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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 9 JANUARY, 2015

CHARLIE HEBDO ATTACK: MANUFACTURING CONSENT AGAIN?

Massive demonstration in Paris after the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine office


NEW DELHI: The dastardly attack on Charlie Hebdo has to be condemned in the strongest possible words. As there can be no justification for violence that kills 12 innocent persons in what is widely perceived to be an attack on free media and free speech.

But having said that the attack carries many messages and lessons that need to be understood, as nothing is in isolation, and can be understood and more importantly dealt with only in perspective.

Noam Chomsky recently astounded many, when after details of the CIA report on torture were known he described the United States as the “world’s leading terrorist state.” And perhaps terrorism as the kind on display in Paris and elsewhere needs to be understood in the light of what might seem like an extreme position to some but is now verified by facts that its own report of operations that the media has not highlighted sufficiently, but that blur the distinction between the legal and the illegal and legitimise violence just because it is being carried out by the state.

Chomsky is amongst the main voices that are not carried across the globe by the well supported and oiled propaganda machinery, that seek to place terrorism in a perspective. As he has written in an article after the CIA torture report was made public, “Washington has also emerged as the world champion in generating terror. Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar warns of the "resentment-generating impact of the U.S. strikes" in Syria, which may further induce the jihadi organizations Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State toward "repairing their breach from last year and campaigning in tandem against the U.S. intervention by portraying it as a war against Islam.

That is by now a familiar consequence of U.S. operations that have helped to spread jihadism from a corner of Afghanistan to a large part of the world.

Jihadism's most fearsome current manifestation is the Islamic State, or ISIS, which has established its murderous caliphate in large areas of Iraq and Syria.

"I think the United States is one of the key creators of this organization," reports former CIA analyst Graham Fuller, a prominent commentator on the region. "The United States did not plan the formation of ISIS," he adds, "but its destructive interventions in the Middle East and the War in Iraq were the basic causes of the birth of ISIS."

To this we may add the world's greatest terrorist campaign: Obama's global project of assassination of "terrorists." The "resentment-generating impact" of those drone and special-forces strikes should be too well known to require further comment.

This is a record to be contemplated with some awe.”

After 9/11 an environment of violence in the name of tackling terror was deliberately created. The playing field was the oil rich Middle East that also has Islam as the dominant religion. And governments were brought down in quick succession, even as coups and so called revolutions were encouraged, with military might. Detentions, torture became the order of the day as thousands were arrested, tortured with many acquitted. One of the three responsible for the massacre in Paris was arrested and detained for 18 months on terror charges. And later acquitted.

Iraq did not have a day of terrorism until the US invasion and its demonstration of ‘shock and awe’ that the embedded media justified. Entire villages were wiped out in the attack, and it must be remembered that the sanction for the invasion came not from terrorism but from weapons of mass destruction. When these were not found, the reasons for the military attack centered around ‘dictator’ Saddam Hussain, all of which was finally merged into the cesspool of ‘terrorism’ and the justification for state violence arising out of that. Iraq today is in the grip of violence, and has become the birthplace of the lethal and ruthless Islamic State that seems to have replaced the al Qaeda that seems almost reasonable when compared to the heavily armed, video savvy IS militants.

There is thus a vicious cycle, of violence begetting violence. And the extremely violent ‘war on terror’ that turned states into ‘terrorist states’ as Chomsky has so eloquently explained, has not just justified but also legitimised military action against civilians, detention without evidence, torture and death leading to severe unrest, suffering and trauma across several nations not just restricted to West Asia. The justification has also been sought through a media machinery propagating unusually high levels of Islamophobia with the terror attacks of the Paris kind of course feeding into the entire discourse.

Again intellectuals and writers conversant with the Middle East have started sounding warning bells. The effort, though just a drop in the sea created by those seeking to utilise it for political ends, is to prevent the reaction to the Paris attack from becoming yet another spoke in the wheel of hate and divisiveness. And to keep the perspective from engulfing the entire Muslim community into the cesspool being deliberately created by right wing states and the right wing Islamists who almost seem to be working together. As Juan Cole, an American scholar writes in an informed comment for the BBC after the Paris terror attack: “The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance).

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

The operatives who carried out this attack exhibit signs of professional training. They spoke unaccented French, and so certainly know that they are playing into the hands of Marine LePen and the Islamophobic French Right wing. They may have been French, but they appear to have been battle hardened. This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram). Ironically, there are reports that one of the two policemen they killed was a Muslim.”

The indoctrination for the actual perpetrators of the attack might be the cartoons, but the calibrators want the reaction to target Muslims in Europe and strengthen the right wing forces into a vicious, violent cycle that feeds into the larger conspiracy of turning the world against itself. The progressive forces have been dramatically weakened in this hate feeding on hate cycle, with the right wing sweeping across Europe even as it settles into the US and of course Israel. At the same time the continuing violence against ‘terror’ by the state gives new recruits to the terror organisations, making each avatar more lethal and ruthless.

The attack is thus not against the media per se but it does raise the question about the freedom, and along with it the role of the media. Of course there is a natural tendency to defend the publication attacked so heinously, and imbue it with virtues it never really had. Normally this would be fine, but in the present day context it carries with it the dangers of subjugating the role of the media, and what it should be, under the garb of what can be simply called ‘cover.’ As an Irish commentator and writer Richard Seymour put it, “Now, I think there’s a critical difference between solidarity with the journalists who were attacked, refusing to concede anything to the idea that journalists are somehow “legitimate targets,” and solidarity with what is frankly a racist publication…..

….We have been reminded of the perils of such “you’re with us or against us” campism throughout the “war on terror.” ,,,,The argument will be that for the sake of “good taste” we need “a decent interval” before we start criticizing Charlie Hebdo. But given the scale of the ongoing anti-Muslim backlash in France, the big and frightening anti-Muslim movements in Germany, and the constant anti-Muslim scares in the UK, and given the ideological purposes to which this atrocity will be put, it is essential to get this right.”

And getting it right is to that in the follow up to the attack the perspective is not lost in dramatic sensationalism that has become the norm after every terror attack. More so, as it is this media propagation that creates illusions and distorts reality. The reality here is that Charlie Hebdo was running what many consider an offensive campaign, crossing what are the guidelines of ethical journalism that does not intrude into private lives and into religious beliefs. This is important as freedom of the media is important, but the freedom can never be absolute, and has to come with responsibility. And while no one can support the terror attack perhaps Seymour sums it up well when he says, “No, the offices of Charlie Hebdo should not be raided by gun-wielding murderers. No, journalists are not legitimate targets for killing. But no, we also shouldn’t lineup with the inevitable statist backlash against Muslims, or the ideological charge to defend a fetishized, racialized “secularism,” or concede to the blackmail which forces us into solidarity with a racist institution.”

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