|Paris Terror Attacks
||[Nov. 18th, 2015|12:16 am]
Last Friday night, just as I was about to leave work and meet Karen and other friends for dinner, news outlets began reporting on a terrorist attack in Paris, France. Multiple targets had been hit. At least 40 casualties. It was not the first time this year that the city had seen such bloodshed. Back in January, eleven had been murdered at the office of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo - an attack which was seen to have been retaliation for the paper's having published cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Immediately, because the internet abhors an outrage vacuum, social media offered its opinions about this new event. Before any information about possible perpetrators had been determined, the Muslim world had already been blamed. I got 9/11 flashbacks when the French president declared the deaths in Paris 'an act of war' (to be dealt with by soldiers; rather than a crime, dealt with through police work). |
One of my first thoughts was: this is going to make things difficult for new Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling optimistic about the new tone in this country. Trudeau had pledged to end Canadian Forces combat missions in Iraq, against the new enemy there: ISIS (or ISIL, or Daesh, or whatever it's being called now). He had pledged to accept 25,000 refugees from Syria, people fleeing the deadly situation in that nation. Would he now have to back down on those pledges? (As I write this, four days after the new Paris attacks, it appears that the refugees will still be welcomed, but Canada will now be committing ground troops to Iraq rather than jet fighters). I already get the sense that Trudeau isn't going to bring quite as much progressive change as hoped. We shall see.
Almost after the incident in Paris, people all over the world began updating their Facebook profile pictures to show a superimposed French flag (Facebook facilitated this - just click here!). A message of solidarity for the survivors, and of sympathy for the dead (over 130, by the current count). I usually resist participating in this kind of action, which I view as mostly to do with promoting your I Am A Person Who Cares brand to the world. But I do understand it. There was a lot of talk about the selectivity of honoring France's tragedy, and not the dozens of others which happen in 'less white' countries on a nearly daily basis. But human beings are tribal. Social media is where people join together with their fellow tribe members, building and sustaining ties through mutual grooming and mirroring behaviour. It's not that other events in the world aren't also tragic, but you can only be outraged about so many things at once, and people tend to focus on whatever a lot of other people that they know are also talking and caring about. The mainstream media also play a key role, focusing public attention in certain places. The French attacks did this, because they had been made against 'us', and were attributed to a culprit that has already established itself as our tribes' bogeyman du jour. Only 12 years ago, France was declared Public Enemy #1, because of the countries' decision not to back the United States' bombardment of Iraq. But now we're on the same side in a war which the people in charge clearly want. Whether it's religion, a flag, a brand of jeans - we are always finding ways to separate those who are like us from those who are not - and to distrust/hate/attack those in the second category. I felt that putting the Tricolore over my face, with its message of 'we are are Parisian' would ally myself with whatever actions that the French government undertook next. And those actions were entirely predictable: suspend civil liberties, and bomb Syria (well, bomb it *more*, since they were already doing so). I didn't really want to associate myself with that, and so my profile pic went unchanged.
The attacks led to a fair bit of anti-Muslim talk, and also a few hate crimes (a mosque here in Ontario was set on fire). I considered adding my voice to the conversation on Facebook, to counsel a more critical analysis of the situation. I find myself in the peculiar position of defending Islam from those who think all of its followers are potential killers - when as an atheist I *do* think religion is a lot of nonsense, which is frequently used to subjugate woman and keep people ignorant. But thankfully, other people that I know jumped in - arguing that this was the actions of a few people, not the fault of an entire religion or ethnicity. Unfortunately, there was also a lot of misinformation flying around. People cherry-picking photos and fact-free articles which only confirmed what they already believed. I sort of laugh when people say that when we respond with violence after an attack, that this is exactly what terrorists want. How do you know - have you spoken to them? Ultimately, I opted not to say anything. But after taking some time to digest the whole situation, I thought I'd just post a few words here instead - for posterity.
