The morning of the murder of the MP Jo Cox – this poster was made public.
5 years ago – our prime minister declared the death of multiculturalism.
Jo Cox stood up for the good in difference. That we have more in Common than what separates us. That people are good. That a British strength comes from togetherness.
Her Husband released this statement after her murder
“Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.
“She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.”
The hatred that killed her, came in the form of 52-year-old Yorkshire man Thomas Mair.
His motivations were ideological, political.
What to call him / it was disputed in the media.
Regardless of reports that Mair shouted “Britain first” or words to that effect, the media ran with the narrative of a crazed loner – and later, a lone wolf.
This was done to absolve society of blame – and to tone down the violent assassination of an elected member of parliament, in broad daylight, outside a library in her hometown.
Much of the media refused to call it what it is. Terrorism. And it was the second time in a week that the media had refused to acknowledge why the victims (of an attack) were chosen.
Mairs’ Ideology, his reasoning, was irrelevant because he was mad. Yet others on social media pointed out a contradiction.
As more information was gathered it became clear that the attack was a terrorist attack.
I have argued before that the war with terrorists is one of ideologies. HOW WE REACT TO TERRORIST ATTACKS 2/3
Those afraid to denounce such attacks, objectively foster this seismic shift to the right. Toward Fascism.
It is the culmination of over a decade of irresponsible and ignorant reporting, governmental policy. And it now manifests itself in populist political leaders pretending to offer dangerous and simplified solutions to scared and confused individuals.
In this battle of ideas – many may see the questioning of their own values as an imperative opportunity to reinforce their identity. It is this(false) choice that is weakening the ability of a democratic, practical resistance.
I further argued that the ideologies of Neo liberalism and Facism – blind allegiance to the flag – to that of divisions…
are two ideologies that represent a schism, and the threat of a sundering within western liberal democracy. This reaffirms the idea of a paradox of polarisation within the new ideological conflict posed by the terrorist threats.
I was writing specifically then about Islamic fundamentalism – yet, my definition of a terrorist is someone who tries to break apart society by striking at the cracks. Or in the case of the murder of Jo Cox – those that try to fix them.
They attempt to create a paradox of polarisation in which the differences within society become its weakness – instead of its strength.
Yet now It is simply not enough to see Thomas Mair as symptom of the paradox created by terrorism alone. Jo Cox was not a civilian – she was a politician.
Commentators questioned the origins of the paradox.
The difference between straightforward condemnable terrorist attacks by foreign influenced individuals – and those of Thomas Mair – is that society itself is to blame. From the government to media to the street.
The paradox of polarisation has been pushed, perpetrated and peddled by politicians, for far too long.
For just one example, when David Cameron declares the death of multiculturalism, he may well believe that it is just pandering to a policy. But in reality, Politicians have turned the inevitability of our collective future, our identity, into toxic political point scoring.
Simply put, it is the propagation of hate. And as Brendan Cox has said, it is poisonous.
David Cameron, our leader, declaring the death of multiculturalism – gives oxygen to those that find their identity within what divides us – fear and hate and the habit of those thoughts.
In the face of such ‘terror’ – it can become an act of courage to tell the truth – that those that are afraid. Afraid that our democracies principles challenge their identities. Identities derived from divisions. Are those that will commit terrorist attacks.
Jo Cox, it seems, was the personification of a politician that held no prejudices – in terms of rhetoric – she was poorly protected by her peers.
The E.U referendum.
The progressive left must learn their lesson that a myth cannot be prosecuted by facts – it must offer an alternative identity.
In 2010, a report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution concluded that “we regret the ad hoc manner in which referendums have been used, often as a tactical device, by the government of the day.”
The murder of Jo Cox is an example of what happens when good people do nothing, choose to make this a turning point.
Wherever you can, challenge those that seek to create divisions. If you see politicians vilify someone or something, then question it. Fight against a paradox of polarisation. Offer love where others push hate and watch the world change around you.
The way we react to terrorist attacks, the paradox of polarisation and the evolution of our democracy is how we can begin to put the great back into our identity.
