There’s an old Kenyan proverb that says A hyena cannot smell its own stench. Essentially it means sometimes one cannot see his/her own faults, or to put it differently, it’s harder for a person to see their own faults, no matter how obvious those faults appear to be to others. Indeed it might be inferred from this proverb that it is necessary for outsiders to be present, to pinpoint where the error(s) in one’s ways is(are), to save them embarrassment. i.e. Mr Hyena, you stink, do yourself a big favour and take a bath.
This proverb in many ways explains the deluge of polarizing views that have erupted since last week’s attack in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Since then, the internet has been on fire with opinions about terrorism.
Immediately following the attacks, there were many rational voices that came together in solidarity to condemn what were undeniably murderous attacks of cowardice, and try to make sense on what it means for journalism, for freedom of expression, and for public security. There were also some irrational voices that somehow tried to justify the violence with a reported 40,000 tweets across the world supporting the attackers. Indeed the hashtag #IamCharlie although significantly more popular couldn’t obscure the #IamNotCharlie hashtag. Predictably, there were those who erroneously and irresponsibly blamed the wider Muslim community for the attacks, with Newscorp International’s owner Rupert Murdoch tweeting:
A march of 4 million people in Paris demonstrated how big an impact the attacks have had, not only in France, but across thed world, and several political leaders flew into France to participate in a march linking arms in a chain of solidarity. There was an outpouring of sympathy from across the world.
Sales of the 1st issue of the Charlie Hebdo since the attacks have surpassed 3 million copies, and another additional 2 million copies have been printed to fulfill demand. According to a Yahoo news source the print run has been increased to 7 million!
Among the various forums of opinions over the atrocious attack were journalists like those at the Guardian who here (via YouTube) hosted a broadcast exploring the issues of free speech, terrorism and freedom of expression, chaired by Giles Fraser. There was also this video, on Democracy Now (a daily independent Global News hour) that had guests contributors including Tariq Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, John R. MacArthur – publisher of Harper’s Magazine, and Art Spiegelman, the renowned American cartoonist whose Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus” is considered one of the most important graphic novels ever published.
After poring over 30 articles from newspapers and blog posts, after watching/listening to tens of interviews and podcasts from various sources ranging from those produced by big media houses like the BBC, CNN, Russia Today and Al Jazeera to those by freelance journalists and other much smaller independent podcasters/publications (including this about the unfortunate backlash against the muslim community), after scrolling through pro and anti Charlie Hebdo cartoons, including those drawn up since the attacks, I think I have identified what could be the backbone and undeniable facts that emanate from this event.
What follows is not only a personal opinion and theory, but also a review of what I consider to be the more sensible views or at least as close to my definition of sensible and rational as anything else I’ve encountered. I’d like to think of it as a snapshot in time of the ingredients necessary to not only greatly reduce the threat of terrorism, but also to achieve increased harmony between communities.
To illustrate what I’m talking about, lets take photosynthesis as a simple analogy.
Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy (normally from the Sun – although not necessarily so) into chemical energy. In this process, it’s necessary for all the conditions to be just right for photosynthesis to happen optimally. Take away some of the ingredients, or interfere with the conditions and you won’t get a satisfactory result.
In my theory, Radicalization is the main end product we are trying to avoid, and below I’ll argue semi-mathematically that if you add/remove certain contributory factors / “ingredients” out of ‘the equation’, you can in fact greatly reduce radicalization and its aftereffects. This to me makes perfect sense because taking the example of photosynthesis, even at low light intensity, or with reduced carbon di-oxide and water, some photosynthesis will still take place, although at a much lesser rate. So firstly the photosynthesis equation:-
My point with all this?
Not everything is as straightforward as it first appears. It’s necessary to ‘zoom in’ to see what is really going on
The issue of how disaffected young men end up being radicalized to the point of orchestrating a murderous and terrorist attack is a lot more complex. Often the process begins many years before…. and understanding its complexity, and reducing (or removing / interfering with) the factors that lead to the radicalization IS KEY to reducing terrorism. Prescribing half-cooked measures in an attempt to address such chaos will not be effective in the long-term, and could even invite more harm.
