By Liam McLoughlin 16/1/15
September 11. Afghanistan. Iraq. ISIS. Charlie Hebdo. With each new disaster, dissenting voices in the West plead for the right lessons to be drawn. We wish that such a profound shock would trigger a soul-searching period of cultural self-reflection. We dream of hash tags like #history, #context, and #rootcauses, but somehow these never take off. After this latest brutal attack, surely the brightest historians, sociologists and political scientists will now be consulted to better understand and counteract terrorism, right?
No, no, it’s full speed ahead with Operation Satire and the absolute freedom to inflame and offend, while giving up our freedom to criticise the government, free press, free assembly and the right to privacy. We’re told it’s high time we trade in some more liberty for some more security and meanwhile there must be someone, anyone we can bomb for this. Suddenly there’s an explosion of freedom lovers like the Secretary General of NATO, the US Attorney-General and David Cameron, who are all #charlie. And now everyone’s prepared to die for their favourite misquoted anti-Semite Voltaire.
The least we could do is tell ourselves intelligent and complex stories about the material conditions that foster jihad. We could start with two hundred years of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Perhaps we could touch on the rich history of Western imperialist wars, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and years of drone strikes. We could discuss Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Maybe endemic structural racism against Islamic communities in the West has a role to play.
But we’re not even free to do that without being marginalised. These stories are branded ridiculous, insensitive, offensive, or irrelevant. This is the kind of classic freedom-hating, evil-loving behaviour we’ve come to expect from pesky intellectuals. Black and white myths of good/evil, us/them, self/other and civilised/barbarian are much easier to understand, so let’s run with those.
The goodies are, to quote Jon Stewart, “team civilisation”. Team players include the United States, known for its impeccable treatment of slaves and Native Americans. Australia is another MVP, winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award for decimating Indigenous peoples and excising asylum seekers from humanity. The UK and France are also star performers, civilising the living shit out of most of the world. We mustn’t forget the fossil fuel companies who are an integral part of this team, for what else says civilisation like the willingness to destroy it. The baddies are the evildoers. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was a cut and dry case of dickheads being dickheads, or as Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, or Rupert Murdoch will tell you, the fault of Islam. Muslims are responsible, because, like, their religion is bad and they hate our freedoms and values, you know?
It’s hard not to cry. There is initial shock and grief at the loss of innocent life in Paris last week. It’s made worse by the reality that there is no momentous cultural reflection, no serious consultation of experts, no good-faith efforts to stop such needless bloodshed in the future. There is no pause to learn the lessons of drone strikes, wars, torture and empire building. No overturning of the double standards of ignoring or misnaming white terrorism and sensationalising terrorism in the name of Islam. No disgust at the comparative value of white lives and brown lives, rich lives and poor lives.
There is only spin and cynical manipulation by those in power. There is reactionary Islamophobia and the polarisation of debate. It just gets harder for an ordinary Islamic woman to go about her life in the Western world.
Intensifying the ‘clash of civilisations’ in no way does justice to the victims of Charlie Hebdo and atrocities like it. Instead these victims are desecrated and used to rationalise the next injustice at the hands of the State.
Soon enough the world will stop revolving around Charlie Hebdo and return to its normal orbit.
Until the next tragedy.
We can only hope these lost lives will one day be truly honoured, when the dominant narratives will include buzzwords like “structural factors” and “material conditions”, and that these stories will be told with empathy and understanding.