How we react to terrorist attacks 3/3 (*2)
The reaction of society; Media and Social
The way we react to terrorist attacks sends ripples throughout the entire fabric of our society. It shakes the foundations of our democracy – The repairing of which defines who we are and who we want to be.
Do we seek to move forward and evolve our democracy to be more inclusive? (and compassionate) or do we seek to remove ourselves from those that look to us as the example of the free world?
The choice is yours.
You can sit idly by while those with power act in your name, or you can begin to fight back against those that seek to destroy our freedom and peace.
You must make the choice within yourself as to what you wish to be, afraid or brave.
The way in which the media reports terrorist attacks often affects the answer to that question.
For over a decade the reporting of such acts has been deliberately misleading so as to evoke the most polarising reactions possible. In an age of 24hr news and the fascination with live reporting anything that generates fear is promoted. It sells. It’s bought.
9/11 and the war on terror showed us how the traditional forms of media served only to amplify the badly thought out speeches of politicians. It was the beginning of a trend that saw society and government react through fear and grief.
Where do we put our collective sense of mourning and motivation to react?
Grief brings bad decisions. And in that feeling people rally to the markers that make them, them. In the case of George Bush and Tony Blair their religion spoke for them – to evoke the crusades, a time when Europeans committed cannibalism in the holy land can only have one effect on dividing people. People turn to what they always have in times of war their flag and their creed.
But terror is not a place and whether any good has come from the Iraq war is debatable
Governmental media led reactions to terrorist attacks have demonstrated their inability to represent our democracies.
As has been shown by the reaction to Hebdo, Paris, Brussels and those further afar – a nationalistic based reaction to terrorists such as Isis and Boko Haram is no good. And the promotion of peace in the ME is the challenge.
the governmental response to 9/11 was an invasion. the societal response to Hebdo was a re-enforcing of republican values and one of the biggest peace marches in recent history, with a debate on social media encapsulating a wide variety of ideas and creeds. Governmental response was in line with the people. An invasion was avoided.
The attacks in November resulted in both societal reactions and governmental responses taking incredibly war-like footings, albeit, with some debate.
This investigation of different reactions is, I believe, the closest we can come to effecting positive social change in the face of terror.
In an age when we can all have our voices amplified and connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime. We can see and affect change on our own and collectively.
Social Media has demonstrated its ability to offer a place for people to air their beliefs and their grief in reaction to terrorist attacks.
We no longer need a newspaper or a channel to tell us how to react…
In the aftermath of the November attacks in Paris – this type of reaction, is perhaps the easiest to understand. When faced with an evil, the gut reaction is to end it – but (annoyingly) the example of ISIS is more complex.
As we have seen now for years the traditional mode of warfare led reaction does not work. For the sick individuals of the so called Islamic state, acknowledgement is what they crave. We must starve them of this.
As the dust began to settle on the attacks of November 13th those in both camps began to find themselves entrenched.
Once again the intention of the terrorists was coming into being. The splitting of all sections of society into us vs them. It had been done with 9/11, it was the same intention fourteen years later, and in the grief, people played their part.
Facebook offered the option to users to drape their profile picture in the colours of the French flag. Many did so, including myself. To show solidarity with the people of France.
Rather than the outpouring that followed the Hebdo attacks – the option to display credence toward a flag was forced by Facebook onto its users. This, at a time when many were struggling to come to terms with the cruel theft of life. Once again, it became a question of either being with the terrorists, or…
Others broke down this particular reaction well – “Instead, seek out that context and the options that Facebook doesn’t give you in a simple, clickable add-on. If you want to show true solidarity with those who’ve been wrongfully killed, the first step is to acknowledge and mourn their deaths equally and genuinely, not just because they’ve brought to your attention by a tech giant’s misguided marketing tool. Quite simply, we owe victims of oppression round the world so much more than this.”
But even this polarised opinion as people sought to raise the point about the many terrorist attacks and loss of life from further afar.