In the Guardian Live piece above, someone (I think she said her name is Iman Imrani) from the audience who is half Algerian and half British and is a freelance writer for the Guardian presents a perspective which I find disturbing but truthful – yet missing in most other analyses I’ve read, listened to or watched. At 41 minutes 37 seconds she says:
…I, Yesterday I didn’t want to say too much because when I first saw what had happened, my reaction, my first thought was this is absolutely terrible, imagine if this had happened here. My reaction as a human, as a journalist reaction, it was not Oh God is it one of us, that was not my first reaction. But slowly as the day went, I started to get asked by people..how muslim I was, how devout I was, someone asked me if I prayed, I felt very uncomfortable with that… ..First of all, one thing that is very important to do is recognise that what happened yesterday happened in Paris, and the suspects are half Algerian, ok so they are muslims but they are not muslims necessarily in the sense as some people…I’ve seen some people talking about them as if they are the same as British muslims. Well, British Muslims are predominantly like Pakistani communities is quite a large community here, but Algerians in France, they have a completely different social background, and political background, and the relationship between the French and the Algerians is very complex, it’s not just about Islam it’s not just about religion, there’s a whole history there, there its only sixty years since the beginning of the Algerian Revolution, and there’s still a lot of pain there, and if you don’t understand the relationship between the North Africans and the French, you really can’t sit here and have a discussion about what happened yesterday and about Islam because that is very fundamental …. In 1961 there was a massacre of Algerians in Paris. They went out to protest in the street because there was a…a restriction on muslims being out in the street after 8pm, so they went out in the street to protest this because it was essentially ….a racist regulation on muslims. They went out, the police came, and they were very violent, they killed, well some people say 200, and other people say…well the official figure is 40., but it took 40 years for the French government to recognise that 40 Algerians had been killed by the Police. The Media did not report that….
Context that reminded me of just how easy it is in circumstances such as the Paris massacre to get carried away with emotion and generalise. How easy it is to bundle up everyone including innocent people in one category; how easy it is to dismiss fears or feelings that you yourself do not physically feel. a common western attitude of stereotyping that can be observed throughout history, and perfectly captured in the political thriller drama directed by Mira Nair, the Reluctant Fundamentalist.
In order to understand how this works, watch Sam Richard’s A radical experiment in empathy.
Similarly, there are credible arguments noting the similarities between France’s violence against the Roman Catholic Church in the 18th century with the prevailing French attitude to Islam today, probably most evident in the ban on the headscarf in schools (2004) and niqab in public life in 2010, except this time its in the 21st century. While I agree with others who have provided an in-depth perspective (for example this article by a Frenchman), to me religious symbols such as the headscarf appear to be an easy target, and raises the question: if crosses or yarmulkes are acceptable, why should muslims be penalised just because their religious symbols are more conspicuous?
I also encountered serene views as those of Rabbi Michael Lerner, who writing for the Huffington Post says
….And when the horrific assassinations of 12 media people and the wounding of another 12 media workers resulted in justifiable outrage around the world, did you ever wonder why there wasn’t an equal outrage at the tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed by the American intervention in Iraq or the over a million civilians killed by the U.S. in Vietnam, or why President Obama refused to bring to justice the CIA torturers of mostly Muslim prisoners, thereby de facto giving future torturers the message that they need not even be sorry for their deeds (indeed, former Vice President Cheney boldly asserted he would order that kind of torture again without thinking twice)?… He goes on to say that: …Similarly, the media has refused to even consider what it would mean to a French Muslim, living among Muslims who are economically marginalized and portrayed as nothing but terrorists, their religious garb banned in public, their religion demeaned, to encounter a humor magazine that ridiculed the one thing that gives them some sense of community and higher purpose, namely Mohammed and the religion he founded…
The sentiment can best be summed up by this quote by Noam Chomsky:
“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”
The war against terrorism, is terrorism, and unfortunately as long as hypocrisy remains, there will not be peace.
Some disaffected people will use the hypocrissy as a reason to harm others. Here, and to reinforce my point ask yourself this question: how many muslim medical doctors, or muslim chartered accountants or muslim pharmacists, or muslim chartered engineers, or successful muslim businessmen/women, or other distinguished muslim professionals have left their professions and loving families in Europe or America to go and join the murderous jihadi madness that is ISIS?
