space of time, young people, old people, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lovers, friends. This is our immediate response, and that response is amplified by the proximity and visibility in the media of Paris and France. Paris, in particular, has the quality of a mythical locus in western civilisation, home of revolution, art, literature and music. This attack is seen as a violation also because it took place in a city associated with romance. Those who have visited the city will remember those restaurants, those concerts, that stadium with affection and even romance. These were people going about their ordinary or extraordinary lives,living moments banal or intense, ordinary people for the most part like ourselves. We take it personally. It might have been us.
Paris too, because of its revolutionary past, is seen as some sort of bastion of freedom, mainly by those who have little regard for actual freedom. All those western countries now expressing their respect for French traditions combined with alacrity to suppress the revolutions when they happened. It is notable that western liberals are completely devoted to individual freedom as opposed to solidarity, and equally devoted to measures of securitisation and surveillance, not to mention their animosity towards equality and fraternity.
There is much talk of ‘a new horror’, the turning of a new page in terrorism etc. However, let us remind ourselves that these horrific events have equally horific antecedents. In recent history, for example, the so-called ‘Balcombe Street Gang’, an IRA active-service unit carried out repeated gun-attacks, bombings and assassinations in Britain in the 1970s. The IRA itself planted a bomb inside the British House of Parliament and almost demolished the hotel being used for the Tory Party conference. The PLO seized aeroplanes and cruise liners. The FLN in Algeria was brutally effective. This is not even to mention the attack on the World Trade Centre or the London Underground bombings or other examples of terror directed at western societies.
Like everyone else I have watched the unfolding horror in Paris and wondered what next? Some things are predictable. A raft of repressive and regressive legislation, increased surveillance and probably a military response for starters. Already the fascists and neo-fascists and closet fascists are ramping up the anti-refugee language. The first beneficiary of these horrors will be Marine Le Pen. The second will be ISIS itself. It will make life even more difficult for those people fleeing ISIS in their own countries. A quick glance through Terrorism For Beginners will tell us that this is exactly what terrorism sets out to do. Every victim of state surveillance, everyone who loses someone in the military response, everyone who is beaten up by a gang of racist thugs is a potential recruit. The polarisation of the world is the purpose of terror. In the face of it the only solution is solidarity between peoples. I like to think that the man playing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ outside the Bataclan in Paris yesterday was doing just that in his own way. It would have been better to sing The Internationale than The Marseillaise, but given that not everyone knows the words, ‘Imagine’ is at least something.
Surely by now the infantile question ‘Why do they hate us?’ can be answered with certainty.
They hate us because of what we’ve done to them, we the world’s most powerful capitalist countries, we the former colonisers, we the exporters of munitions and weaponry, we the bomb-makers extraordinaires, we the exploiters. We the hypocrites. We who boast about our freedoms and our commitment to human rights while supporting the most repressive and brutal dictatorships all across the Arab world. We who went to war in Iraq illegally and thus helped to create ISIS. We who oppose every liberation struggle in the Arab world. We who have toppled decent leaders because they were communist and replaced them with agreeable fascists. We who have chosen the corrupt for our quislings, who have ensured that they remain corrupt and have consequently corrupted whole nations. We who still make vast profits selling weapons and security expertise to dictators. We who wish to build a wall to keep out the victims of our wars and our rapine and our avarice. We who have created the monster and who now wish to cage it.
Let us not be naive. Let Bono declare that this is the first direct attack on music. He is a peddler of such empty pomposity. We are capable of rational thought. Without rational thought we will never understand what is happening.
Terrorism is by nature terrible. It affects innocent people more than the guilty because the guilty know how to avoid it. George W Bush and Tony Blair will never be brought to book for what they have done. That kind of terrorism cannot be cauterised. Nor is there any equivalence in pain. We cannot say that the 2,014 Palestinians who died in Israel’s terrorist campaign of August 2014 are less or more painful to contemplate than the 128 who died on Friday last. All such deaths are horrific. The numbers are meaningless. But let us not forget that every single day people die as a result of our meddling in North Africa. That thousands of people have drowned in the Mediterranean fleeing from ISIS, hoping to reach the safety of Europe and make a new life, that we created the conditions that made ISIS possible.
What are these conditions? More than anything, the necessary condition is capitalism. Why do we interfere in the lives and politics of a region? Because it has oil. We hear the phrase ‘British/American/French interests in the Middle East’ so often that it has become banal. But what it actually means is the diplomatic efforts by western states to maintain the most venial, the most brutal, the most repressive quislings in power in middle eastern countries who will not interfere in the flow of capital to western economies. For that we have maintained fascists in power in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to give only two examples. We welcome them on state visits. We visit them in their palaces. By affirming and supporting these dictators we make gains in oil but also by selling them weapons, teaching them how to torture effectively, sending consultants to advise on the management of their populations and a thousand other things.
I heard an American consultant on Middle Eastern affairs on the radio recently. He flatly declared that the so-called ‘Drone War’ had no effect on those young people who were leaving western countries to join ISIS, because, he said, when the Americans stopped the drone campaign in Pakistan for seven months it had no effect on the number of recruits. This is the kind of psychology a statistician might invent. He neglected to mention that the drones moved elsewhere and that at the same time Israel began Operation Protective Edge which resulted in over 2,000 innocent deaths in Palestine (young people, old people, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lovers, friends), a further 1,000 people left permanently disabled and 10,000 homes destroyed. We do not know their names. Their faces are not on our television screens and newspapers. But we know they died. And so does every young Muslim in the world. If we think we can prosecute wars with impunity we are fools. A society that has no memory deserves to die out.
So let us mourn the victims of the Paris atrocity, and the victims of all other atrocities in the world, with equal grief and equal solidarity. This now is our most proximate grief in the West, our latest cruel blow. But if we lived a thousand miles south and east there would be other deaths to mourn too. They all belong to us, the human race.
Let us consider, in our grief and horror, the question of guilt. Because until we acknowledge our own guilt we will never be able to see the world we have created for what it is. These innocent victims of the Bataclan, the Stade de France and elsewhere form the contiguous end of a line of innocence that stretches back into time but has it’s recent origins in the the Bush/Blair War of Terror which effectively and predictably destabilised an entire region, antagonised its inhabitants, created the present flow of refugees fleeing the conflicts we sponsored and still sponsor, and destroyed the lives of millions. Let us above all not play the faux naïf and pretend that this is the first, the worst, the most terrible.
Groupons-nous, et demain
Sera le genre humain.