This was an important debate – however, The highlighting of a double standard within the media for different terrorist atrocities in terms of emotional reaction, only detracted from any form of practical positive social reaction. In short, the devaluing of peoples outrages or emotional attachment by constantly questioning the worth of said emotion amounts only to a level of shame in which people feel numbed into doing nothing. It is in effect the Medias way (social) of redacting the societal reaction that could be harnessed for positive change and wider understanding.
Meanwhile; the governmental responses continued. Geo-political interests were and are served in an increasingly militaristic way and the fires of terrorist organisations’ hatred are fuelled quite literally.
If anything the fb French flag fiasco showed society, again, that the trend to react in a nationalistic way exposed the duplicity of nation states and their valuation of human lives in dealing with a widespread problem.
It came back to the question of identity, of who we want to be, of how we want to be represented.
The attacks in Belgium highlighted this polarising problem again, and social media was an outlet for people to pronounce their views.
The FB post above is the perfect example of the paradox of polarisation prevalent on Social Media. The video is all about the differences and the politics of identity and labels. Footballers in uniform and fans in crowd formation, all divided by creed. Greek vs Turkish. West vs East. Muslim. Christian. Atheist. Flag.
The only reason for the post above is to foster divisions within the communities that make up society.
It marks a highpoint of frustration with the hypocrisy of the reactions to the terrorist attacks, and continuing threat.
And It is a threat that is faced by all creeds.
The division of society is something that you can fight against – always question those that try to.
These attacks are designed to divide us, choose to fight back.
Societies’ reaction to terrorist attacks have proven that we face an identity crisis.
Do we as a society fall into the traps of the enemy?
To be prosecuted by their warped perceptions of us?
Do we become the malevolent Myth of the West?
And by doing so continue to polarise perceptions of the Middle East? As propaganda implies.
Do we as societies continue to sleepwalk into the cul-de-sac of military intervention that has been shown, again and again, to be so wrong?
Or do we rise above the bait?
Finding a collective identity derived from an inclusive humanism?
Do we choose to use these baiting attacks as an opportunity to further demonstrate to the world that as our societies grow, so do their strength and resilience?
In the face of such ‘terror’ – it can become an act of courage to tell the truth – that those that are afraid. Afraid that our democracies principles challenge their identities. Identities derived from divisions. Are those that will commit terrorist attacks.
No matter the basis of their beliefs.
Our governments and our communities face new opportunities and choices on how to evolve society. Participating in these, and fighting against a paradox of polarisation – more than any form of reactionary violence – is what we owe the victims of terrorist attacks – around the world.
How we react to terrorist attacks 3/3 (*1)
The Governments reaction and Paris
“A government is the system by which a state or community is controlled. In the Commonwealth of Nations, the word government is also used more narrowly to refer to the collective group of people that exercises executive authority in a state.”
“We underestimated profoundly, the forces that were at work, in the region…” – Tony Blair
The horrific attacks in Paris on November 13th 2015 presented a straightforward question to the governments of Europe – how will those in authority react? The later attacks in Belgium reinforced this fundamental questioning. Many looked for ways to fight back, as France declared a state of emergency.
For the first time since Iraq – War was on the agenda.
In the U.K a debate was held on whether or not to join France and the U.S in airstrikes (bombings) in Syria and Iraq – where the perpetrators of the attack, ISIS, held ground.
During the long debate many were given time to stand, speak and declare their beliefs.
After first stating how he would have voted against the Iraq war and thus gaining the justness to say “I do not stand here today as a war monger”. He went on to reveal that “90% of mine (his constituents) who have emailed are opposed” to airstrikes.
However, Mr. Simon Hoare continued (in between a slight bit of banter with the speaker) and read a quote from a member of parliament dating back to 1774 – “as true today as it was then…”
He read “your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgement, and betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”
Mr Simon Hoare, here, arguably leaving the aggregation of arrogance in a similar state. The self-awareness of such, publicised in his earlier retort to the speaker.
He finished by telling of his intention to vote in favour of bombing in Syria. Going against the public trend of opinion. Yet, with the majority in the house of commons; winning the result to authorise bombing.
