The terrorist attacks in Paris have brought back a feeling of despair, that no matter where we live, there is always someone who wants to hurt us. The shaky camera footage of police storming a building, the bangs of smoke grenades, the echoes of gunfire, have sent a shockwave through France, Europe and the world. In the aftermath, a reaction is already beginning and anger will turn on Muslim individuals, communities, businesses and places of worship. Already a petition to “Stop all immigration and close UK borders until ISIS is defeated” is circulating and has got over 383,000 signatures so far. This will not solve anything, nor will blaming Islam.
Turning on immigrants and asylum seekers satisfies only the extreme far-right and racists who will declare that purging Europe of Islam is the only option.
It is very important to remember that many people desperate to reach Europe are running from the same people who committed the atrocities in Paris. Turning on immigrants and asylum seekers satisfies only the extreme far-right and racists who will declare that purging Europe of Islam is the only option. It is not. What we should be dealing with are the root causes.
In the Middle East, vast swathes of land have been left devastated by war and climate change. Western corporations have depleted many of the resources and polluted the remainder. Familial dynasties rule with an iron fist generation after generation. Warlords control the wastelands. The people are poverty-stricken and tired of collation forces destroying their homes while supporting corrupt installed regimes. To the people, the explosions and gun-fire are everyday occurrences. ISIS has offered them something. For some, it is truly about creating the Caliphate. For many, it is a chance to take revenge on the governments who have shunned and denied them a future for so long. For more depth, read Lydia Wilson’s excellent piece “What I Discovered from Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters” on The Nation. Journalist Jürgen Todenhofer claimed that, based on his interviews with ISIS, their fighters get a basic salary of $50 a month plus food and accommodation. Often what is looted is partly kept by the fighter to be sold on the black market. Many of them have families depending on them.
Young Western Muslims travel to these parts of the world to train and fight. When they return to their country of origin, they take with them combat experience and a different ideology. What has been noted, and unfortunately only too briefly, is that these people return to communities that are neglected and poor with high levels of unemployment. Further racism and anti-immigration only makes it worse. This is what ISIS is looking to exploit.
There is no doubt that religion plays a part in this. Islam, many will say, is the religion of so many perpetrators. Yet this is the wrong issue to focus on. If Islam is to be criticised then the same judgemental gaze should focus on Christianity, the dominant Western religion. Ann Coulter, a conservative political commentator, declared, after the 9/11 attacks, that: “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has previously called on President Obama to declare war on Islam. Californian lawyer Matt McLaughlin proposed the legalization of executing gay people. Pastor Steven Anderson said: “Every homosexual I’ve ever known was a deviant and a predator.” These people are extremists and if they were in any position of power, they would do exactly what ISIS is doing. Their followers would gladly take up arms and commit the same violence as ISIS in the name of their god and ideology.
The displays of solidarity have been supportive and very touching. Yet herein lies our biggest problem.
Paris has shocked many because it is not a regular occurrence in the West. The displays of solidarity have been supportive and very touching. Yet herein lies our biggest problem. Attacks like this take place every day across the globe. Many people die every day from acts of violence. In the West, we are able to choose who we share solidarity with and that in itself is dangerous. We must learn to condemn violence wherever and whenever it occurs. We have become used to watching misery unfold thousands of miles away on a TV screen where it can’t hurt us. We don’t know of or acknowledge many of the horrific events that are taking or have taken place around the world.
What about suicide bombers who killed dozens in Beirut? What about the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Burma? What about the massacres in Nigeria? How about the diamond trade in Liberia and Ivory Coast? What about the Native Americans forced to live in squalid conditions on reservations? What about the doctors and patients killed by a US-led airstrike on a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz? What about the 150,000 killed or missing as a result of Mexico’s drug war? How about the slaughter of villagers in Yemen? What about the weddings hit by US drone strikes?
Saudi Arabia lashes raped women. China controls its population through fear and intimidation. Yet the UK is more than happy to trade and deal with both of these countries while declaring human rights a priority. The UK and US governments conduct mass surveillance over their citizens. US cops have killed 161 unarmed people so far this year while the US annual military budget has just been approved which includes $601 billion in defence spending.
The history of humankind is drenched in blood. Humanity has an addiction to war, to killing, whether it be for a god, money or land. The time for growing up is fast approaching. People are getting fed up with the constant lies and propaganda. There is an anger below the surface, ready to break through. Anger at corporations for stealing and corrupting, at politicians for being so spineless. Anger that the love and peace we are so capable of is being distorted and twisted to suit the needs of others.
There is a sense of realisation that there is something deeply wrong with all of us. But no matter what governments tell us, we must do something different. Until we start believing that we are all one, that their problems are our problems, we won’t understand the suffering of others. Once that happens, progress is inevitable.