On the One Hand, ViolenceToday, in Paris, a number of journalists, satirists and cartoonists were killed at the offices of the magazine "Charlie Hebdo", gunned down by a couple of hooded figures carrying Kalashnikov rifles and a grenade launcher, and apparently saying something about revenge and the "glory of Allah".
A couple of weeks ago, a deranged individual carrying a gun killed and wounded people at a cafe in Sydney, apparently with some extremist "muslim" agenda.
Over the last year or so, a terrorist organisation calling itself "The Islamic State" (and not using the more accurate epithet of "Daesh") has been occupying parts of Syria, committing atrocities such as beheading captives, enslaving women, and instituting a harsh martial law, supposedly in the name of Islam.
In all cases, innocent people have died, been injured and had their lives disrupted. My heart goes out to all of them, and those that survive them, for what it's worth. From what I see, that's a sentiment most of us share, and it's important.
On the Other Hand, Fear
Yesterday, and in the preceding week, there have been a number of articles in the press about intellectuals in France legitimising the views of the extreme right. Michel Houellebecq's novel "Soumission" describes an extremist muslim France in the near future, for example, and has generated some controversy.
In the UK, the far right UKIP political party have been gathering far more attention by the media than their share of the vote merits. Immigration is a hot potato in the forthcoming UK elections, with none of the major UK parties prepared to stand up and say that the economic downturn is NOT a result of immigration, but of irresponsible, unaccountable and reckless activity by the investment banking "industry".
And, well, Australia's far right majority under Tony Abbott just take the biscuit! Can't help but feel that they're just 5 years ahead of Europe.
Joining the Dots
Also, I can't help but feeling there is a connection here, between the violence and the fear. And not the simplistic narrative of mad, medieval arabs wanting to behead us, enslave our women and bomb us back into the dark ages, a false narrative that is lurking just below the surface of the Western psyche at present. Paris and Sydney have both been immaculately timed from a media perspective, as fuel for the growing fire of fear and hatred against Muslims. And the Daesh, the so-called "Islamic" State (here's a good article on why the names matter), seem to have a strong amount of "media savvy", releasing their beheading videos and the ones showing their idle soldiers bragging about their female slaves not because of a fervent belief in the words of the Quran, but because it will plant a strong connection in western minds between Islam and barbarism, goading western nations into ineffective military action that will erode any support for the West in the areas they are occupying. Well, we fell for that one in the UK, alright.
The gunman in Sydney turned out to be a lone sociopath, who had latched onto some vague notion of islamic jihad to justify his tragic expression of anger and alienation. The killers in Paris haven't been identified yet, but I'd suspect they too are disconnected, off-their-trolley types who have hooked into the muslims-are-the-killers-du-jour meme that the Daesh, and the far right press, have been peddling. I've not seen any questioning in the press yet about who they are, and their muttered "glory of Allah" lines appear to have largely been taken at face value. There's a very good article by Jeff Sparrow here that gives an insight into the mindset of these people, in quite a different time and place. To paraphrase very quickly, the people who are likely to align with radical fundamentalist Islam these days as an excuse for a killing spree would, a century or so ago, have been spouting the dogma of the radical atheist anarchist bombers. And the world governments perceived them as an organised, unified threat then, too!
Has anyone else wondered if the killers at the Charlie Hebdo office might have been far right loonies of some stripe out to whip up racial fear, and take out a journalistic thorn in their side while they're at it? I feel like a conspiracy theory freak for even saying so, but then, a few years ago I'd have felt that way for voicing suspicions about any of the shady ties between the intelligence agencies, government, organised crime etc. that Edward Snowden's shown to be real. The world does sometimes work like something from a paranoid's nightmare. I have no insider knowledge here, just a hunch, that may betray my own wishy-washy liberal sentiments as much as any genuine insight into the situation. Make of it what you will, and FFS journalists, do your job properly and question the identity of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen a little, will you?
I've seen a lot of sentiment on/via twitter today about the connection between these atrocities and the narrow-mindedness and outdatedness of religion. Read Jeff Sparrow's article and get back to me on this one, please? Unstable people don't like religion so much as they like fundamentalism. I respect and understand the strong atheist position as part of the ongoing debate about who we are as humans, but I find the hijacking of these tragedies by that argument to be somewhat distasteful. Yes, organised religion can be very backwards, and has contributed to a lot of suffering, but so have other dogmas about what it is to be human, such as Marxism, Anarchism and Global Capitalism. (I think Salman Rushdie's statement on PEN described religion as mediaeval. The thought struck me that our rational, secular economics, and widening income gap, resembles feudalism, also a mediaeval way of doing things.)
We need to be wary of a backlash against religion, and against race, at a time like this. Sydney's #illridewithyou hashtag was a great example of common sense rising above bigotry.
I'm wondering if the border guards depicted in this cartoon will feel justified by what happened in Paris today. I hope not. Will the cartoonists and satirists in the middle eastern and other muslim countries, who operate under considerable risk, feel sidelined by the press's current focus on the events in Paris? Again, I hope not.
I hope reading this (and more importantly, following the links) will help you to see the bigger picture around this sea of hatred, fear and hope that we seem to be swimming in. Writing it has helped steady me a little.
DISCLAIMER: I'm not religious, nor an atheist - if anything, I'm a fundamentalist agnostic - I do not wish to live with any certainty about what we humans are, because to do so seems complacent to me. I'm also a Quaker, which isn't an organised religion in the sense that it has no creed, and does not require me to believe or disbelieve anything, and I dislike the group-think aspect of many organised religions, and of many modern atheists. All of this, I think, is pretty much irrelevant to what I've written above.