What happened in Paris was heart-wrenching and tragic. My first reaction was intense anger at the monstrous perpetrators. Soon after, it was accompanied by an equally intense anger and sense of frustration at the western reactions that had already started coming in. As a Pakistani who has been living in Europe for some time, there was also bitter trepidation in anticipation of much worse reactions that would inevitably come in (as they did), surpassing the hypocritical reactions to the gruesome Charlie Hebdo attacks.
On the personal front, it was distressing to learn that a French friend had suffered a severe panic attack in the Paris metro a couple of days after the attacks. She feared, justifiably, that the metro would be blown up. A Belgian friend was woken up by her daughter in the middle of the night because she couldn’t sleep out of fear that they would come and kill her too. The inevitable question one gets asked after such narrations is: what is the solution?
Before further discussing this tragedy, and the ensuing turn of events, let me posit two statements which one hopes may be regarded as uncontroversial:
- Calling for the examination of the scale and frequency of the past and current atrocities which create and worsen the environment in which Paris type attacks take birth, is not meant as a justification of such attacks.
- Given the perilous state of global affairs, all of us need to look into the mirror with courage and honesty. Further, citizens of powerful states have a greater responsibility to do so since the actions of their states have more far-reaching effects.
If the above statements were accepted, coupled with some knowledge of history, and an honest account of current events, the story would end, and so would this post. However, this is not the case. Truth, a seemingly simple concept, usually proves elusive. For instance, as a Pakistani, I am painfully aware that the average Pakistani citizen has no idea about (let alone acceptance of) the genocidal atrocities committed by us in Bangladesh. Similarly, putting aside the history of Western imperialism, most Western citizens do not seem to be aware, because it is not constantly drilled into their heads like other things, that a million people died in Iraq. People don’t know that the effects of chemical warfare include levels of cancer in Fallujah alone that are more than Hiroshima because it was barely reported. And that the Iraq war led to the creation of the ISIS-the monstrosity behind the Paris attacks, whose victims have overwhelmingly been other Muslims.
We keep quiet when our states commit crimes and we let the general intellectual culture of our countries shape our opinions. That is perhaps understandable. But it leaves us vulnerable on two fronts: moral and practical. Morally, we find ourselves living under a cloud of ignorance that leads to unwitting hypocrisy. So for instance, French citizens do not seem to be aware that when their government drives Roma out from France, it is driving out Holocaust victims. Imagine, if this was being done to Jews in France. Everyone in the western world would go bonkers (and rightly so). However, in case of Roma, this fact did not even register. Or consider that in Belgium one can find numerous statues of King Leopold II who killed more than ten million people in Congo. Imagine if there were statues of Hitler in European countries. Everyone would go ballistic and rightly so. But King Leopold stands proud.
And now the west wants the Muslims living here to be held accountable. Watch this shameful CNN interview in the wake of the Paris attacks, for example, in which the palpable hatred and/or ignorance of the two journalists is enough to boil one’s blood. The media just keep repeating the same lies and keep spewing out vitriol. Unfortunately, even the seemingly best, “liberal” ones are also blind. Some years back, Jon Stewart went on record as saying that George Bush was not a war criminal and that there were actual evil people in the world out there from whom people like Bush had to be distinguished. One can only say this if one has no regard for the one million Iraqis killed and the resulting chaos and violence that the monstrous “war” led to in the entire region.
After the Paris attacks, the British comedian John Oliver gave this facile reply, needlessly bringing French culture in, and apparently bringing a smile to the face of Parisians. Now I also grew up admiring Oliver’s favorite French intellectuals, esp. Sartre. But that’s besides the point. How and when did this become a fight between cultures, when apparently even the ISIS “assholes” (John’s apt word for them) themselves say that it was a reaction to French bombing in Syria. Secondly, what is this French “culture”? Sure, it includes Sartre, Camus, nice pastries and other wonderful things. But it includes many other things as well. This is the culture, if we are to talk about cultures which I think is facile, that colonized and brutalized North Africa. The one that oppressed IndoChina? That raped Algerian women with bottles? The same which in modern day Paris, leads north Africans to live abysmal lives permeated with racism? Let’s not talk about cultures please! ISIS really are “bloody assholes” as John rightly says. But if killing innocent people is a yardstick for asshole-ness, (which it ought to be), then the French state is too. And so is the American state, and the British state and so on. In fact, they are bigger assholes, by definition, because they create more terror, kill more people, and commit greater crimes.
I only mentioned Jon and John because they (and others like them) are the best of the lot-the most “benign”, at the so-called liberal end of the spectrum. The rest are just downright shocking and shameful. The falsehoods and decontextualized-analyses that the western media and intellectual culture spout is something that would have made Stalin blush with shame!
Given the selective memory, and the total distortion of facts and disregard for reality, is it any wonder that Islamophobia is on the rise in the west, or that people keep asking “Why do they hate us?”. Ordinary people are not to be blamed. But the intellectual commissars deserve all the blame and more. The reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks was emblematic of the hypocrisy of western intellectuals. Now, the reaction is far worse. And the coming days will bring even more self-righteous proclamations and more calls for toughening up and showing “those barbarians” that we mean business– more violence abroad and more repression directed at Muslims living in the west. This spells doom for all of us. Already, the western states by using a sledgehammer on Iraq have destroyed the region. More violence will lead to more such reactions, making the fertile ground for madmen even more fertile. In short, it would be a gift to the ISIS “assholes”.
On the practical front, we are left with two urgent questions, and what I think are their “answers”:
1) “Why do they hate us?” (And what do we do about it?)
Yes, they hate you, and they are monsters. But they hate other Muslims who disagree with them even more. Just look at the facts if you want to. Furthermore, it is pertinent to ask who parents and supports such elements, financially and morally? The biggest supporter (and parent of radical Islam) is Saudi Arabia, a French ally. And the French govt. doesn’t do anything about it. Instead they just signed a ten billion euros worth deal with the Saudis. Just. Recently. Despite full knowledge of what the Saudis do. The fact is that the French state, just like the American state, (or the Pakistani state) does not care for its people. For instance, the US went into the Iraq war with the expectation that the war would increase the likelihood of terror. And surely it did. The same for US drone strikes: a gift to the religious monsters of the world from the secular monsters of the world.
So the question that western citizens really ought to be asking is: Why do our states hate us?? And then they should try and stop these hateful acts.
2) What about the refugees?
What a shame to be even asking this question. If justice means anything, then the following would be the western reaction: Heads bowed in shame, giving massive reparations to the region for all the millions of people that have been killed and the general destruction. Further, till such time that the region recovers, the west would be welcoming refugees with open arms, not as a gesture of magnanimity but in abject penance: for the recent atrocities and for the long history of atrocities and oppression that they have carried out.
We should all accept our crimes and atone for them, and make sure that such things don’t happen again. We Pakistanis too, for starters, should be asking forgiveness from the Bangladeshis. Otherwise if we, the people of this world, continue to follow the law of the jungle, all the while proclaiming how humane and just we are, our actions would surely spell the end of the human species. To all concerned westerners I would say this: Look into the mirror, recoil at the horrible crimes of your states, and then atone for them. As we all should. Of course, there is another, perhaps simpler solution as well: Blame it all on Islam, ignore your own crimes and allow your states to keep doing what they have been doing. The choices are simple. There are no magic wand solutions. The first choice gives hope; the second spells almost certain doom.
Endnote: I want to recommend a very important recent documentary about Muslims in France: Je ne suis pas Charlie, (I am not Charlie) which puts things in their context, something that you wouldn’t find in much of mainstream media and culture.