Notes From the Margins…

Nice and the Atrocity Factory

  • July 16, 2016
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Yesterday evening I was driving to play a game of tennis, when I heard the sounds of screaming people on the radio being mown down  by a truck  in Nice.  I immediately turned it off. This isn’t because I think I have some privileged right to ignore such horrors.  But I don’t need to hear the sounds of children being murdered to know that what took place in Nice is utterly sad and tragic and yet another outrageous crime that disgraces the name of humanity.

And I know that  the narcissistic murderers who carry out such attacks and the bloodthirsty morons who celebrate them want me to be watching.

Like the psychopathic Tooth Fairy in Michael Mann’s Manhunter  such men want their audience to ‘feel awe’ at their ability to transmit atrocity-spectacles through a mass media that thrives on such phenomena.  Both the man driving the truck and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ that has ‘claimed responsibility’ for Thursday’s slaughter have arrived in that moral wasteland inhabited by the great murderers of history, in which it is possible to kill anyone without mercy or restraint.

They see themselves as heroes and avengers. They want me to feel afraid of them.  I just feel disgust, shame and sorrow.   No use calling them ‘beasts’ or ‘animals’, because animals don’t behave like this. These men are humans, even if they strip their victims of any semblance of humanity.

We call such men ‘terrorists’ to establish some kind of moral distinction between us and them, and the use of the t-word immediately gives their actions a new moral and political significance, so that even the truck that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel used as a weapon becomes a ‘terror truck’, as the Sun called it today.

Politicians fall back on the same rhetorical devices.  We hear that these attacks were aimed at ‘us’ – a first person plural that almost always refers to non-Muslims regardless of the fact that far greater numbers of Muslims than westerners have been murdered by Daesh and groups like it.   Nearly two hundred Iraqis died in a single bombing in Baghdad the previous week, compared with 84 in Nice – yet as always, attacks on westerners become attacks on  our ‘values’ and ‘freedoms’ and our ‘way of life.’

Such depictions ignore the strategic purpose behind these outrages:  to create an unbridgeable chasm between Muslims and non-Muslims in order to drive European Muslims Daesh’s dystopian slave state even as it crumbles away.

None of this has anything to do with ‘our’ freedoms or values.

Today I watched an American ‘security expert’ warning of the danger to France from Muslim ghettoes where the population only obeyed ‘Sharia law’ not French law.   There might be marginalized and segregated areas where mostly Muslim populations live in a state of what we politely call ‘social exclusion’ – but I have never heard any conclusive evidence that such populations live under ‘Sharia law.’

And of course we have a host of pundits informing us that we are ‘at war’ – another essential component of the terror-spectacle.   This is true in the sense that every atrocity in Europe is part of a continuum of violence that extends from European capitals to Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and even further afield.

But it is precisely the wars and interventions that we have waged so gratuitously over the last sixteen years that have created the context in which organizations like ISIS can thrive and present themselves as Islamic holy warriors in a global battlefield.

Had our governments not done this, had they responded to the 9/11 attacks with a measured, calibrated and law enforcement-driven response to al Qaeda,  we might not have been in the situation we are now in.   Had our governments not chosen to bomb and invade one Muslim country after another, we might have drained the crucial – however spurious – legitimacy that groups like AQ and its offshoots have drawn on repeatedly to present their actions as defensive or reciprocal.

So many what ifs?

I’m not suggesting that there would have been no problem or at all if these things had not happened, or that every act of mass murder perpetrated by Islamic extremists  is some kind of response to western foreign policy.   But the problem might not have been as pervasive as it is now, had our governments not launched themselves into the various ‘wars on terror’ to ‘make us safe’, which have made nobody safe at all – not over here or over there.

Despite these failures, Marine Le Pen would like to ‘begin’ the ‘war’ against ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ that according to her, hasn’t been fought yet.  How should it be fought?  She doesn’t say.  But others have been saying it for a long time. Forced assimilation; mass expulsions and deportations; turn Muslim cities into car parks; European civil wars; ‘making life harder for Muslims across the board’ – we’ve all heard variants on what this ‘war’ might look like.

In the wake of the Nice attacks, Newt Gingrich has proposed  that all American Muslims should be ‘tested’ to see if they believe in ‘Sharia law’ – and expelled if they do.  Such notions are not only completely impractical – what does a drunk, wife-beating depressive petty criminal who rarely went near a mosque have to do with ‘Sharia law’? – they have nothing to do with freedom or democracy and reek of incipient fascism.

Daesh doesn’t believe that Muslims have any place in the West – that’s one thing they share with the far right.  It’s safe to assume that they would be extremely happy with persecution, deportations, and ethnic strife in the United States or Europe.

For that reason alone, we shouldn’t want to give them that victory, though some clearly don’t care if we do.   There is no doubt that we  face an extraordinarily complex terrorist emergency that is both local and global, whose provocations are designed ‘intensify the calamities’ and force supposedly democratic societies to reveal their ‘true’ repressive face.

We must resist that temptation.  We – Muslims and non-Muslims – must continue the search for a world based on collective security and peaceful coexistence, on tolerance, justice and mutual respect.   All governments have the obligation to protect their populations, but too many governments have used terrorist-spectacles like Nice as a justification for wars and interventions that have only increased the risks we face.

For this reason terrorism is too important to be left to governments and politicians.  And no matter how many terror-spectacles Daesh and its cohorts perpetrate, no matter how many times they brag that they love death more than we love life, we must pick up the pieces afterwards and mourn those whose lives have been cut short.

And then we must move forward together towards our common future with as much serenity and conviction as we can muster, and  continue the search for a world in which these suicide-cum-mass murderers will have no place.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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