Something that's definitely changed for me in the years since 9/11 is that I am far more cautious about believing conspiratorial explanations. Unsubstantiated accusations are exactly what I hated about the initial online responses to the attacks. And the waters of conspiracy are fouled with antisemitism and stupidity. Having said that, there is much about the ISIS situation which I continue to find rather ponderous. It's not like the old days, where the designated bad guy was a specific person. You got to see their picture, maybe hear speeches that they gave to their people. ISIS is a big mystery. Bunch of anonymous masked men. Pretty much the only things that we know about the group come from the U.S. Department of Credible Intelligence, which has a rather poor track record when it comes to telling the truth. But like Al Qaeda (the bogeyman that they replaced), ISIS can be accused of being anywhere, at any time - wherever there's a strategically important country that needs some invading. Its public statements come from statements on the internet that could be getting made by anyone. Governments demand and get greater and greater powers of surveillance, yet this seems to do nothing to stop 'terrorists' from making plans, and doing damage. The governments double down on the same strategies: more violence, more surveillance. Clearly, these aren't stopping terrorism. But maybe stopping isn't the goal? Maybe it's allowed to continue, even purposely incited? I think about how ISIS gets much of its funding and supplies via Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both of them U.S. allies. And about how the group has been able to generate funds by exporting oil in truck caravans. The US couldn't see and stop those? This week, a US spokesperson said they were left alone because the country didn't want to risk killing innocent people. Which is ridiculous, since the country is killing civilians every day. Just last month, they deliberately shot up a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 30 patients and staff. So...I guess I can't help myself when it comes to conspiratorial thinking.
But when you look at all of the information, how can you *not* come to the conclusion that governments are lying about their true purposes? While rightfully calling out ISIS for its violent interpretation of Islam, the US has nothing bad to say about Saudi Arabia, which still crucifies people under Sharia Law. In fact, the US just approved the sale of over $1 billion is new weapons to that country. It also gave weapons to Syrian rebels affiliated with Al Qaeda...and wasn't the US on a mission to destroy Al Qaeda? The US works out a deal with Iran to abandon a nuclear weapons program, paving the way for detente between the two countries, even while Iran remains a supporter of Syria's Assad. Russia says it started bombing Syria to take out ISIS terrorists, but was mainly interested in destroying opponents of Assad - specifically, the US-backed rebels who are also fighting ISIS. Then ISIS claimed to have taken down a Russian passenger jet, killing all aboard.
Why? Who benefits? Plans hidden inside of other plans...it's like some multi-level game of chess in which the only visible goal is to create hatred and chaos. Now, ISIS has the guns of 4 of the world's 6 largest militaries trained on it. How is it that ISIS continues to exist? Shouldn't it have been completely annihilated by now, if the major powers were truly serious about its destruction? In any case, the U.S. and Russia have opposing objectives for Syria, and neither seems inclined to back down. And as such, there's a chance that shots may inadvertently get fired between the two. Which could wind up being very bad for a lot of people. But good for armaments makers...and Malthusians.
Over the past few nights, Karen and I have been watching a PBS series about the Roosevelt family (Teddy, FDR, Eleanor), which originally aired last year. In looking back at those early years of the 20th Century, with its two World Wars, it's interesting to see how history repeats. Desperate people getting restive, being seduced by demagogues. Business interests and bloodthirsty men championing the need for war. Nations jockeying for position and advantage. Millions of ordinary people suffering and dying. There's that old saying about how those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it...but we *do* learn from history. Wars are good for a certain segment of society (the ones who profit rather than die). And those who prevail get to take their share of the losers' loot. Suggesting that the conflict in the Middle East is about control of oil fields and pipelines is not controversial now (the price of oil is currently falling, as global demand slows, and the US enjoys a short-term bounty from shale oil - but it'll be back up). Governments still lie about it, and say it's about stamping out evil, or defending freedom (or Allah)...but people know the truth. Yet, too many still follow - driven by fear, anger, tribal affiliation, or addiction to the thrill of the kill. Underneath the glossy veneer of civilization, we're still a bunch of animals.