In the wake of over a decade of examples of the effects of military intervention in the Middle East the beleaguered British public were now subject to further perpetration of violence in the Middle East in their (our) name.
Yet, there were those who stood and stated their stance against bombings.
The Labour MP for Tottenham, Mr David Lammy, began by saying that “terrorism needs to be defeated” he expressed “The deep concern of…so many Muslim men that may be seduced by extremism” and raised the point that “…In dealing with Al Qaeda – we gave way to ISIS” Mr. Lammy likened the Paris attacks to “bait” from Isis to engage in holy war and that the airstrikes would create the circumstances for a new generation of extremists.
The SNP Minister Dr Philippa Whitford, (Central Ayrshire) spoke of her first-hand experience with bomb victims in the Middle East and the old terrorist threat from Northern Ireland – wondering what the outcome would have been if the government had tried to solve that scenario with bombings.
In a debate that was short of any expert opinions or discussion it was refreshing to at least find that some MP’s were asking the right questions before passing habitual judgement on a threat, the origin of which, was overlooked.
As Dr Whitford stated herself – “we have had a complex, and fairly tragic, incoherent approach to the Middle East for decades”
The Syria Vote was a debate on the effects of this incoherent approach – it must now be time to offer non-military solutions to the Middle East. Away from the disregarded maxim that bombs create more bombs. And violence begets violence.
Perhaps the hardest thing for people and politicians alike to understand is that the traditional governmental reactions to terrorist attacks do not work in tackling the true origins of the threat. Military interventions do not work, but when faced with failing its people the scared ones in power seek to be seen to be doing something.
The erosion of Civil liberties, the taking away of freedoms, is another worrying outcome of terrorist attacks – In France today a state of emergency, put in place after the terrorist attacks, persists, as workers strike in reaction to the governments Labour reforms. While security issues are used to take away the accountability of the authorities’ actions.
While the UK prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, failed a generation with solutions akin to the one above, his remedial work has given him the privileged position of being able to lecture himself on the understanding of the Middle East.
But the importance of the Arab spring must not be overlooked. The yearning for democratic inclusive and peaceful societies within the Middle East is evident. But what role the west chooses to play in helping this come to fruition is arguably the most important action governments can take.
The origins of the problems within Middle Eastern societies are from a didactic attempt by men such as Tony Blair to promote nationalistic western democracy in the Middle East through military intervention. Copy and paste versions do not work.
While allies of the West such as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia crush revolutions in Egypt by supporting military coups, and whip bloggers – The governments of the west must decide what kind of an example they wish to represent to the youth that yearn for democracy within Middle Eastern nations.
Do we offer them an example of the politics of fear, or the politics of hope?
As the MP for North Dorset closed – “Je suis Parisien has to be far more than just a twitter tag. It is now time for action”
Bad things happen when good people do nothing, in the case of the government of (Great) Britain, it has always been best placed to offer examples to the rest of the world. To be the first into the breach of the unknown to uncover the very best ways to promote peace and prosperity.
Perhaps it is time to begin again.
The paradox of polarisation
And a new type ideological conflict
Two kinds of polarisation: Us vs them – and who are we?
To fight an enemy, it is important to understand an enemy. To fight in a unified way is to understand the effects of the enemies attacks. How do terrorist attacks effect our sense of collective identity? And our ability to react.
First it is important to understand the key differences between the attackers and ourselves.
Throughout history there has been an ever prevalent idea of an indistinguishable, and ever bearing, sense of irreconcilable difference between the civilisations of east and west.
This idea gained enormous traction in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York.
The conflict posed by these terrorist attacks is, in a generalised sense, between western nations and religious fanaticism (namely Islamic); culminating in what we call terrorism.
Firstly, we must look at what links these attacks together. The media has created a dearth of labels with which to apply: radical Islam, terrorist fundamentalism, radical Islamism being the most recent. These labels fit into the organisational nomenclatures of Al Qaeda to Daesh. The latter referring to the more popularly known: ISIS or ISIL.
