In January an army of Islamic extremists razed the northern Nigerian village of Baga, killing as many as 2,000 people – mostly women and children who were unable to flee the attacks. The incident was not reported widely in the popular western press. No collective international outrage was confected. Instead news of the atrocity quietly, quickly, disappeared into the obscenity of our indifference. The media’s failure to even bear witness to the tragedy in Nigeria casts into sharp relief its hysterical obsession with the recent Paris terror attacks.
News of the attacks is quickly swamped by a tsunami of interviews with survivors, experts, authorities and other talking heads. Vengeance upstages understanding; eclipsed is the light of reason, our human need to make best sense of events. Of course it is all too much to take in. Our point of view is hotly contested. Scapegoats block the view-finder. As does the grand dame herself. Paris, the city of light is a formidable celebrity in her own right.
For Francois Hollande, it is self-evident that the attacks were ‘committed by a terrorist army, the Islamic State group, a jihadist army, against France, against the values that we defend everywhere in the world, against what we are: a free country that means something to the whole planet.’ No evidence is required but, remarkably a Syrian passport turns up. It is a fake.
The forged Syrian passport found near a terrorist’s body gulls the Daily Telegraph into saluting Tony Abbott for his prophetic warning as the Murdoch newspaper continues its own campaign against refugees and asylum seekers.
‘Former PM Tony Abbott warned IS terrorists are hiding in a flood of refugees.’ The Tele knows how keen its readers are to find evidence to suit their prejudices. It can’t stop to see if the evidence is real; it has a duty to its readers to be speedy. Besides it’s a free kick for Tony from the newspaper’s endless supply of Abbott-idolatry in its mission to serve even a dud conservative leader at the expense of the truth.
Political types fall over each other with chest-beating promises to ‘bring the culprits to justice’. Francois Hollande makes threats of ‘pitiless’ reprisal. Or ‘Merciless’, depending on your journal du jour. Military types urge leaders to put ‘boots on the ground’. An agile Malcolm Turnbull channels his godly inner crusader, decrying the attacks as ‘the work of the devil’ undertaken by ‘enemies of freedom’, his features display a public, pious outrage.
‘The home of freedom has been assaulted by terrorists determined to attack and suppress freedom not just in France but throughout the world,’ the Prime Minister says grandly, adroitly demonstrating that not only does he have the US narrative off pat, as a loyal, freedom-loving Francophile, the heart on his sleeve is bleeding.
‘This is an attack, as President Obama has said, on all humanity.’ Clearly no local factors must cloud his focus. Or his portrait of an ungodly global jihad that can only be met by force of arms and the upliftingly resolute public singing of La Marseillaise.
Before anyone knows who exactly is responsible, France has bombed a Syrian city. A massive ‘airstrike’ by French jets on an ISIS bastion in Raqqa is played up, feeding some primal, populist narrative of retaliation. Satisfying it is, indeed, it seems, to show the world that you can just go out and kick a few heads. All of which is exactly what ISIS wants to hear. It feeds their myth of persecution by a hostile, infidel, unjust West and boosts recruitment.
For Western allies and lackeys of the US, such as PM Turnbull, the nature of existence is to be engaged in a crusade, a religious war in the name of the freedom god, against an infernal foe.
‘Protecting Australians, protecting freedom, is a global struggle for freedom against those who seek to suppress it and seek to assert some form of religious tyranny. A threat in the name of God, that is truthfully the work of the devil.’
Nonsense is spouted about democracy itself being under attack; the city of Paris showing valour, resilience because that’s what democracies do. Ignored is the reality that the Parisian poor are a permanent underclass, who share a life of grinding deprivation and hopeless misery. The poor people of Paris are, moreover, part of the wretched 8.5 million French citizens who must eke out a bleak existence in grim poverty excluded by class, race and religion from any of the delights of the city of light or the grand promises of the revolution. Marginalised, alienated, dispossessed, by a neocon corporate state they are a fertile recruiting ground for extremists offering some kind of hope.
Suffering and resentment are the birthright of fourteen percent of France’s population. Despite their President’s assertions, Liberty, equality and fraternity are an ironic, cruel joke to those who lack the resources to provide for their daily needs and who daily must battle prejudice and persecution just to survive.
In a recent survey into prejudices against the poor, seven out of 10 surveyed believed that it is easy to receive benefits, the survey found, yet the truth, as ATD Quart Monde points out, is that officials demand up to 100 documents for an application. 68 per cent of those eligible for the basic unemployment benefit do not receive it.
For all the posturing, however, for all the grandstanding and the indulgent backgrounders featuring ‘Paris on edge’, or citizens ‘being strong’, by bravely going out drinking together in spite of everything, we are no closer to knowing what is going on. Further still from understanding it. Everyone is happy this way. Easier to point the finger at outside agencies than to acknowledge that terror begins at home.
The media will keep this choke-hold on us before serving up the ready-made facile interpretation and shallow analysis which best fits our prejudices, our brief attention spans, our impatience with complexity and depth. We won’t have to think too hard and we can pack up our critical faculties right away. They won’t be needed. They won’t be appropriate.
Questions abound. Why did seven men open fire on completely innocent civilians? Who were they acting for? Did French intelligence know but fail to act? Were they independent locals, as seems most likely or were they instructed by ISIS HQ as the popular press has already decided – with a little help from its friends? Yet what is modelled, what is packaged is a case for war that it is unpatriotic to inspect.
A former NATO Supreme allied commander admiral James Stavridis says ‘there will have to be boots on the ground in Syria to destroy ISIS.’ Just as there had to be boots on the ground to get Saddam Hussein out of the way so that Iraqis could ‘transition to democracy’. And what if our crusade succeeds in destroying ISIS? Whose boots will hit the ground to deal with the group that pops up in its place?
France’s swift reprisal on Raqqa is scripted by Western media eager to exploit our preference for simple narratives. It looks remarkably like the type of bombing it has been carrying out for a month now but you won’t hear ‘More of the same pointless, ineffectual bombing’ as the headline on the news. Despite 2500 sorties in the last month, our air attacks seem to be making very little impact on ISIS in Syria. Yet it’s cost the Pentagon $5 billion so far and counting.
The G20, it is reported, will be a rallying call for world leaders to denounce terrorism, another reassuring solution in search of a problem. ABC’s Barbara Miller gives us ‘a city on edge’ while another host chats with witnesses, bystanders and onlookers. An avalanche of ‘feel-bad’ popular media provides the moral outrage to suppress our critical faculties; to recruit us in the campaign against a radical group itself the by-product of our own rush to judgement in Iraq 2003.
Calling ISIS the ‘work of the devil’ downplays our own hand in its creation. When the West was on its last crusade in the Middle East Twelve years ago, we were easily manipulated into falling in with a US foreign policy itself serving the needs of big oil rather better than any other deity. Crying havoc and letting loose the dogs of the media war urgers serves us ill as a civilised people who have as much right to the truth as to our own humanity.
Spare us the saturation bombardment of media stories, interviews and other products and packages. Just focus on reporting exactly what happened. All we need is the evidence. Let us make up our own minds about the all the rest. Or we are simply fighting one form of barbarism with another.