Sunday, 15 November 2015

#ParisAttacks - I am NOT afraid

We have just witnessed the most appalling atrocities in Paris, and my thoughts remain very much with all of those affected. It is an unimaginable nightmare situation for all of those caught up in it, and we must all do all that we can support them. The sad reality, though, is that for most of us there is unfortunately really very little that we can practically do other than show them that we are thinking of them at this dreadful time. What we must not do, though, is allow the terrorists to win.

Some have, in the past, rightly pointed out that we can sometimes be selective in our reactions to such events, depending on how much we personally feel that it is 'close to home' - that many of us have reacted so much more to this than we have to the daily violence and carnage in the far-off Middle East. That is a fair comment - it is a part of the human condition, I guess, as it probably is to tie what has just happened in with other current 'hot issues'. However, those engaged in the inevitable social media reactionary lurch against refugees would do well to remember that these acts have been perpetrated by the very people that are perpetrating the acts and creating the situations from which many of the refugees are trying to escape in their homelands. This is not the result of the refugee crisis, it is the cause of it.

Another inevitable social media response has been the cries of 'where are these supposed 'moderate Muslims' who are condemning such outrages?'. The answer to that is, in fact, a simple one - they are everywhere. Muslims, Muslim leaders and Muslim organisations all over the world have been rapid in their response, condemning utterly acts that have no basis, and are directly contradictory to, their own religious beliefs. I won't go into providing a list of such Muslim responses, but I very easily could with a minimum of googling - try it, you'll find them. Whether that is being prominently reported by the particular chosen media outlets of the social media reactionaries is another question, of course.

It is often said, with some justification, that social media can be an 'echo chamber' - people often tend to notice, follow and friend others who share their opinions, and I have no doubt that in the aftermath of such an attach their various newsfeeds are filled with outrage not just about the events, nor just about the perpetrators themselves, but about anyone and everyone who might share some apparent particular demographic similarities with them. That is a real issue in the modern world, in the age of the rise of the politics of 'but we all know that...' - a spiralling of ever more outraged rhetoric against whole demographic groups of people, bouncing around between people of similar beliefs and luring those who just don't know what to think in the aftermath of terrible events into their web. I don't pretend to know the answer to countering that problem, but it plays straight into the hands of those who are trying to create a 'war between cultures'. It is worth noting, though, that that kind of nasty and intolerant social media rhetoric is not the only social media response out there - thankfully many people are reacting very, very differently.

That is what the perpetrators and supporters of these acts want to create - a war between cultures. That is why they are doing what they are doing. They want to harden attitudes and spread the blame, because hardening attitudes and spreading blame beyond those actually responsible creates a reactive response that only serves to harden attitudes among a wider group on their own side. It was often said that the best recruiting sergeants the IRA ever had in their campaign of violence were the most hardline loyalists, and the reverse was undoubtedly true too. We need to be aware of this. What terrorists want is to create terror - the clue is in the name. They want lives to be ruled by fear, not only among their opponents but among those of their own supposed faith who fear reprisals that go far above and beyond simple justice applied to the perpetrators themselves. That is always part of the cause of terrorism - it is what allows them to recruit, and to win support.

In this case, they want the far right, Islamophobic, hate-filled groups to rise in power and prominence in the west. They want to create a war with those people who want a war with them, and to do that they need both their opponents and themselves to be recruiting support for their agendas. They want violence. They want to promote fear to promote hate and violence - that is what it is entirely about, and that is why they pick on entirely innocent targets to maximise public outrage. It's not about creating fear 'close to home' for us to make us more timid and cowed in the face of their campaign - quite the opposite, it is all about creating fear to provoke a violent response that will add power to their arguments, increase their support and further their agenda. We have to be aware of that fact, because it dictates the kind of response we need to give to prevent them from ultimately succeeding in their campaign.

And on that issue of being 'close to home', for me this attack, and one part of it in particular, very much feels as though it is. As is natural, I think, this particular event has personally hit me harder than almost any other terrorist atrocity that I can remember. We always here talk of the affected 'communities', and in this case a community of which I am very much a part was at the centre of events. I have spend to many hours of my life at rock and metal concerts just like that which the Eagles of Death Metal were performing at in Paris on Friday night. While I didn't watch them myself, that very band was playing at a festival that I attended just a few months ago - they might not be very well known outside of rock and metal 'circles', I guess, but they are a very well known and respected band within them.