All of these terms are confusing, and all of them detract from the truth of the actions
themselves. The terrorist attacks are unacceptable acts of mass murder. In exactly the same sense as the 2011 Norway attacks. Sticking to this simplification can go a long way to combating the immediate hysteria and divisiveness that follows (and, is intended to follow).
During this panic it is easy for us to think of the idea of East vs West. The attackers are from an alien place and they attack us because they hate us. We must attack back. This is easy on the brain, and it allows us to focus on the generalising factors that help us to identify the enemy.
Donald Trump offers the perfect example of this rationalisation, in his simplified idea of the enemy there is no room for complexities. The Muslims (and the Mexicans) are the problem and they must be dealt with. With this mind-set, the problem is polarised.
These kind of basic arguments have been used for centuries, if you can create a fraction within the fabric of society then you can more easily control it. Donald Trump would give the attackers what they crave – acknowledgement, legitimacy, infamy. And the promise of a continuation and escalation of their warped jihad.
The polarisation of the argument allows those of us within society that may be unhappy (for whatever reason) to have something to point at and blame. Rather than challenge the conditions of the situation.
The new enemy we were told was: religious extremism, Radical interpretation of Islam, Jihadi warriors ready to blow themselves up in order to cause as much harm, terror and suffering as possible upon the hated west. Within the context of the recent terrorist attacks – These labels serve only to reveal the false legitimacy of a cause. Clung to by hate-filled individuals.
As a result, these terrorist attacks further force us into the false or simplified dichotomy of East vs West. And within this, it forces us to question who we are and how we fight. Creating a second, arguably more dangerous; polarisation.
if we return for a moment to the clash of civilisation axiom then it is easy to see how the basis for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars came about. While the terrorists may have had little to do with the mechanics of the nation states themselves, they were declared implicit, involved, by the U.S and what unfolded was the classic response of nation states to acts of warfare. Military mobilisation and invasion. If there is anything to be learnt from the conflicts; it is that our responses must evolve.
To look upon the Middle East now and count the manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism it would be very hard to say that the military interventions by coalition states has (at best) had any stabilising effect at all.
Indeed the recent bomb blast in Baghdad highlights how any hope of a better life after these irresponsible, ill-thought military interventions – for Iraqis – is literally left in rubble. Tjis is of course the intention of the terrorists – yet, the origins of the environmental factors that have facilitated their rise must not be ignored.
So then, it is important to adapt to this new kind of conflict, for it is undeniable that we are under attack. The attacks of Islamic fundamentalists force us to question our own Identity by placing us, through their own labeling, into the camp of ‘westerners’. And forcing choices to be made on what that may mean. This new kind of conflict is even harder to comprehend in the aftermath of an attack.
The November attacks upon the Bataclan theatre on November 13th 2015 in Paris, France for instance. Such an attack makes calls for war seem inevitable. Indeed such a theft of young life highlights the importance of the military holds in crushing the caliphate with which ISIS propagates its right to be.
Yet, this is a conflict outside of the paradigm and traditional borders of nation states. As such, one need not look further than the victims. The victims of these attacks are multinational, and targeted for no other reason then living their lives. Their affiliations to their place of birth unknown, questionable at best. Even so, it is the victims’ deaths – exacerbated by the media – that are used to directly question an elected governments ability to protect its citizens.
In light of this Hobbesian dilemma, scared citizens turn to those (and modes of thought) that propagate a sense of protection. This is a fallacy. For those of us that inhabit a realistic view of the threat posed; it is obvious that there is no way in which to guarantee protection from it. Yet, there are ways to negate its effects, and therefore ways to combat it.
The recent high frequency of attacks must be held in contrast to the military victories against ISIS. They are losing their caliphate. They are losing their perceived legitimacy, their authority, their right.
Yet, still security must evolve – The Brussels, Ankara and Nice attacks highlight the vulnerability of so-called ‘soft targets‘ – areas of dense populous- crowds and areas of congregation for public transport.
Acts such as the snoopers charter in Britain, erode our civil liberties, and act only to further demonise, rather than integrate, those citizens facing their own identity crisis. To polarise. To promulgate and further reinforce the idea of us & them.
