Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Charlie Hebdo Slayings In Paris

The first thing I want to say is that until the French authorities have definitively established the perpetrators of this atrocity, it doesn't do to leap to conclusions in pinning blame. Remember how in the aftermath of the Madrid rail bombings, the Spanish government blamed the Basque Separatists, so that when it turned out to be Islamic terrorists, they were made to seem completely out of touch and unable to protect their population and promptly got booted out of power at the election that followed soon after. That's how terrorism works, it engenders a sense in the population that they are vulnerable and unprotected by the powers that are charged with just that responsibility.

I am not taking it for granted that Islamic terrorists carried out this attack. But if one was a betting man, they would be the favourites, but the fact that we have a multi-billion global betting industry shows that the favourite doesn't always come in. However, this is such a specialised target (I'd never heard of the magazine before), a bit like going in and shooting up the offices of "Private Eye", whoever is responsible it represents an attack of the right to free expression. Satire is a means of poking fun and subverting whatever it is targeting and while that may cause offence, it is not illegal, it doesn't point a gun at anyone and it doesn't pull a trigger on anything except to fire words or images into the pool of human thought and cogitation.

Yet when people wring their hands about such an injustice, or that the right of free expression is inalienable, or even use the word 'atrocity', they are frankly failing to deal with the issues. Gunmen who would shoot up a magazine office full off journalists have a very different concept of justice than all the handwringers. They seek to make free expression a wholly alienable right, through the force of the bullet. Of course it is an atrocity in our eyes, but in theirs it is an act to politically advance their cause. These assassins are not troubled by the act of murder of unarmed civilians. Chances are they see themselves at war with that which they are opposing. Words like 'atrocity' actually manage to tamp down further useful discussion, because it admits that this act is so incomprehensible, so off the scale of understanding, that there is nothing more that can be added. Wrong.

There is nothing wrong with demonstrations of solidarity. I've heard suggestions of playing the Marseilleise outside Buckingham Palace, through to republishing the Hebdo front page cartoon in every magazine and newspaper front page tomorrow. I get these symbolic acts of standing together. I get the need for them too, representing both a collective grief and a show of strength. But what people need to do and I've said this consistently in books and blog posts, is not throw up our hands in disgusted stymied defeat at these acts being beyond the pale, but to come to understand how the terrorist thinks, acts and conceives. If we persist in dismissing something as unjust by our standards, then we will never come to comprehend his view of the just and the unjust. If we continue to vaguely wave a banner promoting free speech, then we fail to appreciate the nature of its threat to the terrorist, how and why he targets the agencies he does. If we blithely ascribe an outrage as an atrocity, then we miss how this is just business to their minds, their modus operandi. What lies behind, what are their aims, what generates their support, what are the economic, psychologically, social and cultural roots behind people becoming terrorists?

Time to get on the front foot people. And as the first act, that would be definitively determining who was responsible for this attack. It's no longer acceptable to ask 'how can this happen?' or 'how can there be people who act like this?' without also seeking the answer.

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