One thread which runs through many of the articles published here is an attempt to highlight hypocrisies and inconsistencies within society and politics. My recent silence has not been due to a lack of relevant examples but rather to being overwhelmed by possible illustrations, as well as being rendered speechless for a while by the volume of divisive rhetoric and dangerous invective in the media, social and mainstream, ‘post-Paris’.
It should go without saying that the November 13th terror attacks in Paris were an horrific event resulting in the tragic loss of many innocent lives. However, the ‘Eurocentric’ reaction to such loss of life should not be ignored. The media and individuals across Europe and the US, as well as in far-flung places like Australia and New Zealand, dedicated hours of coverage and endless threads of social media posts to reporting and commenting on the events in Paris in minute detail. Facebook enabled users to emblazon their profile picture with the tricolour in a show of solidarity with the French. After the initial uptake, some began to point out that Facebook had never offered the Nigerian, Lebanese or Malian flags in such a manner as a result of terrorist attacks there, questioning why Paris was different. And in that lies the problem, as the media and politicians actively fan the flames of fear that Europeans and Americans are the number one target and (most important) victims of terrorism. However, a look at the statistics shows a different picture. In the 6 months from July to December 2015, the Paris attacks and the shootings in Chattanooga and San Bernardino, as well as the downing of the Russian plane in Sinai, took the lives of around 370 people. During that same time, ISIL and affiliates were responsible for deaths in Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia and Lebanon numbering over 900. Meanwhile, Boko Haram also killed over 900 people in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, while Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda were between them responsible for another 50 deaths in Kenya, Somalia and Mali. In comparison to the European and US incidents, most of these received very little, or in some cases, no media attention or outpourings of collective grief. Our sympathy for victims of terrorism is selective and it is very apparent from this which lives we in the ‘West’ believe matter.
This discrepancy is in itself disturbing, but what is equally worrying is how politicians and the media use the fear of attacks on the ‘homeland’ to drive political agendas, despite ‘death by terrorism’ being far down the list of statistically likely ways to die. The post-Paris political world echoes strongly of the post-9/11 world and the attacks in France are being used to bolster and enliven the idea (fearing it may have been fading after 14 years) that the West is in a necessary war with Islam and extremism. Paris is being used to justify the continuation of the War on Terror. It’s open season again for government surveillance of their populations, sweeping aside any post-Snowden concerns over the Patriot Act and mass collection of data; the UK’s ‘snooper charter’ is back on the table and in the US the Paris attacks are being cited as a reason to challenge civilians’ right to use encryption. Meanwhile, just as governments were finally beginning to take responsibility for the growing refugee crisis, partially created by the war in Syria, the attacks in Paris are now being used as a reason to backtrack on the commitments some nations made to accept refugees from the war-torn region. And just as 9/11 was used to justify the invasion of Iraq, following Paris the UK government voted to increase its military involvement in Syria. Even that parliamentary debate had echoes of George Bush’s War on Terror declaration of, “you’re either with us or with the terrorists”, when Prime Minister David Cameron accused opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of being a, “terrorist sympathiser” for arguing against increased military intervention.
Such oversimplified, polar views of the world are also what have led to the rise of Islamaphobic attacks in the US and Europe, with protests outside mosques, including the depositing of dead pigs and bacon, apparently under the assumption that all muslims are potential terrorists. This view is only reinforced when leading Presidential candidate Donald Trump states his aim of blocking all muslims from gaining entry visas and then sees his poll results increase as a result. Painting the picture of the threat of terrorism coming solely from Islamic extremists also allows nations in the West to continue to downplay the actions of extremists of other ilks, such as the far-right or Christian and Jewish fundamentalists. In the US there is a great deal of resistance to classifying as terrorism the threats of violence, arson attacks and shootings against women’s health clinics which perform abortions, including the killing of 3 people on Nov 27th at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. At the moment, there is much debate on social media over whether the armed militiamen holed up in a federal building in Oregon to protest government ownership of land, should be classified as terrorists but the authorities and media have so far resisted doing so. It seems that when such actions involve white Christians, the word terrorism is rarely employed. It is Islam and Islamic extremism which continues to be represented as the main source of terrorist activity. However, selective outrage and political hypocrisy exists within the UK and US’s stance against the extremes of Islam, as evidenced in their dealings with Saudi Arabia. While claiming their general criticism of Islam comes from a desire to protect human rights such as freedom of speech and gender and sexual equality, they maintain close ties with Saudi Arabia, one of the strictest adherents to Sharia law. The country’s legal system sees the death penalty applied in cases of homosexuality and protesting against the government and requires women to have permission from a man before engaging in work, study or travel. After beheading almost 50 people last week, including teenage protesters and a Shia cleric, the condemnation from their Western allies was tepid, showing that whatever ideologies fuel the ongoing War on Terror, they remain secondary to lucrative oil and arms deals.
7th January 2016