If we accept that the reactions of traditional nation states are largely defunct in their ability to actively address the threat posed. If we understand that these terrorists are not seeking terms with which to negotiate, then we must accept that we are involved in a conflict of ideologies. The defining of which, is the battleground we as citizens stand upon.
The idea of us must stay unified. Make no mistake – our shared values, ethics and collective sense of identity is directly under attack – by way of these terrorist atrocities.
We must make slogans inclusive – and fight against a second sense of polarisation amongst ourselves and those from further afar.
A good example of this can be seen within the reaction to the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag. The responses often led any sense of a united reaction to become immediately fractured. You were either with the terrorists or the racist cartoonists. Even if one was able to recognise this dichotomy as false – it still held the effect that it negated, and in many cases stopped all together – the ability to respond to the attacks in an inclusive way. So as to allow for the progression of the collective ideals that were under attack. This second sense of polarisation acts only to riddle a progessive movement of enormous potential – borne from the ashes of an attack – with anemia and paralysis.
Prominent thinkers such as Slavoj Zizek were able to see past this, and by extrapolating and analysing two of the prominent ideologies in dispute; namely that of liberal permissiveness and religious fundamentalism, he is able to state that –
Fundamentalism is a reaction – a false, mystifying, reaction, of course – against a real flaw of liberalism, and this is why it is again and again generated by liberalism.
He goes on to conclude that –
‘the conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is ultimately a false conflict – a vicious cycle of two poles generating and presupposing each other.’
Finally revealing that it is the evolution of liberalist practice and modes of thought (equality, freedom, etc.) that can truly tackle fundamentalist terrorists. And (to borrow his phrase) to sweep the ground from underneath their feet.
Borne from terrorist attacks there is a paradox of polarization, perpetuated by media, that forces people to move out of an ideological sense of pacifism or appeasement. In this battle of ideas – many may see the questioning of their own values as an imperative opportunity to reinforce their identity. It is this (false) choice that is weakening the ability of a democratic, practical resistance.
Some have expressed the notion that the attacks should not be seen as political. Within the framework of traditional institutions this may be correct; Indeed, when analysing the response and responsibilities of governments this is important.
However, in the ideological sphere of thought, these attacks are inherently political. that is to say that the ideals and the identities of regular European citizens are being directly challenged. Therefore, their strategies are having to adapt, be this within the traditional political realm, or not.
In addition, it is this direct challenge (in the form of terrorist fundamentalist attacks) which is fracturing perceptions of a collective sense of self. What do we represent? who are we? Two examples of ideological answers to this can be seen within the ideologies of – Fascism, and neo-liberalism.
Fascism here being the idea that the worth of people is: belonging, the name, the flag they have.
And neo-liberalism (a modern manifestation of mercantile nihilism) the idea that your worth is dependent upon your value or ability to perform as a productive device. The amount of money you generate, Or have others generate. (The debasing of any sense of self-worth within wider society to that of your monetary value to society)
Arguably, both of these ideologies fuel the fires and conditions that give the terrorists their confidence. Their reason for being.
These are two ideologies that represent a schism, and the threat of a sundering within western liberal democracy. This reaffirms the idea of a paradox of polarisation within the new ideological conflict posed by the terrorist threats.
It is possibly only with the insertion of a third ideology ; a Humanism finding its genesis within a truly inclusive and reformed sense of western liberal democratic values. With which we can begin to actively fight this paradox of polarisation. And the Terrorists themselves.
George Orwell once stated that ‘pacifism is objectively pro-fascist’. With this in mind, imagine the generalised world view of a member of a death gang such as ISIS, that sees the ‘west’ as an example of all that is wrong with the world. Polarising historical atrocities such as the crusades aside. What is the greatest failing of western democracy? Arguably, the rise of fascist dictatorships responsible for untold atrocities toward humankind, the holocaust and the genocide of Eastern Europe for instance. For those against it, this is a glaring example of how western liberalism is simply a visage. Hiding undercurrents of racism, xenophobia, and hatred.
