Stop the press! 7th January 1785: First Crossing of English Channel by hot air balloon. 7th January 1911: first experiments with dropping bombs from aircraft. 7th January 1953: President Truman announces the Hydrogen bomb. 7th January 2015…
Its now been two weeks since the terror attacks in France. Time enough, perhaps, to reflect upon events without a knee-jerk or goose-step. Except that events never stop. As I write this Islamic State (IS) is demanding 200 million dollars from Japan for the release of two Japanese Nationals and Shia Houthi rebels are attacking the home of the President of Yemen. There is no vacuum to write in, no isolated ivory tower, no distant serene mountain top from which to shelter from events. Or as Howard Zinn observed, you can’t be neutral on a moving train.
This doesn’t mean accepting President Bushes dictum “you’re either with us or against us”, which sounds like it could equally come out of the mouth of any Isis fanatic. Rather it means engaging in a consistent critical analysis of our history and our actions and our beliefs and desires.
Very soon there will be a General Election taking place in Britain. Prime Minister Cameron has already promised that if re-elected he will seek to ramp up the powers of the security services with new anti-terror laws. Cameron basically want to ban encryption. He also aims to allow police to seize passports at airports, claiming “a passport is not an automatic right”. So much for article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights. But more chillingly, Cameron also came up with this:
Adhering to British values is not an option or a choice. It is a duty for all those who live in these islands
How is this so very different from Isis demands regarding Sharia law? And just who does such polarizing remarks benefit? Hundreds of thousands of people marched in France following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, including David Cameron (march for free-speech one day, promise legislation against it the next). But as Paul Street wrote in his article Charlie I am Not where were the record breaking crowds when the Israeli’s killed 490 Palestinian children last July and August? Where were they when US airstrikes killed 93 children in Bola Boluk, May 2009, or when US marines levelled Fallujah, November 2004? Or, if we are to crudely limit ourselves to the issue of free-speech, where the protests against the NATO bombing of Serbian state radio and television, killing 16 people, April 1999, or when America air-to-surface missiles hit the al-Jazeera’s satellite TV station in Kabul killing a reporter, November 2001? In fact, the Israeli blitz of Gaza last year killed 17 journalists. Where were the mass protests for them? See
Charlie Hebdo And The War For Civilisation.
The terror of the attacks in Paris is a reflection of the on-going terror inflicted by state military around the world, namely the United States and its allies and surrogates. As an ‘Islamic State senior commander’ held in Camp Bucca told Martin Churlov writing for The Guardian:
If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.
Churlov goes on to mention that according to the Iraqi government 17 of the 25 most important Islamic State leaders running the war in Iraq and Syria spent time in US prisons between 2004 and 2011. The war on Terror is terror. President Obama can mention god in his Oath of Allegiance but it’s as if Jesus never said that those who live by the sword die by it. Perhaps if Obama had disavowed the use of drones, apologised for US state violence and gone after Bush, Cheney and the rest for war crimes the world would be a more peaceful place. Of course that would have been very difficult, perhaps even suicidal, for a man in charge of a nation that accounted for 39% of the World’s total military expenditure in 2012 – more than the China (9.5%), Russia (5.2), Britain (3.5%) and Japan (3.4%) combined. The 200 million demanded by IS seems like chump change compared to the 48.6 billion 2013 Japanese spend. To be fair this is down from the 59.2 billion spend of 2012 but considering Prime Minister Abe wants to increase the capacity of the Japanese military to wage war by destroying Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution it is essentially irrelevant. But why are world leaders so intent on beating ploughshares into swords and bombs and rockets and drones? Is perpetual war what most people actually want or is it something that we are just being continually scared into? Or is it, perhaps, just a natural result of the economic system we are unwilling to give up?
When Charlie Hebdo publishes images of Muhammad is that an issue of free speech or free commerce? With a five million print run they have certainly cashed in on crime. Wikepedia puts their regular circulation at 100,000 and suggests that they court controversy precisely to boost sales. All is forgiven all the way to the bank. I think a solid gesture of humanity would be to put the proceeds of their engorged print run towards helping refugees from countries scarred by war in the Middle East. And perhaps a little something for the ICC and any other institutions aiming at strengthening the role of law. Oh, incidentally, Charlie Hebdo follows on from the magazine Hari-Kiri which was banned for mocking the death of President Charles de Gaulle.
According to Oxfam the richest 1% of the World’s population will own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016 unless something is done about it. Perhaps we should all be marching in the street about that? Or even doing something more?