I write this today in sadness at the latest tragedy to befall the French people with the attacks on civilians at a number of venues in Paris yesterday. It is jarring and somewhat disillusioning to think that innocents could be so easily victimized in Europe by partisans of a war based far away. As of today, 127 have perished, four hundred are wounded, ninety in critical condition, and many hundreds more, witnesses and emergency workers and others are in a state of extreme shock.
Condolences and statements of support are pouring in to Paris from the world's capitals, statements of sadness, statements of outrage, statements of revulsion at the barbarity of the attacks. Parisiens are lining up in record numbers to donate blood to save their countrymen. The French anthem is played at the symphony in London and New York. Forensic teams are gathering evidence, piecing together events. Police are looking for surviving attackers and their accomplices. Certainly they must be brutal, cold-blooded killers to commit such an outrage in Paris.
Killing anywhere, the killing of young or old, brown or white, French or any other nationality is reprehensible. There is a commandment against it. Why should anyone kill innocent Parisiens at a concert, at a bar, or on the street? They did not offend anyone with their cartoons. Why?
It is difficult to answer such a question at such a time, but not because there is no clear line of causation. It is difficult because this is a time primarily to mourn the deaths and celebrate the lives of the departed. Some time should be allowed for that, and we should remember that in the eyes of God, the victims are forever blameless.
But even as the French government proclaims new efforts to extinguish the flames of radicalism with an increased bombing campaign, thoughtful people need to think back and realize that this cycle of violence has gone on for many years now and that bombing is not the answer.
France is a country with a colonial past. America has no colonial past, but in our era of global capitalism, its government identifies spheres of influence like a colonial power. Like Britain, they have a history of domination over large geographies, over peoples and nations and clans.
Sometimes in the interest of their continued domination, the colonial masters would settle issues to serve their interests by force, often by imprisonment, sometimes by execution or banishment, even war. Never did they fear or imagine their vassals, whom they considered inferior by culture and race, and often by religion, would visit them in the mother country and exact retribution. That was unthinkable. Surely God would not permit it!
So it was that the USA and its battle partners engaged in the foolhardy destruction of the sovereign state of Iraq with two wars, ten years of blockade, and several years of occupation. Moral voices objected to the civilian toll of over a million dead. Neutral parties pointed out the inhumanity of the war, the blockade, and the ensuing occupation. But none feared the Iraqis, whose army was systematically disbanded, in the long term.
Terror is a dreadful weapon, especially when it is directed against a civilian population, terror such as that unleashed by the United States government on the people of Iraq with its bombing of Iraq, which it deemed “Shock and Awe” and which one general boasted was going to bomb the country “back into the Stone Age.” Wanton deaths of innocents are another horrific outcome of mortal conflict, such as the 500,000 civilians who died from lack of medicine and clean water as a result of a 10-year blockade, which the U.S. Secretary of State pronounced as “a price worth paying” in 1996.
The young men who engaged in the terrible attacks in Paris on Friday will have grown up during the wars, blockade and occupation. Even if they did not originate in Iraq, they will have been aware of the enormity of the injustice that was done to them. That country and Libya and parts of Syria are destroyed now because of western bombing. The men may not be terribly concerned that France did not participate in the second war or the occupation. To them, Paris is a western capital, an ally of the “Great Satan” U.S., and therefore a worthy target. These killers are no more empathetic to the people they attacked than the Americans who bombed Baghdad for their shock and awe campaign. And for some, make no mistake, these young men are heroes.
It would be a reckless mistake to think that the answer to the Paris killings is to order more killings ourselves while we shelter leaders, many of them retired now, who in other circumstances would be tried for their war crimes, the wanton deaths of millions and the destruction of nations. The fact they were imperfect democracies does not condone what was done to Iraq and Libya. There are many imperfect democracies without oil and they are not threatened or invaded.
If we truly wish peace for the world, we must stop playing favorites and begin to involve everyone including our mortal enemies. We must begin, as westerners, to accept that we ourselves have contributed to the radicalization of those who now wish us harm, and that it is our government and armed forces that schooled them in the utility of violent confrontation. If they had bombers like we do, you could be assured they would turn them on us as well.
These are difficult times. Let the dead rest. May their spirits rest in peace. But it remains with we the living to negotiate a future here on Earth that recognizes everyone's need for peace and security, and in the case of Iraq and Libya, the need to rebuild the infrastructure, the economy, and the society we have, through our elected leaders and their decisions, had a hand in destroying. This is our mess too and we must press our leaders to pick it up.