Terrorist attacks such as 9/11, 7/7, Hebdo, and the seemingly connected attacks in Paris and Brussels (and those further afar), push us to a place of thought in which it is fertile ground for fascist sentimentalities to flower. Far-right movements such as the English defence league, The front national, Pegida, and to a lesser extent Ukip. Are fuelled by the blanket media coverage that propagates a paradox of polarisation. And liberal democratic values recede a little further each time.
In light of the Orwellian view of pacifism. Those afraid to denounce such attacks, particularly in the example of Hebdo, because of possible offence caused by drawings, objectively foster this seismic shift to the right. Toward Fascism.
It is the culmination of over a decade of irresponsible and ignorant reporting, governmental foreign policy, and the false idea of liberal permissiveness vs religious fundamentalism. And it now manifests itself in populist political leaders pretending to offer dangerous and simplified solutions to scared and confused individuals.
Such scary possibilities now exist as Donald fucking Trump.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
‘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.
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.
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.
5 years ago an old man stood on a stage in front of me and addressed a crowd. He declared that he had never felt so much apathy within the people of Great Britain in all his life.
Apathy. A lack of interest, enthusiasm and concern. During the past five years this buzzword has become synonymous with the British electorate.
5 years ago I participated in protests standing against the tripling of tuition fees for higher education. Many young people on those protests had been betrayed. Unbeknownst to many they had voted for a Tory led coalition Government by voting for the Liberal Democrat party. A party that had campaigned to freeze tuition fees for those who wished to further their education.
When the protests were over, for three hours, I and many others were forcibly held on Westminster Bridge. For three hours the police poured us out of their kettle. Drip by drip, slowly sapping away, for many of those young people, any belief in the political process of our democracy.
As I left the warm huddle of the kettle, a warm looking policeman made me look into a camera. As I walked away searching for my friend it felt as if a little of my soul had been snapped by that lens. Shivering, I found my friends and followed to the train station. On the train ride to New Cross I thought about whether I would have been where I was if I was two years younger, I thought about my brother, my sisters, and about what that old man had said…
In the silence I sat back in my seat and reminisced. My distinct youthful memories of politics are few, but unfortunately mainly negative. Finding out that the queen didn’t exactly mean very much. That Tony Blair was the Prime Minister. And, being told by a different old man that because some students had decided to sit cross-legged on the yard for longer than the permitted break time we would not be going on a school trip that year. Apparently we were going to war with Iraq. Me and my friends used to joke when we saw or heard planes overhead on the walk to school that it was Saddam bombing us – we never knew then how funny we were.
I thought about my first vote. I thought about the concerns of that, ‘bigoted’ woman; education, health, and looking after the vulnerable. Her prophetic mention of immigration…of Tuition fees.
I thought about Gordon Brown, the man I had voted for as the best of a bad bunch… “I agree with Nick…”? I recalled my friend texting me from Sheffield, where he was a student, Nick Cleggs’ constituency in fact. He told me he had been unable to vote as the queue was too long.
I recalled travelling that summer and being embarrassed trying to explain that in Britain we had a government that no-one had voted for.
Not out of a lack of respect; I was embarrassed to explain to my foreign friends the educational background of my countries leaders. Embarrassed, out of the knowledge that even with a great sense of empathy, it would be very hard for them to truly know what it is like for those with a lack of opportunity. Then, returning, I watched my chances to participate in democracy diminish.
And I thought about what that old man had said…
Over the next few months I watched as the die-hard struggled to rally resistance to the systemic cuts of the government as solidarity became a forgotten by word on social media, and those who had supported occupations now grumbled about library access. With the revolutions of what would become known as the Arab Spring revolving in my head I watched Aaron Porter, the leader of the National Union of Students, seek to save his own political skin.
“His dads a copper you know” a grizzled old socialist told me in an ‘ayay’ sorta fashion outside of Chandos pub in Trafalgar square after one of the earlier student demos. In reality; the kettle-ing, the lack of leadership, and the Christmas break had killed any real momentum.
