The Paris attacks is now last week’s news, but news that is going to predominate our thinking for quite some time. It’s hard to avoid. The attacks were so dramatic. The consequences so stark. And, the ongoing civil war in Syria – as well as the recent bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, which happened just a day before the Paris attacks – are also tragedies that we in the West have largely ignored. Because it’s not us. Because it’s not taking place near us. In any case, some of my random thoughts:
- There is an argument to be made that George Bush and Dick Cheney created ISIS.
A number of people have made the argument that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney “created” ISIS through their (mis)handling of the Iraq war. For those of you who don’t remember, Sadam Hussein’s was an essentially Sunni regime in a country that is majority Shiite. Commentators like Robert Creamer and others have noted that it was Bush’s “de-Baathification” program that eliminated almost all vestiges of Sunni power in Iraqi society and set the stage for the Sunni insurrection against American occupation. Bush disbanded the entire Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army and bureaucracy. He didn’t make it more inclusive of Shiites and Kurds; he just disbanded it. It is no accident that two of the top commanders of today’s ISIL are former commanders in the Saddam-era Iraqi military.
In a way, it’s a little but like what happened to German soldiers after World War I, who not really defeated formed but just temporarily disarmed formed the basis of the Freikorps which eventually formed the basis of the private armies that were part of Hitler’s muscle when he first came to political prominence.
I don’t know if one can draw this direct a line, but there is clearly some cause and effect. And it’s part of what I’ve been saying over and over, which is that we really have no clue what we’re doing in the Middle East. Not us, not the Russians, and not the French. Is it any wonder that things are turning out as they are?
- Why was a Belgian man with Moroccan background the mastermind behind the attacks?
The alleged mastermind behind the Paris attacks is a Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin named Abdelhamid Abaaoud. The one picture they had of the guy makes him look like a hipster from Brooklyn. What makes this guy, who grew up in the multiethnic Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighborhood of Brussels hate the West so much? It’s a question that currently has no answer.
- How is Francois Holland’s “Pitiless” Response going to help?
French President François Hollande has promised a “pitiless” – or alternately, “merciless” – response to the Paris attacks. Now mind you, Hollande is a “socialist,” or what passes for in Europe as a socialist – really, a social democrat. This has historically not been in a pro-war party. The French are already part of the coalition that is bombing ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria. What else can they do?
As the commentator Neil Fergusson has pointed out, France has pretty porous borders. The country is about 10% Muslim – mostly people from its former colonies – and it has, according to Fergusson, “opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.”
- The Paris Attacks were intended to trigger an Islamophobic Backlash.
As the anti-ISIS, anti-Assad regime Syrian blogger Nader Atassi has pointed out in a post on Facebook that has been widely redistributed, the Paris attacks were actually intended to trigger an Islamophobic backlash. Because it “lends credence to the narrative that there is a war between the West and Islam.” One of the tragic ironies is that the backlash may end up targeting the very refugees who have been trying to escape the civil war in Syria.
- There is a question (at least in the mind of Bill Maher) about whether there is something intrinsic in Islam that causes this kind of behavior.
And let’s be honest, Bill Maher is hardly the only one who is asking this question. He may just be the most prominent. Bill Maher has been on the record – and occasionally feuding with Muslim scholars like Reza Aslan – about whether the “progressive” West has been ignoring the character of radical Islam. (Some right-wingers are still incensed that politicians, including Barack Obama, try to avoid the term “radical Islam” because it offends some of our allies, like the Saudi Arabians.)
Bill Maher recently did a very interesting interview with Asra Nomani, the Indian-American journalist, author, lecturer and feminist, known as an activist involved in the Muslim reform and Islamic feminist movements. We have plenty of our crazy Christians here in the United States, while the Middle East has their crazy Muslims. It does seem that the primary difference – at this time – is that the crazy Muslims are willing to engage in a kind of violence that the crazy Christians are not. And I’m not talking about state violence here, which is a separate question. I’m talking about individual violence.
- We still have no fucking clue what we’re doing in the Middle East.
I said a while back that we officially have no clue what we’re doing in Afghanistan and the Middle East. I stand by that statement. We really have no fucking clue. I don’t think what we’re doing now is going to make things better. I think our heavy-handed approach to state violence will just guarantee that we raise another generation of radical Jihadists, people with not a scintilla of understanding of what an honest “God” would really be about. (If there were such a thing as an “honest” God.) The only good news – if one can call it that – is that we in the United States won’t be the only targets. No, the French, the Russians, and other Western countries will be targets as well. One despairs for our future at the rate that we’re going.