Monday, 12 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo attack an omen of breakdown

I noted that the week of the slaughter of cartoonists in Paris was also the anniversary #13 of the arrival of prisoners to the Guantánamo dungeon, a reminder of the great triumph of Osama bin Laden who managed with his nefarious assault on New York to undermine one of the key pillars of western democracy, i.e., the rule of law.

Of course, bin Laden didn’t do this; we did it to ourselves through the persons of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the neocon cabal, whose machinations were later excused by the Democratic Party apparatus under Barack Obama and, ultimately, by the American people. If the populace had valued its principles more, there would have been support for a leader who dared to put terror suspects on trial in courtrooms and insisted on proof of guilt. Alas, we preferred revenge and have paid a heavy price for it.

It remains to be seen how much of the Enlightenment legacy that originated in France over 200 years ago will survive the latest assault on free speech. Not that our rhetorical worship of freedom of conscience and expression extends very far in practical terms—our president has plenty of boilerplate to serve up about it but can’t bring himself to stop the Saudis from publicly torturing a blogger who dared propose reforms in that medieval kingdom with public beatings.

You’d think a kingdom that has permitted its oil barons to fund the Islamic State that marauds through the region beheading reporters, kidnapping little girls and slaughtering infidels would draw some attention from official Washington—but alas, not even liberal Democrats dare denounce the petro-state allies.

But we still have a semblance of public debate while the fetishization of Security proceeds. Meanwhile, France is already deeply in the grip of ultra-rightwing politics, and the latest shock will only further strengthen the ascendency of Marianne Le Pen and her neo-fascist legions, especially given the French elite’s acquiescence in the insane suicide-by-austerity program imposed by Germany’s bankers. What unemployed 25-year-old in France or anywhere in the Eurozone would not be tempted by Le Pen’s promise to smash the EU and reset the nation’s course? Fear and dislike of foreigners adds the perfect xenophobic condiment to the tasty dish.

Reading the commentary here and especially the Comments sections of articles about the Charlie Hebdo events, I am struck by the tendency to see the incident as an act of war and to filter one’s reactions accordingly. Many condemn the murders while those sympathetic to America’s adversaries condemn the condemnation; no doubt those hostile to Austro-Hungarian rule in Central Europe had similar sentiments about the assassination that set off World War I. People are so predictable—violent acts rarely bring out our better qualities, and cooler heads are unlikely to prevail.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

Fabulous piece Tim. It seems cooler heads are never prevailing these days. Despite all the rhetoric, attacks agains Muslims in France are up and rising. My friend from Australia today posted a nice long list of heads of state who oversee horrendous crimes against journalists and humanity on a regular basis. Seeing photos of them marching arm and arm made me sick, especially Netanyahu just down the row from Abu Mazen. What a world!