• How we react to terrorist attacks. Part 1/3.

The recent terrorist attacks in Ankara, Turkey. Dhaka, Bangladesh. The bombing in Baghdad and now the attack in Nice, France. Have become part of a trend.

There is a ‘new normal’ in Europe now, and further afar. In which, terrorist attacks carried out upon innocent civilians have come to be expected. So, as we become accustomed to these kinds of threats what are the things we can learn from them? How do we adapt ourselves toward them? So as best to combat them.

It is over a year ago that gunshots rang out in the streets of Paris. The offices of the satirical French newspaper ‘Charlie Hebdo’, bringing, what once was once seen as in inherent problem of the Middle East region, directly to the doorstep of western Europe. Since, we have seen a multitude of terrorist attacks of similar zeal.

terrorist attacks 2015

Chart dated to the Brussels attacks.

The victims, and picked targets, need only live their lives to become so. The attackers primary choice being that of high density crowds; or soft targets. As seen during the attacks in Ankara, Brussels and Nice

It is worth reminding ourselves in moments such as these that there is no reasoning with those who have allowed hatred to envelop their hearts. There is, however, great importance in understanding their actions. Fear is born from a place of misunderstanding. It is always perpetrated by the weak minded, by those who choose not to understand. Fear, left alone in its intended manner, can only foster fractions amongst likeminded individuals. It is a tool of warfare that has been used for centuries to break morale and sow seeds of doubt into the minds of the enemy. It is only with a true awareness of what it is that threatens us that we can begin to effectively combat it.

‘Je Suis or not Je Suis’ Terrorism, Hashtavism & the reawakening of democratic values.

hebdo twin towers

The media’s reaction.

It is a trait of history that societies, when at war, are forced into making decisions. Decisions of governance for instance, and, in equal measure, decisions based on who (or what form) the enemy takes. Likewise, who, or what, it means to be part of that society. Acts of warfare, force us to question who, or what we are. What is it that we represent towards the world? What is our shared collective identity?

On the 7th of January 2015 armed gunmen carried out one such act of warfare upon the offices of the French satirical newspaper ‘Charlie Hebdo’. The horrifying attacks that had been known to be endemic in certain areas of the Middle East were now being carried out in the central streets of one of Europe’s most prominent capital cities.

The victims were targeted because they had drawn cartoons.

The reaction of traditional modes of media became, predictably, blanket coverage.

The reaction toward the attacks on social media was unprecedented.

je suis charlie

The initial reaction of shock and grief then progressed into online solidarity. The response became global. On the social media platform Twitter; the initial hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) became the most tweeted hashtag in history. In response, those who believed in the idea of the right to freedom of expression but not necessarily with the publication itself began reinventing the hashtag to accommodate for the different, sometimes intertwined, views. –

Whatever the opinion, there was a hashtag to symbolise solidarity with the expression: #JeNeSuisPasCharlie appeared for those who disagreed with the Hebdo publication itself. #JeSuisAhmed appeared in tribute to the murdered Muslim police officer and became utilised by Muslims who had perhaps felt excluded by the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag. #VoyageAvecMoi was used to express solidarity with Muslims that were weary of possible racist reproach. Also, the Australian – #I’llRideWithYou Hashtag reappeared in the wake of Australia’s own terrorist attacks.

n'est pas une terroriste.jpg

The hashtags demonstrated a divisiveness, some even going so far as to call the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag Islamaphobic due to the controversial depictions made by the Charlie Hebdo publication. As France was trying to come to terms with this atrocity a paradox of polarisation had begun. A schism between likeminded individuals on how best to make sense of the unfolding events.

Some commentators chose to look at past publications of Charlie Hebdo. The top result on a google search of ‘I Am Not Charlie’ reveals a didactic piece by David Brooks in the New York Times Op Ed. It seems, he has decided that the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag can only express an, us or them opinion. That ‘you’re either with the racist cartoonists or the terrorists’.

In his very first sentence he refers to the Hebdo victims as ‘Martyrs’. This irresponsible use of a term synonymous with Islamic fundamentalists, polarises the perceptions of the two. It is endemic of a wider problem of the misuse and misunderstanding by the media of terminology relating to terrorist fundamentalists. All this at a time when the wider ideal under discussion; that of the right to freedom of expression without the fear of being murdered, is being analysed on all media platforms. At a time when Muslims are having to wrestle with their beliefs and their identity. At a time when disenfranchised young Muslims are trying to comprehend who they are and how they fit into society, they are immediately being forced by David Brooks to choose between (arguably) two different sets of Martyrs.

An instant demonstration here of an idea that has been so dangerous and divisive for well over a decade now; the idea of a clash of civilizations. West vs East.

He goes on to create his own hierarchy of respectability and expression of opinion. in an analogy on societies two ‘tables’ he begins to reveal his level of thinking on the subject. He totally overlooks any possible reasons that may explain why such a publication exists in France in favour for pushing his own agenda.

David Brooks’ piece, as we shall see, is but one example of old (particularly powerful) men allowing their pride, or indeed their own agenda, to get in the way of an attempt to fully understand, and therefore effectively deal with, a terrifying new threat to societies safety. Perhaps most alarming for the wider spectrum of traditional media is how dangerously close he comes to referring to a ‘they were asking for it’ mode of argument in relation the cartoonists.

