In the aftermath of the horrendous killings of journalists and cartoonists in Paris by two gunmen, the number of articles which incessantly flood the press across the world is in itself a proof that the killings have caused shock all over despite attempts to place the attacks on the same footing as killings in Nigeria or Peshawar. Locally and internationally, an opinionated lot endeavour to present a balanced assessment of the tragic event by a lot of ‘buts’, defending free expression, condemning violence, and in the same breath, explaining the reasons which turn believers into killers. It is inhumane to blame the victims or give the killers excuses.
Analyses tend to delve into the social issues of immigration, integration, discrimination, unemployment, etc., the usual arguments to explain minority unrest and so on; even a few politicians in France endorse this sort of approach, reflecting a stance which may look appeasing and moderating. They tend to dismiss the fact that in countries where the religious minorities are majority population, and they cannot claim to be discriminated against on ethnic or religious grounds by their own brethren, the same violence committed by radicals takes place, such as in Algeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc.
Whether the two gunned men who barged into the offices of Charlie Hebdo were orphans or engineers is irrelevant in the present context of international terrorism. Remember that some of the terrorists in the 11 September World Trade Centre attack were engineers hailing from well-off middle-class families in Cairo and Saudi Arabia. If you have lived among French people and you know French society intimately, you should know that there are orphans of Algerian origin who become very successful and make it to the top in French society. In a conversation with two such friends, about an observation that they would have brought a tremendous contribution to Algeria, their simple answer was that potential and intelligence develop and bloom in a favourable environment, not in repressive societies.
No country is perfect; neither are France and Britain, both having tried to set up models for accommodating different immigrant groups based on western specific cultures, needs and outlook on others. A free-spirited person is not selective in his or her criticism, and certainly not guided by fear of powerful or small countries. It is all too easy and politically correct to heap blame on host countries, and of course, more risky to criticize perpetrators of crimes and the ideology they represent.
Us and them
A recurrent argument in the press is the return of western imperialism headed by the US and allies in the Middle East and their self-centred interests in gaining control of oil resources, which creates resentment and animosity. It is no secret to anyone. However, most voices take care not to dwell upon the religious aspect of the conflict,
The mentors of terror groups elaborated their strategy in the world long before the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the 11th September attack, or the Allies’ intervention in Libya and their ill-calculated support to religious bigots to topple dictators. Anyone who has travelled to or lived in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and other neighbouring lands are aware of the deep resentment against the West that has simmered in the minds and hearts of people for decades, which is not the best way to evoke past colonialism.
What will it take the world to acknowledge that what happened in Paris is a further step in the declaration of war led by global terrorism? It is not an attack on the freedom of expression. It is a war with its own agenda which has already resulted in huge losses of life. Whether European countries will take corrective measures or not to integrate citizens of immigrant stock will not change anything to that war agenda. Indeed, some of them have been brainwashed not to integrate but to ‘internally live in exile’, as intellectuals from Geneva have encouraged them to do for decades, s’enfermer dans un bel exil. It leads them to adopt the ‘us and them’ look; you can find it everywhere from Indonesia to India, from the Middle East to Europe.
Unsurprisingly, the most outspoken supporters and sympathizers of the slain French journalists are Arab editorialists, cartoonists, journalists and writers, Why? Because they have a first-hand experience of thinking, writing and working under the shadow of death on a daily basis. So do a number of Pakistani journalists who fled the country years back. They aspire to have the sense of solidarity in the world of press as was displayed in France. They, too, want the rights to expression not to be subject to Saudi warlords. The danger lies in the politically-correct stance of opinion makers in the media and politicians. Charb, the late cartoonist of Charlie Hebdo, was quoted as having said that he was more worried by ‘le silence des laics’ than the violence of the extremists.
The brutal killings gave Arab journalists an opportunity and an international platform to voice out their views. Journalists seek truth and are committed to the sacred mission to know, speak and report, band together like a cult and stand in solidarity when their freedom is compromised. The solidarity in the world of the press that was displayed in Paris is a new concept to the Arab world where competition, ad sales, personal vendettas, and political agendas remain the driving force behind reporting, altering how news is witnessed and dictated to the masses. Change has started in the Arab press, it is moving at a slow pace as agendas reign over the profession at the expense of integrity, objectivity and balance.
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Traditionally, in France one can wish Happy New Year till the 31st January. A cartoon which says that ‘Vous avez jusqu’au 25 janvier pour souhaiter bonne annéee’ underlines the way ideas that restrain freedom are circulating. Anyone who does not agree should give counter-arguments. Those who lose an argument start the fight first. Saddam Hussein was quoted to have said when he was still a student in Cairo, ‘Why argue? Shoot him.’ Authoritarian behaviour and murderous actions are certainly not the way modern civilized societies wish to function. A terrorist mindset does not waste time providing arguments and counter-arguments.
Killing journalists in a country that welcomes diversity and provides everyone equally with the freedom to speak, import traditions and cultures and practise them freely shocked the public worldwide. France has traditionally welcomed those needing refuge from tyrannical regimes and repressive societies. France is a hub for life lovers to prosper and freedom seekers to thrive. That is why the killing rocked world opinion and moved crowds in streets across the world.
* Published in print edition on 23 January 2015