We must mourn all victims. But until we look honestly at the violence we export, nothing will ever change
Any time there is an attack on civilians in the post-9/11 West, demagogues immediately blame it on Muslims. They frequently lack evidence, but depend on the blunt force of anti-Muslim bigotry to bolster their accusations.
Actual evidence, on the other hand, shows that less than two percent of terrorist attacks from 2009 to 2013 in the E.U. were religiously motivated. In 2013, just one percent of the 152 terrorist attacks were religious in nature; in 2012, less than three percent of the 219 terrorist attacks were inspired by religion.
The vast majority of terrorist attacks in these years were motivated by ethno-nationalism or separatism. In 2013, 55 percent of terrorist attacks were ethno-nationalist or separatist in nature; in 2012, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of terrorist attacks were inspired by ethno-nationalism or separatism.
These facts, nonetheless, have never stopped the prejudiced pundits from insisting otherwise.
On Friday the 13th of November, militants massacred at least 127 people in Paris in a series of heinous attacks.
There are many layers of hypocrisy in the public reaction to the tragedy that must be sorted through in order to understand the larger context in which these horrific attacks are situated — and, ultimately, to prevent such attacks from happening in the future.
As soon as the news of the attacks broke, even though there was no evidence and practically nothing was known about the attackers, a Who’s Who of right-wing pundits immediately latched on to the violence as an opportunity to demonize Muslims and refugees from Muslim-majority countries.
In a disgrace to the victims, a shout chorus of reactionary demagogues exploited the horrific attacks to distract from and even deny domestic problems. They flatly told Black Lives Matter activists fighting for basic civil and human rights, fast-food workers seeking liveable wages and union rights, and students challenging crippling debts that their problems are insignificant because they are not being held hostage at gunpoint.
More insidiously, when evidence began to suggest that extremists were responsible for the attacks, and when ISIS eventually claimed responsibility, the demagogues implied or even downright insisted that Islam — the religion of 1.6 billion people — was to blame, and that the predominately (although not entirely) Muslim refugees entering the West are only going to carry out more of such attacks.
Clampdown on Muslims and refugees
Every time Islamic extremists carry out an attack, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are expected to collectively apologize; it has become a cold cliché at this point.
Who benefits from such clampdown on Muslims and refugees?
Two primary groups: One, Islamic extremist groups themselves, who use the clampdown as “evidence” that there is supposedly no room for Muslims in the secular West that has declared war on Islam; and two, Europe’s growing far-right, who will use the attacks as “evidence” that there is supposedly no room for Muslims in the secular West that should declare war on Islam.
Although enemies, both groups share a congruence of interests. The far-right wants Muslims and refugees from Muslim-majority countries (even if they are not Muslim) to leave because it sees them as innately violent terrorists. Islamic extremists want Muslim refugees to leave so they can be radicalized and join their caliphate.
More specifically, to name names, ISIS and al-Qaeda will benefit from the clampdown on Muslims and refugees, and Europe’s growing far-right movement will continue to recruit new members with anti-Muslim and anti-refugee propaganda.
ISIS has explicitly stated that its goal is to make extinct what it calls the “grayzone” — that is to say, Western acceptance of Muslims. The “endangerment” of the grayzone “began with the blessed operations of September 11th, as those operations manifested two camps before the world for mankind to choose between, a camp of Islam … and a camp of kufr — the crusader coalition,” wrote ISIS in its own publication.
An excerpt from ISIS’ own publication (Credit: Iyad El-Baghdadi)
Demonstrating how right-wing and Islamic extremist logic intersect, ISIS actually favorably cited the black-and-white worldview shared ironically by both former President George W. Bush and his intractable foe, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. ISIS wrote: “As Shaykh Usamah Ibn Ladin said, ‘The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.'”
By making ISIS go viral, we are only helping them accomplish their sadistic goals.
In the meantime, France’s extreme right-wing National Front party stands to gain in particular. The party — which was founded by a neo-Nazi and is now led by his estranged daughter Marine Le Pen — constantly rails against Muslims, whom it hypocritically characterizes as Nazi occupiers. In 2014, a Paris court ruled it was fair to call the National Front “fascist.”
Before the Paris attacks, Le Pen’s extreme-right movement was France’s second-largest party. Now it may become the first.
The massacres that are ignored
There are hundreds of terrorist attacks in Europe every year. The ones that immediately fill the headlines of every news outlet, however, are the ones carried out by Muslims — not the ones carried out by ethno-nationalists or far-right extremists, which happen to be much more frequent.
Yet it is not just right-wing pundits and the media that give much more attention to attacks like those in Paris; heads of state frequently do so as well. Minutes after the Paris attacks, Presidents Hollande and Obama addressed the world, publicly lamenting the tragedy. Secretary John Kerry condemned them as “heinous, evil, vile acts.”
Notable was the official silence surrounding another horrific terrorist attack that took place only the day before. Two ISIS suicide bombers killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 230 in attacks on a heavily Shia Muslim community in Beirut on November 12. President Obama did not address the world and condemn the bombings, which comprised the worst attack in Beirut in years.
In fact, the opposite happened; the victims of the ISIS attacks were characterized in the U.S. media as Hezbollah human shields and blamed for their own deaths based on the unfortunate coincidence of their geographical location. Some right-wing pundits even went so far as to justify the ISIS attacks because they were assumed to be aimed at Hezbollah.
Nor did the White House interrupt every news broadcast to publicly condemn the ISIS massacre in Turkey in October that left approximately 128 people dead and 500 injured at a peaceful rally for a pro-Kurdish political party.
More strikingly, where were the heads of state when the Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition bombed a Yemeni wedding on September 28, killing 131 civilians, including 80 women? That massacre didn’t go viral, and Obama and Hollande did not apologize, yet alone barely even acknowledge the tragedy.
Do French lives matter more than Lebanese, Turkish, Kurdish, and Yemeni ones? Were these not, too, “heinous, evil, vile acts”?
We have seen this all before; it should be oddly familiar. The reaction to the horrific January 2015 Paris attacks was equally predictable; the knee-jerk Islamophobia ignored the crucial context for the tragic attack — namely the fact that it was was the catastrophic U.S.-led war on Iraq and torture at Abu Ghraib, not Charlie Hebdo cartoons, that radicalized the shooters. Also ignored was the fact that the extremist attackers were sons of émigrés from Algeria, a country that for decades bled profusely under barbarous French colonialism, which only ended after an even bloodier war of independence in 1962 that left hundreds of thousands of Algerians dead.
After the January Paris attacks, leaders from around the world — including officials from Western-backed extremist theocratic tyrannies like Saudi Arabia — gathered in Paris to supposedly participate in a march that turned out to actually be a carefully orchestrated and cynical photo op.
And not only are Muslims collectively blamed for such attacks; they, too, collectively bear the brunt of the backlash.
In just six days after the January attacks, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia documented 60 incidents of Islamophobic attacks and threats in France. TellMAMA, a U.K.-based organization that monitors racist anti-Muslim attacks, also reported 50-60 threats.