Brookes makes absolutely no attempt to understand how the #JeSuisCharlie slogan is capable of accommodating a multitude of viewpoints. Its inextricable links to the founding of French society highlighted by others.

Ultimately, then, right from the get go, it is only a personal agenda that is promoted. Piggybacked onto the murder of 17 innocent people. Comparing U.S university papers to the freedoms of an individual French satirical newspaper; David Brooks commits the cardinal journalistic sin of comparing apples to oranges. All this in an OpEd of a publication that has always shied away from discussing any satire of Islam, yet freely analyses the book of Mormon for example. It is important to note that this double standard is not out of any political correctness or moral sensibilities, but cowardice and appeasement. Arguably deride in a belief that the pen is in fact not mightier than the sword.

more powerful

To say things that no one else does is brave. No matter what it is, and to be unable to tolerate, to allow it, is, (and can only be) utterly didactic. Like a teacher making a joke out of a student’s question. Within the wider democratic debate of Ideas, it only serves to highlight the insecurities of those who cannot let it be. Other than this, it is a state of mind that is helpful to no one. The one instance it does have a place, is satire.

Elsewhere, other traditional forms of media sought to understand the different viewpoints that had been sparked by the discussion on social media.

On social media, a discussion on the principles of European society was flourishing. Quotes from influential enlightenment thinkers were being posted.

“I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it” Voltaire

Republican values were being made known, the ideals of Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, Equality and Fraternity) thrust into the public conversation. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion were being reasserted. Artists around the world expressed solidarity against the ideology of hatred and violence.

Hypocrisy of the media coverage was highlighted by some, raising, with the example of the violence of boko haram in Nigeria, a global awareness of the terrorist threat posed.

Elsewhere on social media, people began to think about the true threats to our societies that was being posed to us by way of these terrorist attacks.

Some Muslim scholars such as M.Francois-Cerrah were able to recognise a positive sense of solidarity. And were able to offer suggestions toward the evolution of such sentiment –

“We must ensure slogans of solidarity become more than just narrow and questionable support for the targeted publication and instead provide resistance to all those voices which seek to divide France…and it really is time to counter the hate behind these murders by rallying together behind a common solidarity – a solidarity rooted in the acceptance of difference, in respect for others, and a commitment to defeating those hell-bent on destroying the common fabric of our society.”

M.Francois-Cerrah seeks here to protect the positive outpouring from a schism. The protection of the reawakening of democratic values from a polarising paradox of opinion derived from a place of fear. She emphasizes the need for an evolution in the thought process of western liberalism and multiculturalist thought that can create a common solidarity that has its very basis in the ‘acceptance of difference’.


The reaction of the people

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…” John Lennon – Imagine – 1971

The 11th of January 2015 peace demonstration in Paris and across the whole of France saw a reported 3.7 million people take to the streets in reaction the terrorist attacks.

More than greeted the liberation of Paris in 1944.

The combined effect between government and the general population was also undeniable. There have been many that have called out the circus of hypocrisy that was created by the heads of state on the march. The line of leaders at a rally for free speech were rightly called out for their contradictory concern.

TOPSHOTS French President Francois Holla

‘French President François Hollande is surrounded by heads of state as they attend a solidarity march’

The persecution of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi an important example of this hypocrisy.

Nevertheless, we live in a time of inter-connectivity that can shine a collective spotlight on these hypocrisies and crimes against freedom of expression. Helping us to sow the seeds of change and progress.

The divisive social media hashtags could not detract, and in some ways added to, the positive outpouring of people power. The inherent positivity and progressive attitude of the conversations that were sparked in reaction to this terrorist attack was undeniable.

I am aware of the conf

 The placard reads ‘I am marching but I am aware of the confusion and the hypocrisy of the situation’:

As we begin to sift through the different perspectives of prominent commentators it starts to become clear that no matter what creed or origin, the demonstration in Paris for the expression of free speech was a movement of and for the people.

The attempt by the terrorists to instil fear into the hearts of the people of Paris had failed.

not afraid

For a moment during the march in Paris – while flags of all creed flew in the wind of the new year, and leaders of all monotheistic faiths attended – the silent and weary majority wrestled back a sense of *whisper it* (national) pride in the beauty and precious nature of the principles of the wider community of France, or indeed, Europe.

Some called it a moment of reckoning for the youth. The ideals that were on show during the march transcended pedantic labelling of the media.  And it showed that the yearning for an eclectic – egalitarian – multi cultural society is there.

Out of the ashes of an act of warfare, the people, chose to reaffirm the values important to themselves. To demonstrate a shared collective identity to the world.

The people’s response, in line with governments, was to offer more democracy, more inclusiveness and a reinforcing of a collective sense of self. Of identity, bereft of, yet equally understanding of, religious beliefs.

 Now, over a year on from this, with Syria still in turmoil. Turkey continually attacked. France in a continuing state of emergency. Britain leaning toward isolationist sentiment.

It is imperative that the evolution of the collective identity on show during the march in Paris be continued. If this is to be the ‘new normal’ of terrorism, then an analysis of the way in which it operates and the way in which we understand it is crucial. Only then can we begin to adapt. And to fight.

The ISIS strategy is ‘death by a thousand cuts’ They will seek to divide us by instilling fear within us. Fight back by fighting division. This is a war of ideology – in which the fascists cannot win. On both sides. Fight the paradox of polarisation. Show that you will not give into fear – and unmask the cowards.

keep calm and carry on


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