Earlier this week I sat horrified and appalled by the events that took place in Paris. The barbaric murder of journalists, Police Officers and innocent bystanders cannot be excused by any sane and rational person and I most certainly do not intend to offer any excuses for the perpetrators of these truly horrific murders.
Today sees a million people come together in Paris in a show of ‘solidarity’, and over the past few days we have seen the hashtag #jesuischarlie go viral in a social media campaign that “Stands up for free speech.” Politicians around the globe have rightly condemned the attacks and many have made their way to Paris today to support the protests against the killings. Against this backdrop I and no doubt millions of people around the world are wondering where attacks of this nature leave us.
It isn’t difficult to come up with a huge list of atrocities that have been committed in recent times in the name of Islam. 9/11, 7/7, Peshawar, Madrid, the list goes on and on. The rise of Islamic State, the battle for Kobane, the rise of Boko Haram, the kidnap of 276 Schoolgirls, the slaughter of over 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria this week all issues that have us scratching our heads and wondering what to do to combat the threat posed by Islamist terrorism.
We hear much about the ‘War on Terror’ and just today we hear world leaders saying that we must step up our efforts in that direction. We in the UK today have also heard that more funding must be directed to our secret ‘security services’ and that those organisations must be given still greater powers to spy on their own citizens. I find this ever increasing erosion of my civil liberties deeply concerning. I know for a fact that we have Police Officers trained to pick locks to gain access to suspects homes to place listening devices and spy camera’s, I know that tracking devices are attached to suspects cars. I know that mobile and landline telephones are regularly listened to by Police. I accept that the Police have to have a warrant before they can place these devices but if this is what is happening in Policing, how much more surveillance are people subjected to by the secret security services. As our civil rights are eroded as a response to the ‘War On Terror’ how much freedom will we have to give up in the name of security. How far do we trust those who spy on us to use the information lawfully and reasonably? I can only say that after some 29 years as a Police Officer I have no faith that the agents of state will act reasonably. None!
Getting back to Je Suis Charlie, let me say that I am delighted to see so many turn out to support the families of those who were murdered. I believe that response is right and proper and it may even provide a crumb of comfort to the families. What I am less comfortable with is the groundswell that this in some way protects free speech. I wonder! Charlie Hebdo is portrayed as a satirical magazine. Now as I understand it the magazine has attacked Islam, Judaism, the Catholic Church and just about everyone else in recent years. I accept that as fact without argument. I saw the argument put forward very forcefully today that this was OK because it attacked everyone equally. This where my support evaporates. This magazine has been Racist, Sexist, Anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, Anti-Catholic and insulting to just about every race or creed. The question I have to grapple with is this. Is it acceptable to insult peoples beliefs so long as you insult everyone’s? Not in my view, that sort of thinking is just bonkers in my opinion.
Of course being rude and insulting people or religion should not carry a death sentence. It does however mean that I don’t want to be Charlie, thank you very much. I have had more than enough religious hatred in my life growing up in N. Ireland. It may be a cliche but hate breeds hate.
The thing that has been totally absent in the past few days is any meaningful analysis of the root causes of these atrocities. It seems clear that for some reason young Muslim men, and increasingly young women and children, are all too easily radicalised. What on earth induces a 10 year old child to strap a bomb to herself and to explode it in a market place killing herself and at least 19 others in Nigeria yesterday. Perhaps Ironically this incident and the atrocity in Baga, Nigeria where over 2000 have been slaughtered by Boko Haram this week are almost totally unreported in the mainstream media. This lack of coverage leads me to ponder why the murder of 17 people is more newsworthy than the murder of over 2000. Is it because it place in Nigeria and the area is deemed too dangerous for journalists, is it because we find it so difficult and sensational that gunmen can walk into an office in a major European city and murder indiscriminately? Is it because it is closer to home and that journalists see the murder of their colleagues as more important. I genuinely have no idea.
What does seem clear to me however is the elephant in the room. That elephant is U.S., Nato & European policy in the Middle East. There can be little doubt that the implementation of the ‘agreement’ of the formation of the state of Israel and western support for the jewish state caused a huge amount of resentment in many of the Arab States, there have been wars and conflict in the region ever since. The unrest and radicalisation however seems to have accelerated significantly since the first Gulf War in 1990. Since that time the terrorism has become the weapon of choice in the region.
