The recent attacks in Paris were gruesome and tragic, but what's been said and done in the aftermath is enough to make one want to bury their head in the sand and hope to never resurface.
Where to begin? There was the solidarity march in Paris which, while inspiring on account of millions of people taking part in support of free speech, also reeked of shameless hypocrisy as it was led by political leaders with terrible track records of suppressing expression. Just days after the public spectacle, France cracked down on "hate speech", announcing that 54 people had already been arrested in the week since Charlie Hebdo's office was stormed by gunmen. This list included the comedian and activist Dieudonné M'bala M'bala who was charged with "incitement of terrorism" over a Facebook post. He is known for racist and anti-semitic provocations, but the same could be said for some of Charlie Hebdo's content.
British Prime Minister David Cameron pressed for the passage of a law that would allow even more surveillance -- outlawing encrypted communications, which British security services can't access through a backdoor. This could lead to FaceTime, Snapchat, WhatsApp and iMessage all being blocked. It's not the least bit shocking that governments would exploit fear to justify an ever expanding surveillance state in the wake of a terrorist attack, but it is disappointing that a populace would be swayed by these arguments after post 9/11 America provided an example of exceptions leading to abuse.
Anti-Islamic sentiment was immediately amplified following the events in Paris with politicians and far right activists across Europe calling for strict standards on Muslim immigrants. NewsCorp Chairman Rupert Murdoch tweeted "Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible" (a comment he has since tried to walk back). And so called "terrorism experts" paraded around on television drumming up fear and peddling lies. Jeremy Scahill put it best when he went on CNN and blasted the cable networks for engaging in the "terrorism expert industrial complex."
Then there's the painful juxtaposition of mass public outrage to the deaths of 17 people in France due to terrorism, and the near silence regarding the destruction of multiple towns in Nigeria by Boko Haram, where it's estimated up to 2,000 people were slaughtered. The message is sent that some lives are more valuable than others, or as Teju Cole wrote in the New Yorker, that some bodies are simply "unmournable."
Thankfully, when the fear mongering, hypocrisy and intolerance are so obvious, calls for sensibility abound. But there's something more damaging in rationalizations for all of the above, thinly veiled as think pieces by socially accepted intellectuals -- Thomas Friedman, while not the only example, I'm talking to you.
Writing for the New York Times this week, Friedman called for a "million person march against the jihadists across the Arab-Muslim world, organized by Arabs and Muslims for Arabs and Muslims, without anyone in the West asking for it..." He fairly pointed out the double standards from the U.S. in our relationship to Saudi Arabia and the geopolitical games played by Arab nations by deepening the Shiite/Sunni divide. But Friedman's call for a Muslim march also furthers the simplistic notion that we live in a binary world where it's "us vs. them," or "the West vs. Islam" -- he just doesn't want to admit it. What about pluralism, the roughly 5 million Muslims that live in France, nearly 2.6 million in the United States, or millions of others anywhere else? Then again, Friedman has throughout the years supported a foreign policy that perpetuates that same alienating sentiment, and yet refuses to take any responsibility for feeding that divisive thinking because... American Exceptionalism.
After advocating for the invasion of Iraq, and later defending it by saying that American soldiers should tell Muslims to "suck on this", Friedman's answer to the death of hundreds of thousands and displacement of millions in that country caused by the war was "It's Up to Iraqi's Now. Good Luck". His answer to the release of the Senate's Torture Report wasn't for the intelligence community to march against those who had put a stain on our record and hold officials accountable, but simply, "We're Still Always Americans". And after Edward Snowden leaked documents exposing a vast surveillance apparatus that swallowed up the communications of millions of innocent people worldwide, Friedman reminded us that 9/11 happened. He trades in the currency of fear just like those he criticizes and sheds liability when it's convenient.
It's easy to lay blame on everyone else's shoulders, from placing the responsibility to fix terrorism on Arab nations, to solely attributing it's rise to the aggressive and Imperial West. Those are over simplifications thought-pushers like Friedman so bravely avoid, but dressing up divisive ideas and support for state sanctioned violence with language that sounds less extreme isn't part of the solution, it's part of the problem.
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