And this hypocrisy extends to the indiscriminate killing of innocent people with drones in Yemen, it extends to clandestine activities by the US military during the Iraqi wars, it extends to forced regime change in Iraq and Libya, the detention and torture of predominantly muslim suspects at Guantanamo, it extends to the treatment of Palestinians – tolerating Israel’s impunity, when any other country would have been punished, it extends to the West’s military activities in Egypt and Syria.
Western countries MUST stop this kind of hypocrissy.
Instead of continuing down such a divisive and hypocritical path that values people differently depending on skin-colour, race and nationality, the principle of do unto others as unto self should be embraced. It will save lives. Indeed very little can challenge the notion that all people are equal before God and before the law and should be given the same universal treatment, be they rich, poor, muslim, non-muslim, christian, atheist, white-skinned, brown-skinned, black-skinned, straight, gay and everything else between such categories. Anything less will backfire.
In addition, there has also been a lot of talk about equality, and equal opportunities. The Film director Luc Besson in his open letter to young muslims says …In some suburbs, unemployment for people under 25 is 50%. You are marginalised because of your colour or your first name. You’re questioned 10 times a day, you’re crowded into apartment blocks and no one represents you. Who could live and thrive under such conditions?..
Essentially, it is highly probable that the Kouachi brothers or other marginalised muslims did not have the same level of access to a quality education and to work opportunities as those open to their mostly white non-muslim French contemporaries.
Anyone with an outsider’s view will quickly tell you that the whole equal opportunities blurb is a myth. There are too few opportunities for which minorities across Europe benefit, and the same situation can be observed here in the UK. As researchers Dr Nabil Khattab and Professor Ron Johnston found using data from the Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey of more than half a million people, British Muslims face worst job discrimination of any minority Group.
The underlying problem is that when hyenas are surrounded by other hyenas, and both groups are either unwilling to consider unfamiliar and uncomfortable views expressed by those considered by the Hyena Society to be inferior or unworthy, or when the hyena leaders are too arrogant or detached to admit wrongdoing, nobody gets to hear what must be said. And the misleading fallacy continues to prevail, with pretty much all hyenas thinking that there is no stench. Until something like the attack at Charlie Hebdo occurs.
This is exactly what has happened across Europe.
It is racism, discrimination and other forms of bias that have created divergent societies: the French/ British / European / … society that is predominantly white on one side …and the ethnic minority – immigrant society of everyone else on the other. Consequently, the number of opportunities one has in society be they access to a quality education, employment or even access to capital with which to start a small business differ greatly depending on which side you fall into. Genital credit as a basis for segregation. For the majority of children of non-white immigrants, citizens born in France, Britain, Germany etc… most of whom come from already financially deprived families this undeniable marginalisation breeds resentment. They can see that they are treated differently. And they know why.
If thousands of young people are unable to get a good education; when prestigious schools do not make enough of an effort to attract ethnic minorities, when employers discriminate against minorities when hiring; it’s no surprise that most young people from ethnic minority backgrounds are either unemployed, or if they have a job, are employed in low-level roles, if not family businesses that have little social mobility prospects. In such circumstances, desperation can take hold; a lot can go wrong, and hate preachers begin to look appealing. Young people can do stupid things which they will deeply regret many years later.
To put it differently watch this clip by Mohamed Ali, a young Somali human rights advocate whose mission is to fights terrorism with entrepreneurship:
Further, there has been less focus on Education in recent years across the muslim world. Instead there has been a lot more focus on armed conflict. This won’t help much. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot by members of the Taliban, who is now an activist and youngest Nobel Prize Laureate said the best way to fight terrorism is to educate the next generation. I agree, if you want to defeat terrorism, start by building schools. Even Tony Blair (like him or hate him) thinks the same. In any case, we already know that violence breeds contempt and resentment. So, even as I provided a link earlier on this blog titled AFGHANISTAN: MIRAGE OF THE GOOD WAR, written in March 2008 in relation to Afghanistan which includes the statement:
Meanwhile, the number of Afghan civilians killed has exceeded many tens of times over the 2,746 who died in Manhattan. Unemployment is around 60 per cent and maternal, infant and child mortality levels are now among the highest in the world
It goes on to say that …
The largest pool for new Taliban recruits, according to a well-informed recent estimate, has been ‘communities antagonized by the local authorities and security forces’.
Surely intensive educational investment should go some way in opening up minds.
