The Paris terror attacks were undoubtedly barbaric, but no less so than recent Western assaults on Islamic nations, says John Wight
The huge march and rally in Paris, sparked by the horrific events at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, was a festival of nauseating hypocrisy.
Watching heads of governments which, between them, have been responsible for carnage and mayhem on a grand scale — the likes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example — lead a march against terrorism and extremism qualified not so much as the theatre of the absurd but as the theatre of the grotesque.
They were impostors at an event that millions of people allowed themselves to hope would mark a step change in a world scarred by war, barbarism and injustice.
Sadly they will be disappointed, as the circular relationship that exists between Western extremism and Islamist extremism will not be broken any time soon.
Indeed, it may be strengthened after the massacre in Paris, as the congenital condition of Western exceptionalism reasserts itself.
When Frantz Fanon wrote that “violence is man recreating himself,” he could have been describing the Kouachi brothers striding up and down the street outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, assault weapons in hand, prior to and after murdering the French-Algerian police officer Ahmed Merabet, with the ease of men for whom all restraint had been abandoned.
The irony of men acting in the name of Islam callously taking the life of a fellow Muslim should not have come as a surprise, however. The vast majority of victims of Islamic extremism, after all, are Muslims — just as they comprise the vast majority of victims of Western extremism.
At this point the Kouachis were euphoric, filled with a sense of their own power and strength, having broken through the final barrier that exists between the agony of powerlessness and liberation from it. They had been transformed by the “deed.”
“What is good?” Nietzsche asks, before answering: “All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.”
Behind them the brothers had left a scene of carnage. For us it was an act of sheer evil, but for them it was justice and power.
Within them had taken root a more powerful idea than the one they had been inculcated with growing up with in the heart of Europe. It willed them to seek meaning not in life but in death — that of others, and their own.
When confronted by such total rejection of the moral foundations upon which our cultural, social and human consciousness rests, we dismiss it automatically and unthinkingly, ascribing it to evil, madness, and insanity.
Our coping mechanism dares not deviate for a second in this regard. But what if such deeds are acts of rebellion against the evil, madness and insanity of the status quo, matching evil with evil, madness with madness, and insanity with insanity?
It is far too simplistic, if understandable, to dismiss such individuals as evil. It allows us to negate their humanity and anything we may recognise in ourselves. Many tell themselves that the killers aren’t human beings — they are monsters, beyond the pale and therefore beyond any serious consideration. Ritual condemnation is all that society accepts when it comes to those who perpetrate such horrific acts.
Yes, the act of mass murder carried out by the Kouachis and Amedy Coulibaly in Paris was monstrous. But was it any more monstrous than the carnage that has been unleashed over many years by men who claim to act in our name?
Wasn’t the brutality and barbarism we witnessed on our TV screens, crashing into our collective consciousness, merely a microcosm of the brutality and barbarism that goes by the name Western civilisation? For just as the Enlightenment provided the basis for modern liberal democracy, producing huge advances in science, medicine and philosophy, it also provided justification for centuries of slavery, colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and super-exploitation.
The slogan Je suis Charlie (“I am Charlie”) describes the delimitation of our solidarity with all victims of extremism and barbarism. It allows us to avoid confronting the ugly truth of our culpability in the fate of those victims.
When Aime Cesaire warned that “a civilisation which justifies colonisation — and therefore force — is already a sick civilisation, a civilisation which is morally diseased, which irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one denial to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment,” he was talking to us.
The Kouachis and Coulibaly were not products of radical Islam. They, like it, were the products of Western civilisation. They were and are monsters of our own creation.
John Wight is a writer and broadcaster
This also appears in the Morning Star newspaper