By Seamus Milne Extract from Guardian article 15 Jan. 2015
Just as there is a blindness in sections of progressive France about how the secular ideology used to break the grip of the powerful is now used to discipline the powerless, the right to single out one religion for abuse has been raised to the status of a core liberal value.
The absurdity was there for all to see at the “Je suis Charlie” demonstration in Paris on Sunday. A march supposedly to defend freedom of expression was led by serried ranks of warmongers and autocrats: from Nato war leaders and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu to Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s foreign minister, who between them have jailed, killed and flogged any number of journalists while staging massacres and interventions that have left hundreds of thousands dead, bombing TV stations from Serbia to Afghanistan as they go.
The scene was beyond satire. But it also highlighted the central role of the war on terror in the Paris atrocities, and how the serried ranks are likely to use them for their own ends. Of course, the cocktail of causes and motivations for the attacks are complex: from an inheritance of savage colonial brutality in Algeria via poverty, racism, criminality and takfiri jihadist ideology.
But without the war waged by western powers, including France, to bring to heel and reoccupy the Arab and Muslim world, last week’s attacks clearly wouldn’t have taken place. That war on terror has lasted 13 years – even if attempts to control the region long predate it – unleashing brutality and destruction on a vast scale.
It’s what the killers say themselves. The Kouachi brothers were radicalised by the Iraq war and trained in Yemen by al-Qaida. Cherif Kouachi insisted the attacks had been carried out in revenge for the “children of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria”. Ahmed Coulibaly said they were a response to France’s attacks on Isis, while claiming the supermarket slaughter was revenge for the deaths of Muslims in Palestine.
Such wanton killings are, of course, entirely counterproductive to the causes they are supposed to promote – and the targets, shaped by a reactionary religious framework, feed the idea that these are some mutant product of European cultural wars. But there were no such attacks in Europe before 2001. The apparent exception was the Paris bombings of 1995, a direct spillover from Algeria’s civil war and France’s role in it. Instead, a form of violent fundamentalism fostered in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan 30 years ago has blown back into western heartlands.
France famously refused to take part in the US-British aggression against Iraq. But it has been making up for lost time ever since, sending troops to Afghanistan, intervening in one African state after another, from Libya and Mali to Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic, bombing Iraq and backing Syrian rebels. Like Britain, France has been arming and garrisoning the Gulf autocrats, while the French president has declared himself a “partner” to the Egyptian dictator Sisi and “ready” to bomb Libya again.
The former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who led opposition to the Iraq war, this week described Isis as the “deformed child” of western policy. The west’s wars in the Muslim world “always nourish new wars” and “terrorism among us”, he wrote, while “we simplify” these conflicts “by seeing only the Islamist symptom”.
He’s right – but he’s not one of the serried ranks who will use the latest attacks to justify more military intervention. Given what has taken place over the past decade, Europeans are fortunate that terrorist outrages have been relatively rare. But a price has been paid in loss of freedoms, growing antisemitism and rampant Islamophobia. So long as we allow this war to continue indefinitely, the threats will grow. In a globalised world, there’s no insulation. What happens there ends up happening here too.