In addition, it is somewhat idiotic to sideline countries like Russia And Iran in the fight against extremism when their manpower and military might could help fight the extremists. At a time when the US is now talking to Cuba over cooperation and easing the trade embargo against Havanna, when economic links with Vietnam were relaxed many years ago despite the humiliation of the Vietnam war, and little suspicion if any remains. Why not embrace those who look like, talk like and believe in the same things as the people you are trying to help?If we refer back to our earlier hyena proverb, we’ll see that alliances with countries we don’t necessarily agree with means our own inherent inadequacies can be revealed to us. The US and its allies must accept Iran’s contribution to the fight against terror.
Thus, if you throw into the equation institutional harassment (police stop and search; the authorities targeting of minorities); if you throw in negative experiences in prison (for those whose stupid youthful antics gets them into jail) – and the influence of hate preachers that closely follows; if we account for anti-immigrant nationalist political parties – who won’t stop scapegoating minorities, blaming them for every ill in society; if you allow for falling standards of living; if you throw in islamophobia; the insensitive and provocative satire of publications such as Charlie Hebdo; frequent news of tax-evasion on an industrial scale by corporations, and if we add in the inflammatory views of the right-wing lobby (Views neatly summed by this clip from Russel Brand’s trews – where it becomes increasingly clear that fat cats in fact benefit from polarization are partly to blame), then suddenly the picture looks rather fuzzy.
Furthermore, the leaders of the muslim community need to take a leading role in confronting the hate ideology perpetrated by islamic fundamentalists within their societies. It is crucial for leaders of the muslim community to take a leading role in confronting hate preachers. Because hate preachers are often the ones who communicate the toxic ideology that preys on disaffected young muslims.
Here, I must admit that I’m not too sure whether it is the case that not enough muslim leaders are denouncing extremism, or whether its more that the muslim leaders who choose to speak up are not given enough exposure… that they are not given enough airtime. But the point remains, we don’t hear enough of their endeavours in the mainstream media. And that probably provides a false picture to the public as to what their anti-fundamentalist efforts are.
Let me put it to you this way: UKIP has received far more air-time coverage than moderate muslims who are working hard to defeat Islamic fundamentalism in their communities. Usually you have to dig into YouTube to find this kind of content, as it’s not on the BBC or CNN.
Thus, because of a combination of some of the factors mentioned above, the western media cannot be effective in confronting hate preachers – nobody will listen to them (not when half the time they seem to be drumming up what appears to be anti-muslim views or at least views that are hostile to muslims). Politicians (who are often accused of hypocrisy) have no credibility in the eyes of a considerable number of moderate muslims. It’s not really the place of other religious leaders (for example how many muslims will seriously regard what the Pope says?)
So its down to leaders of the muslim community. They have a responsibility to condemn violence and extremism, and to safeguard their moderate faith against extremism. Only muslim leaders will be most effective in truly reinforcing the notion of freedom of expression (as defined by the law of the land) to their congregations because their members listen to them. So, it will not be the police, secret service, newspapers, politicians or imprisonment who/which will win over the hearts and minds of young muslims. It will be the Imams. They must be supported in whichever way possible to achieve that aim, and they must firmly communicate to their congregations that in a secular society, in non-muslim countries with multiple cultures, Islam will be treated just like any other religion. If other religions can be criticised, their icons satirised, their beliefs mocked and their prophets caricatured … then the same can happen to Islam. At least within the jurisdiction that such ‘journalism’ is not unlawful.
There cannot be special treatment of any religion. There must not be special treatment of any religion. That’s the only way in which people of different faiths (or no faiths at all) can peaceably co-exist together. Tolerance is key. Trying to ‘muzzle’ satire will not help moderate muslims. That is why the recent criticism by some prominent muslims of the most recent issue of Charlie Hebdo, no matter how offensive they deem the magazine to be, doesn’t help anti-extremism efforts. Not at all.
So, in conclusion, I’m not saying that doing all this will instantly lead to less terrorist attacks. No, that’s not what I’m saying. Instead my point is if the factors I’ve listed above were rectified and addressed, its highly likely that radicalization as we know it would greatly reduce – leading to much less terrorist offences.
This approach certainly has a greater chance of success than any of the current approaches.
Similar links worth looking at