Those gigs and festivals are in many ways like big extended 'family get-togethers', with a real atmosphere of togetherness between the audience, the band and their music. For many of us, it's so much more than just 'a good night out with mates' (though it is often that as well) - it is a communal gathering of a cultural kind to engage collectively in what binds that culture and community together, akin in many ways to the kind of community gatherings that occur at religious services. In a very real sense, the people in that gig were a part of my own community - they were my brothers and sisters. Had I been in Paris, I could have easily been there myself, or known people who were there (hopefully I don't, though I do know of someone who would have been had their travel plans not been delayed), and I could at some point (since such people tend to work in various places and for various bands over the years) have very easily been sold a t-shirt by one of the terrorists' confirmed victims. This one does feel more personal to me, and while I understand and fully support the idea that we should be outraged by all such acts of violence (and indeed I am), I make no apologies for feeling that at the human level. This felt to me very much like an attack against 'my own'.

So how should we react? With outrage, sorrow and sympathy, of course, and also with calls for justice for any who have actually committed such acts, but we mustn't allow ourselves to fall into the trap of reaction with thoughts of revenge against those who share some kind of identification with that used by the perpetrators. As I have said, I am a part of the worldwide rock and metal community - that doesn't mean that I am in any way associated with, or supportive of, any criminal, violent or hateful acts perpetrated by other members of that community at any time, even if they have sought, by some kind of twisted logic, to use that community's shared identity as justification for what they have done. I've never burnt a Scandinavian church, for example (such things have, sadly, happened in the past), nor would I ever do anything than utterly condemn such acts - they are the product of twisting logic to justify violence that has nothing whatsoever to do with the real passion for music shared by the community at large. The same is true for members of any community - all such communities will have a few criminals among them - that's humanity for you, unfortunately.

I can certainly understand those Muslims (and I've seen one or two) who make a point of refusing to 'apologise' for what has happened too - why should they? It's nothing to do with them, or to do with their beliefs, or to do with their community - they are not remotely responsible for what has happened in any way. All Muslims should, and the vast majority do, condemn any acts of terror or violence that others try to justify by some twisting of Islam (and, as is often rightly pointed out, there are far more victims of these particular terror organisations who are Muslims than who are non-Muslims), but they shouldn't need to apologise for something for which they are not responsible. To expect them to do that is to imply that ordinary Muslims are somehow to blame, which they are not, and doing that only promotes the world view that the terrorists want promoted - that there really is some kind of 'cultural conflict' between Muslims and other people.

If we react with fear, we risk being led (by those with their own agenda) down a path of hate, and a path that promotes resistance towards those innocent people who are not to blame for what has happened. There are those who would seek to use such reactions for their own ends. there are the perpetrators themselves who want to provoke violent reactions, there are the hate-filled opposition who want to find an excuse for more violence, and in addition there are those who seek to manipulate us into allowing the surrender of our own freedoms. While a period of limited local shut down to allow immediate investigations to take place is inevitable, of course, we must not allow the perpetrators to win by us agreeing to change our way of life on a wider scale.

Those who seek to increase state control over us through security and surveillance will seek to use events like this to justify themselves - that's not some weird conspiracy-theorist nonsense, but simply a reflection of reality that can be very easily observed by looking at the way some governments are trying to erode our own ability to oppose them or hold them to account for their actions (including a current UK Tory government bent on introducing Snoopers' Charters and eroding Freedom of Information, and so on). They will seek to make us give up our liberties in order to 'keep us safe'. Civil liberties are a massively important part of our society and culture - the freedom to do what we choose and be who we choose, free from government interference and 'monitoring', as long as we don't harm anyone else. We must not allow ourselves to surrender such things to fear - it would diminish our society, and allow those who thrive on fear to prosper, and potentially eventually to create their 'cultural war' to 'prove' the 'superiority' of one culture over another (which, ultimately, is what both such 'sides' want to do) even as essential elements of that culture are itself eroded in the name of 'security'.

That is a very real danger at this point - make no mistake about it. I have mentioned in previous posts the dangers of the current style of political language and rhetoric, and how parallels can and must be drawn with past history to inform us about the direction in which we could end up going, and going very quickly in the wake of an attack such as this. We have to avoid falling in to the same old trap. We need to respond with an understanding of this, and with solidarity with all of humanity standing together as one - brothers and sisters against hate, and against those who would seek to use hate and fear to divide us against each other. Yes, those people might attack us again, and next time it might be us ourselves who are the victims - then so be it - they still will not defeat me. I will not meet hate with hate, and I will not respond to their attempted intimidation with fear. I will not play into their hands, and I will not allow them to use me to further their intolerant and hateful agenda. We cannot allow our lives to be ruled by fear - if we do, they win.

I stand together in solidarity with my Parisian brothers and sisters.
I stand together in solidarity with my French brothers and sisters.
I stand together in solidarity with my Rock and Metal brothers and sisters.
I stand together in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters.
I stand together in solidarity with people of all faiths, and none.
I stand together in solidarity with all of humanity.
I stand against those who would use violence to promote fear and hatred.
They have failed, and will always fail - I am NOT afraid.

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