It would surely be more reasonable to wait a few weeks and let the emotions subside. This is what decency and reason require. As a Parisian at heart, I would rather stay quiet. Unfortunately, falcons and fascists, wolves and warmongers, jackals and ministers are not bound by such scruples. They did not wait for the bodies to be buried or the tears to be dried before they started shouting their outrage. Now they call for a strong retaliation, for the closure of borders, for a new round of heavy-handed security measures. We are surrounded.
It is impossible to summarize in one article the multiple dynamics at work in the escalation of mass terrorism that successively hit Lebanon and France last week. Yet it is necessary to repeat the same obvious facts, again and again, hoping that one day the cynics and jokers who rule us find the courage to end the vicious circle.
Terror for Everybody
Unlike some delirious experts, we must remind ourselves that these attacks do not target the West or France “for what they are,” as Daniel Pipes once suggested. Two-bit editorial writers—along with respected scholars such as Jean-Pierre Filiu—nevertheless propagated this idea after Friday`s attacks. It allows the sycophants of “liberal democracy,” competitive capitalism, and Western self-righteousness to find shelter in the comfort of a naive essentialism. Thus, there is no reason for further debates: we are so happy, free, and powerful that they have no choice but to envy and hate us at the same time, which leads these supposed experts to reproduce the outdated schema of the “clash of civilizations.” The fact that some governments have regularly brought death and destruction all over the world by perpetrating police bombing and imprecise drone strikes has nothing to do with this resentment.
Beyond the fact that “the West” does not exist as a political unit, and the long record of the violent acts committed by many governments, this idea negates another obvious fact: the infernal cycle of terrorism and counter-terrorism has spread far beyond the alleged “East-West” confrontation. Boko Haram`s Nigerian fighters, who kidnap, slaughter, and blow themselves up, may pretend to fight Occidental-style education, but they nevertheless answer to a wide range of local economic and political dynamics. They kill other Nigerians whose so-called “way of life” has way less in common with mine than a bourgeois in Doha.
Le Monde finds scandalous comfort in picturing a France that has the privilege of being the focus of jihadist hatred. We—secular Gauls—should thus think of ourselves as a different kind of victim from the Lebanese who died in a Shi`i neighborhood in Beirut, the two hundred Russians in the Sinai, or the hundred or so left-wing protesters in Ankara. Yet our “liberal democracies” are not the main target of the jihadists. From the insurrection in Iraq to its divorce from Al-Qa’ida, Da`esh`s genealogy demonstrates that anti-Shi`a extremism is the foundation of the organization`s ideology. Before that, the tragic outcome of takfiri violence in Algeria shows that it is mainly directed toward those who happen to be designated as apostates. How many times will we have to repeat that the vast majority of these attacks target Muslims in order to put an end to this old tune of anti-occidental hatred?
Our Monsters, Our Responsibility
Even more problematic, the West, whose values are placed at the top of the hierarchy of civilizations, is also supposed to represent all of humanity. Thus, a mourning France has recovered its role as the paragon of universalism. In Washington, Barack Obama portrayed Friday night`s attacks as a challenge to “all of humanity and the universal values that we share." In Paris, the president of the parliament, Claude Bartolone, quoted Thomas Jefferson, declaring that “every person has two countries: their own and France.” I am not going to expand on the irony of the loving tango between the French government and its American counterpart when one is fully aware of the latter’s overwhelming responsibility in provoking the current chaos in the Middle East and its consequences for Europe. But what shall we say to the Kurdish or the Tunisian who can seemingly be killed without offending “humanity?" What kind of humanity are we speaking of when it is always invoked for the same group of people?
As we know, humanist universalism necessarily includes forms of exclusion. It also shields us from that which we do not want to see in our home countries. “Humankind” is a convenient concept in helping us to forget that our states and their Pakistani, Arab, or African counterparts have actively sown the hatred that is saddening Paris and Beirut today, Nairobi and Mumbai yesterday. As for the monsters who entered a concert hall and shot unarmed youngsters, these governments produced them. We produced them. These monsters—who fulfilled their dream by being cut in two pieces by an explosion that they triggered—they have neither wings nor fangs. They are French and Belgian. They have been born and raised in our cherished “Western world.” For sure, they are individually guilty of a bloodbath that reveals the loss of any kind of empathy. For this, the absence of a hereafter following their suicide is a definitive punishment. But it is the French and Belgian states that are responsible for creating the structural conditions for such a hideous transformation.
