Charlie Hebdo Attack: Who is Really Responsible?
The terrorist attack in Paris that left 12 people dead and has traumatized the city should not be treated as an aberrant act. For those who areintimately familiar with foreign affairsand who lack prejudice, the act cannot be detached from events which have taken place in the West and other parts of the world. Political arrogance, the claim of cultural superiority, and assertion of righteousness, while signs of feelings of supremacy,also boost irrationality, carelessness, and a complete disregard for consequences.
Western governments, from Paris to Berlin and from London to Washington, have intensified their involvement in the political turmoil in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Violent interventions have become a preferred strategy and suppression of voices that seek to build functional societies and safeguard their futures have become the norm.
The leaders of Western governments reacted to the Charlie Hebdo attack with surprise and have invoked their love of freedom and their way of life. Moreover, they have promised to take strict measures to ensure safety in their own countries. In the meantime, while these leaders rightly accuse al Qaeda or ISIL, they avoid confronting the most fundamental question: “Who are the ultimate perpetrators and who should be held responsible?”
The attack has been utilized by extremists in the West to place restrictions on Western citizens who happen to be Muslims. This trend is similar to what Jews were faced with in Europe many decades ago. The neoconservative, Reuel Marc Gerecht, who championed military intervention in Iraq, Syria and other places, calls for limiting freedom for European Muslims stating (Wall Street Journal January 8), “There are now so many European Muslims, it is impossible for American officials to identify suspect radicals without European assistance.” Similarly, Charles Lane, a neoconservative, writing in The Washington Post (January 7), asserted that, as a result of the Parismassacre: “Western democracies need strong intelligence, police and military institutions, appropriately restrained by law, to counter those threats.”
Who is responsible is a genuine question and thus should be answered clearly and precisely. Addressing it indirectly does injustice to those who lost their lives and in fact legitimizes terrorism. Of course, the easy and ready answer is that radical and extremist Muslim groups did this. In its editorial “Islamist Terror in Paris,” on January 8, the right-wing newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, stated, “The jihadists target Western principles of free speech and religious pluralism.” President Obama issued a statement condemning the killings, stating that the French people “have stood up for the universal values that generations of our people have defended.”Chancellor Angela Merkel asserted that the act “represents an attack on freedom of opinion and of the press, a core element of our free and democratic culture."
Otherssuggest that the terrorists who carried out the attack are products of their environment (See AmerMuhsen, al-akhbar, January 8). They were born in France and or other European countries and might never see the country their parents or grandparents came from. The writer explained that the isolated and alienated individuals were drawn unto extremism by their own governments which cooperated with an oil rich Arab authoritarian regime. The latter promotes an extreme version of religious thought throughout France.
The above answers at best are either inherently racist or they do not truly capture the nature of the threat civilization is facing and the complex forces that are at play that justify terrorism abroad but condom it at home. This complex phenomenon makes it difficult to decipher the real perpetuators and those who cooperate with them. And in a world where public discourse is controlled by powerful elements, the public, especially ordinary citizens, are left in the dark.
Western governments for many decades, especially at the end of 2010 and the start of what was initially a promising event, the Arab Spring, have feared the coming to power of liberal and progressive elements. The fear is driven by a belief that progressive and liberal groups are a possible threat to Israel and to their traditional Arab allies. When the Arab Spring began, governments in Paris, London, and Washington made it a policy priority to counter and derail this promising event. In this urgent policy quest, these governments have found in religious groups a desired ally.
On behalf of Western governments, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have become instrumental in the recruitment and training of religious-based groups to be used to change regimes in Libya, Yemen, and Syria and to further accelerate the demise of Iraq. The transfer of weapons and fighters to Libya has led to the flourishing of terrorists and the successful replacement of the regime byvarious competing militants and terrorists. Those militants, who have gained experience in Libya, were transferred along with sophisticated weapons through Turkey and Jordan to Syria and Iraq. Under the supervision of Western intelligence, European, Chechen, Afghani, and Arab extremists have been trained and cultivated to enter Syria and transform it into a living hell. This has resulted in the displacement or deaths of millions of innocent people.
These extremists,now hardened by their adventures in Syria, Libya, Yemen, or Iraq, have becomemore enthusiastic about motivating their friends back home and carrying out, themselves, violent acts wherever there are opportunities. Though they utter religious words, they in fact no longer identify with any religion (two out of the twelve individuals who were killed in Paris were Muslims and about ninety-nine percent of victims in the Middle East were Muslims). Their only allegiance is to militancy and violent destruction. This new vocation has no boundaries andis not limited to any faith.
Elites in the West are neither willing to understand this development or take responsibility for the new monster that they have helped cultivate and deploy. This might be the very reason that, up to this moment, they call for trained fighters to go to Syria or to further intervene in Libya and Yemen and empower rival factions.
While most of the political elite in London and Paris look at changing the regimes in Libya, Syria, and Yemen primarily from the prism of protecting Israel, others have personal and business interests with oil rich Arab authoritarian regimes. In Washington, the situation is a little different; the elite, be they Trotskyites or religious fundamentalists, consider changing regimes in the Arab World a divine duty to incite turmoil and paralyze possible foes of Israel. That is, for these elite, creating chaos in the Middle East is strictly viewed from their understanding of Biblical prophesies.
The events, since 2011, have demonstrated time and again four irrefutable facts. First, stirring up conflict and turmoil in the Middle East is costly in terms of human deaths and wealth destruction. Second, transforming certain countries in the Middle East into failed states makes these states fertile ground for attracting and exporting terrorists. Third, the longer the Western induced turmoil in the Middle East, the more radicalized the disgruntled European elements will become.And, most importantly, unleashing terrorists to violently change regimes in countries such as Syria and Libya does not ensure control over what these terrorists will do next.
Driven by their resentment of an Arab progressive and national movement, and later by finding a credible counterpart to Iran, Western governments have promoted a gloomy version of Islam that is espoused by a powerful and rich Arab state. This version denies the rights of others and has become an attractive refuge for alienated and disgruntled elements in many parts of the World.
Using violent methods to change regimes that we do not agree with is dangerous and produces catastrophic events. They are a menace to civility, regional stability, and to the welfare of the people in the Middle East. Western political elites,whether they are driven by Biblical prophecy or discredited businessadventures,have no choice but to critically reevaluate their political stance toward the Middle East.
Western elites must not deny the people in the Middle East the right of freedom and self-determination. They should consider their quest to live free of foreign intervention and occupation as anatural and unalienable right. These elites must grasp the fact that contemporary political issues cannot be solved through reliance on medieval methods and beliefs. Abbas J. Ali is Professor and Director, School of International Management, Eberly College of Business and IT, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.