Lets be clear, terrorism is the weapon of the weak, particularly of the weak who feel oppressed and aggrieved by stronger oppressors. The first Gulf war was ostensibly prosecuted to liberate Kuwait after it was invaded by the larger and more powerful Iraq. The liberation of Kuwait was undoubtably one of the primary objectives but it is widely accepted that Iraq’s actions could not be tolerated because it threatened the west’s oil interests. Our reliance on oil meant that any action that threatened access to this increasingly rare resource could not be countenanced. Ever since 1990 our policies in the region have become increasingly confusing with support for regimes seemingly changing on a whim.
What is absolutely beyond a shred of doubt is that the war on terror has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and that the overwhelming majority of those killed are Muslim’s. It seems to me that the killing of Muslims by Muslims or by coalition forces is either under-reported or not reported at all. The Stop the War coalition reports on these issues today saying
“The same people responsible for the attacks in Paris are also responsible for much worse attacks on their fellow Muslims in countries like Yemen or Libya. Last week 37 police recruits were killed in a bomb at an academy near near Yemen’s capital city Sanaa, and dozens more injured.”
“Many people hearing about so-called western values ‘freedom’, ‘truth’ and ‘equality’ — now made so much of, following the Charlie Hebdo slaughter — will wonder what values it was that allowed Israel last Summer to bomb Gaza, causing the deaths of thousands of Palestinians. They will wonder about the torture by US forces at Abu Ghraib (cited as one reason for the ‘radicalisation’ of one of the Charlie Hebdo murderers). They will wonder about Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, torture, and the other consequences of the war on terror that have caused such misery.”
“They must also wonder at the myopia which allows the absolutely correct condemnation of terrorist attacks in France but which seems to regard western bombings, drone attacks and the killing of civilians in occupied countries, as necessary if slightly distasteful activities, justified because they are carried out by nation states, rather than lone individuals.”
The sad fact is that terrorism is bred by oppression. The oppressed can only attack nation states in a limited way such as we saw in Paris this week. Charlie Hebdo may have been attacked because of their depiction of the prophet but the willingness of individuals to commit mass murder in this way is driven by something much deeper and much more difficult to understand and resolve.
I fear that the attacks in Paris will serve to stir up more anti Islamic feeling not only in France, where there have been numerous attacks on Muslims since the murders, but also in the UK. I am certain we will see Nigel Farage and UKIP step up the anti-immigration rhetoric as we move closer to the forthcoming General Election. We have already seen fascist group ‘Britain First’ step up their racist attacks.
As our political leaders gather in Paris today, along with the millions around the world, to mourn those so brutally murdered, I hope they will take a moment to reflect on how we have come to be where we are. Our leaders have supported war after war in the middle east since 1990. Rather than recognising that our reliance on oil puts us in an increasingly vulnerable position and instigating measures to reduce that reliance we seem more than willing to fight wars over what remains. Reliance on oil cannot continue for ever, it is a finite resource. Fighting over the last few drops will lead only to further conflict and more killing.
Those same leaders have to recognise that the ‘War on terror’ is a war that cannot be won militarily. There is no military solution, as the British Army found out in Northern Ireland, you cannot fight an enemy that you cannot see. Eventually attacks of the kind we saw this week erodes the will to fight and it must be acknowledged that Muslim Terrorists are often much more ruthless that The IRA. The IRA wanted to walk away from their attacks, the radical Jihadist terrorist is not only prepared to die bringing terror they seem to welcome ‘martyrdom’ with open arms.
In conclusion I will return to my original point about Je Suis Charlie. I fear that this has little to do with ‘freedom of speech’. I fear that the solidarity expressed will lead to further demonisation of Muslims and even worse it presents the conditions for an anti-muslim backlash in Europe, something likely to cause yet more radicalisation. The biggest tribute that could be paid to those who died this week would be for our leaders to begin the process of addressing the root causes that underly Islamic extremism. For them to begin the process of finding a political solution that sees a fair settlement for all and that removes the sense of injustice and powerlessness that breeds terrorism. Where that to happen I could then stand proudly and say Je Suis Charlie.
(AP Photo/Thibault Camus)