As for us, who closed our eyes faced with the violence of spatial and racial segregation, who surrendered to the diktat of heartless ordoliberalism, who celebrated the sale of weapons to emerging countries as an achievement for national competitiveness, we also share the burden of responsibility. The fake opposition between the Barbarity that threatens us and the civilization that defines us is a mere mystification. This is a discourse that negates the structural causes and hides the lack of a suitable political answer.
Winning the War? How So?
Since it is always good for ratings to swagger on national television, to demonstrate one’s incompetence and inability to produce new ideas, Prime Minister Manuel Valls did not miss an opportunity to show off on TF1 (the main private French channel). We will “return blow for blow” to this “terrorist jihadist army,” he said, while pecking with his chin. In the face of so much warmongering, a humble citizen such as myself remains speechless.
The war on terror started fifteen years ago, and the only result has been a persistent, headlong rush towards violence. Jacques Chirac—a president who was reactionary and dishonest but did not lack intelligence—had the common sense to condemn the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. More than ten years later, the overqualified technocrats who usurped the name of socialists have nothing except for war and repression as an answer to the murder of 130 of their fellow citizens. During the past decade, Saddam was hanged, Al-Zarqaoui crushed, and Bin Laden snatched and shot. During the past decade, President Obama gave his personal authorization to thousands of extra-judicial killings, without ever having his humanity questioned. During the past decade, terrorism has not decreased, but has been supplemented with the Syrian civil war, resulting in the exile of hundreds of thousands of individuals.
It is certainly true that, once a settlement is found in the form of the political transition in Syria, the energetic action of global and regional powers should be able to defeat Da`esh as a territorialized state-like structure. Nevertheless, this does not imply the end of terrorist networks and opportunistic attacks. It is highly unlikely that a world where injustice, tyranny, and Kalashnikovs with a two thousand euro price tag coexist can be pacified with police bombings, military invasions, and reconstruction efforts that mainly benefit giant private contractors. This formula is not magic; it is simply foolish.
As for the technique of the besieged citadel that continuously launches preventive strikes—advocated by geniuses such as Benyamin Netanyahu—the state of psychosis that has characterized Israeli society for the past ten years shows that it is not only inefficient, but also toxic.
Policing Without Protecting
The French government can continue to increase the searches without warrants that they have been conducting since Sunday night. This will not change another simple fact: the security services are simply not able to prevent future attacks. They will never have this capacity, unless we accept a totalitarian orientation for our society, coupled with a systematic policing of communications. The billions of conversations that they are already listening to, and the emails and IP addresses that they are recording, do not help them to spot a bunch of radicalized petty offenders who are organizing their attack on Paris using their Playstation 4. They can put a cop on every street corner, but this will not prevent opportunistic terrorists from taking advantage of inevitable security loopholes.
One should ask why our rulers are continuously advocating more surveillance, given that they will never be able to ensure security on every inch of their territory. Of course, one can see this in terms of an authoritarian temptation that is inherent to every police or government. Yet the answer more likely lies in the irresponsibility that characterizes every bureaucracy, as Hannah Arendt once pointed out. Aiming to avoid criticism, security services and ministries protect themselves at the expense of our individual liberties, without solving the terrorist threat that their war on terror has fueled. The spirit of terrorism needs this spirit of bureaucracy to endure, since terror is never better complemented than by the banality of evil. For healthy minds, only powerlessness and grief remain.
There was no other possibility: two days after the attacks that targeted Parisian youth, François Hollande had nothing more to propose than a rhetoric of war and another reinforcement of exceptional powers. Unable to fulfill his historical responsibility, facing increasing pressure from the falcons who denounce an invasion by the Saracens, true to a constant and astounding weakness, the French President offers more war on terror to fight “war terrorism.” I cannot even say that I am surprised.
In concluding this article, I would have liked to argue that these attacks would help us to understand the tragedy faced by the Middle East since 2003, or that they would enable us to fully realize the causes for the exile of millions of Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis, and many others. I would have liked to claim that there might be some room for a form of humanity in the wake of recent events after all. But everything in the behavior of our rulers, in France and elsewhere, points to the opposite conclusion.
[This article was originally published in French on Jadaliyya]