I look at this generation; (and not just British) highly educated and highly literate, able to adapt and to think on its own. It is a generation that is seemingly resistant to the tags of others, of social class. Unaffected by didactic labelling. Acutely aware of environment. Interconnected and able to organize in an instant.
But perhaps most importantly, and inexplicably for those who call us cynical and apathetic. I believe this generation to be In-tune with, tapped into, and accepting of social dissimilarities. Understanding of the personal, social and cultural bonds that make up a sense of literal, of real multiculturalism. Devoid of any toxic political policies.
Back in 2010 The New Year passed and Dave proclaimed the death of “multiculturalism”
That summer I watched as the revolution in Lybia came to an end.
I was staying at a friend’s place on Florence rd when the Riots spilled over into Deptford. Me and a mate went to check out the fuss. As we walked through Deptford high street we came across smashed and boarded up shop windows, burnt out cars, and gangs of police and youths parading about like a grown up game of cops and robbers. Looking about I saw angrier versions of those kids in December and November. More reckless. With less to lose.
The following day my mates place was broken into when we were all out and all our laptops were nicked. The long arm of the law responded with harsher sentencing, while the establishment denounced any and all legitimate reasoning.
For me, it was simply a continuation of the same discontent, bubbled over and inextricably linked to the betrayal of the politicians and the didactic theft of future, of opportunity. The riots of the summer of 2011 were inherently political.
Yet, they had no political agenda! Declared state television. This outburst of passionate concern from a section of society that is amongst the most poverty stricken, the most bereft of opportunity, and the most politically disenfranchised inhabitants of one of the wealthiest cities in the world. This social movement, was not only rejected and belittled it was met with an utterly demoralizing lack of empathy.
How could these kids not understand the rules? Then again, how could these political leaders understand the social implications of a new pair of trainers? (Especially when all your mates just picked some up for free!) How could these statesmen and women of opportunity and leadership possibly understand what it means to be, in democratic terms; angry, sad, deaf, dumb, and mute.
At present it is no longer apathy amongst the non- voting youth. I would argue that over the past 5 years the youth have demonstrated interest, enthusiasm and concern of varying degrees. If not interconnected by name then certainly by nature.
A British identity. I used to believe, was about fairness and patriotic opportunity. Britain should be a beacon for this, as it has in the past… men and women died for the principals of great British society, for the belief in a fair and equal society.
Now, the man in charge of assessing social mobility, that is to say the man in charge of understanding the state of opportunities for our generation is telling us that Britain is on the verge of being permanently divided between rich and poor.
5 years on.
And we have another General Election.
Another opportunity for the ‘apathetic’ youth to engage with politics. There has been many attempts by writers and commentators to persuade the youth to vote. Ranging from guilt trips; ‘men and women died for your right to vote’. To the importance of choosing your enemy wisely.
Personally; put your left leg in, your right leg out…
Remember, that men and women died for your freedom to choose. You are still a part of this democracy, whether you like it or not, whoever you are. My generation is not full of good people doing nothing. It is riddled with a lack of opportunity.
If there was at least one thing the enigmatic Comedian Russell Brand served to highlight to those who are not a part of it, it is that this generation is far from apathetic.
I would argue, it is disillusioned. Impassionately. I witnessed it during the Student protests against the cuts. I witnessed it during the riots. I felt it walking through the streets of Lewisham in 2013. It was, undeniably, on display during the Scottish referendum.
I am an optimist. I believe in people.
Whatever happens from now. Whatever politicians and people may tell you about your rights and your choices and your views.
Remember. That what truly matters. Is you. And the things that matter – to you. Your beliefs and ideals are sacrosanct within democracy. And whether you have been trained for it or not, you can change the world…
When Tony Benn stood in front of me in the great hall of Goldsmiths College in November 2010 and addressed the crowd on the governments’ destructive plans for higher education and called for solidarity to defeat the ‘reforms’. What I saw was a living expression of the idea that genuine social change would not be delivered to us by the good grace of MPs or politicians but through the actions of ordinary people.
Whatever happens between now and the next General Election it is an ideal for my generation to hold on to. And to remember.