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Seema Mustafa | 13 JANUARY, 2015

Lessons From Charlie Hebdo: Muslim Bastards or Roses in The Abyss

….throw roses into the abyss and say: 'here is my thanks to the monster who didn't succeed in swallo


NEW DELHI: A smart young nephew working in a multinational company and living in a city in the United States was waiting to take a lift up to his apartment. A woman resident passed by, stared at him and stopped long enough to say, “well I hope we are not going to have any troubles from the likes of you!”

In far away New Delhi--post the Paris terror attack--- individuals received a series of ‘hate’ tweets and social media messages mocking at their support for those ‘muslim terrorists’ or for just being ‘Muslims’ themselves. The tweets sought to place the responsibility for the gruesome attack on the satirical magazine on the select targets here, with a ‘ha ha, so what do you have to say now’ being the more polite version of the abusive vitriol that poured out flooded the social media.

Writings suggesting the need for a perspective were countered with ‘you are terrorists’ abuse, and Muslims as always asked to explain the genesis of this attack. The less aggressive amongst those who like to be clubbed with the ‘we’ insisted, “but at least Muslims should protest and condemn this incident, I do not see that happening.” It has happened from all across the world except that the ‘we’ have chosen not to see it. Muslim groups have again jumped as if to the crack of a whip to denounce the violence, as if somehow they indeed were responsible for the three madmen who took the law and a polluted and indoctrinated version of justice into their own hands.

The writings on the wall are now being scrawled by permanent ink in bold colours. ‘Disaster’ reads the message but the interpretations and attitudes vary. There is the majoritarianism of the ‘we’ with a “these Muslim bastards need to be shown their place” and the minority of the ‘them’ silent now with trepidation and fear. And the saner voices of the very few, almost drowned out in the cacophony of protests, anger, revenge, cautioning in the words of Nietzsche “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

So those decrying terrorism appear more and more unreasonable and even violent themselves. The abuse, the vile attack on those who differ, the howls for revenge, the attack on the mosques, the threat of reprisal following the horrific massacre of journalists at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris seeks to turn sense into nonsense, and throw perspective and reasoned debate out of the window. Just like the terrorists who cannot be argued with, so also many political parties, groups and individuals close the doors so that the frenzied response to a terror attack can assume proportions that then allow governments based on divisiveness and hate and terror per se strengthen their tentacles across the world.

To understand the politics of terror it is essential to understand what the attack on the satirical magazine achieved. And whether it was just an attack on press freedom or far more calibrated than that.

Clearly the very fact that the three young men in a black sedan planned the attack to the last detail suggests that Charlie Hebdo was the target. And it was the target because of the cartoons it had been publishing against Prophet Mohammad. Should it have? is the subject for another debate on journalistic ethics and responsibilities. And whether all lines can be crossed in the name of journalism to intrude into peoples privacy or as in this case, their religion? This is an important debate that needs to be carried on alongside all discussions arising from the terror attack as it feeds into the virulent propaganda machinery that has built itself around Islam that is the flavour at this point in time. It derives its legitimacy from terrorism, using the extremist action to hate and divide without the responsibility that needs to be an integral part of honest journalism.

So back to the question, what did the terrorist achieve?

1. Fear. Fear amongst writers, and the media, through the message ‘you can be next.’

2. Anger. Anger directed against the terrorists, their handlers, their mentors. And anger ---as a natural corollary---directed against their religion and their faith. The “Allah o Akbar” heard on the video was probably not so much for the terrorists themselves who remained silent for the most part of the action, but for others who heard them and so could easily direct their anger against Islam.

3. Action through Reaction. Action not against themselves as most of these terrorists are prepared to die. But action in the form of burning mosques, hate protests, segregation of Muslims per se. In France where the millions of Muslims living in peace, against terrorism, are brought out of their comfort zones through the action and reaction with arrests, torture, isolation.

For the terrorists the numbers killed are important only so long as these are sufficient to arouse a reaction. And the three heavily armed men who took 12 lives in minutes have achieved all their aims, with the reaction pouring out not so much against them but against the Muslims. Right wing forces are growing rapidly in Europe where the progressive voice has weakened considerably. It is being fast replaced by xenophobia, anti-immigrant protests all laced and topped by Islamophobia. This will give the governments concerned to bring in more oppressive laws, even as they give themselves the sanction to act against suspects without necessary evidence, and where the crack downs and clamp downs break society asunder, and turn peace into anger and resentment.

So what do the extremists and terror organisations get out of this. One must remember that these people are what psychologists describe as psychopaths, living in a delusional world that they believe they will rule and control through violence. The achievements that every terror attack of the Paris kind takes them closer to are thus:

1. Uncertainty generated by fear. And hence breeding ground for recruits

2. Divisions in society. Again isolation of the ‘other’ helps them spread their ideology and take full advantage of the fissures they have helped create.

Societal and governmental responses of hate feed into the terrorists agenda, and in a strange kind of way terror attacks strengthen those who like to rule through divisiveness. Governments have come to power through violence, as have individuals through history. The terrorists cannot be defeated just by the gun. The mighty military power of the United States has crumbled when confronted by just the Taliban in Afghanistan. For years now the world has come under a new security order, with guns, and soldiers, and metal detectors, and body frisking becoming routine for the ordinary citizen. This has not eradicated terror but given rise to more lethal and ruthless extremist forces---of both state and non state actors.

Policy thus has to be re-worked. To a point where the second part of the Nietszche quote acquires a new reality: “...throw roses into the abyss and say: 'here is my thanks to the monster who didn't succeed in swallowing me alive.”

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