Finally, France has been promoting intervention in Syria. In an ill-advised effort to undermine the secular regime of Bashar al-Assad, French governments (all of which have had a misplaced and certainly racist sense of mission civilisatrice toward Syria) have helped finance and equip Syrian rebels. This threatens to be a repeat of the U.S. mistake made in Afghanistan back in the 1980s, because a good number of these Syrian rebels hate the French (and other Western powers) as much as they do al-Assad.
Part IV -- A Vicious Cycle
Under the present circumstances, and by this I mean given long-standing foreign policies of the Western powers, there is no end in sight for terrorist attacks such as that in Paris on 12 January 2015 or, for that matter, in New York on 11 September 2001. They will come again and again because they are ripostes to even more violent actions coming from the West. In other words, what we have going here is a vicious cycle. It began with modern imperialism and has been sustained by frankly counter-productive Western policies in the Muslim world -- often in support of brutal Arab dictators and racist and expansionist Israelis. What goes around comes around.
This conclusion is usually dismissed by Western leaders as blaming the (Western) victims. However, to take this position one must ignore the myriad number of victims in the Middle East and North Africa. So, sadly, it really is a matter of which victims one gives priority to: the ones in the Twin Towers or the ones in Gaza; the ones in the offices of Charlie Weekly or the ones killed by French-backed rebels in Syria. Then there are the dead and injured members of the wedding parties that Western drones see; to find with uncanny regularity; the million dead Iraqi civilians; the dead Afghan civilians, the victims of the French-promoted chaos in Libya. There are our victims and there are their victims. It is victims all around and everyone is out for revenge.
Part V -- A Way Out?
Is there a way out of this vicious cycle -- one that might also uphold a broad and truly universal standard for freedom of speech? Ideally, there is -- it is called international law. This is not just any set of laws, but ones that reflect human and civil rights. After World War II there were so many victims of war and terror that international laws and conventions were created to prevent, or at least ameliorate, the practices and policies that victimized millions of innocent people. Updated Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 19 of which supports a broad interpretation of freedom of speech) are examples of these efforts.
These are very good precedents which, in theory, have many endorsers among the world's nations. Unfortunately, their influence on practice has always been marginal and even that much has been waning. Particularly in the last 50 years these rules of behavior have been undermined by fading memories of the mid-twentieth century horrors that once made them seem so necessary. In the place of those memories has come a resurgence of narrow-minded nationalism, delusional racism, outright bigotry, and increasingly unchecked instances of brutality. Some might say that is the true nature of human beings at work -- their fallen nature. However, I don't believe this. The Geneva Conventions and Universal Declaration of Human Rights are every bit as much a product of human decision-making as are the criminal acts they seek to prevent.
So, ultimately, we have to ask what sort of a world we want to live in. If part of that answer is a world without terror attacks, then we have to honestly investigate why those attacks take place. And, if that investigation reveals (as it surely will) that Western popular ignorance and intolerance, and the governmental policies they allow, have helped motivate those attacks, then it behooves us to reconsider our attitudes and actions and set new standards for our behavior. The progressive international laws and conventions cited above can serve us as good standards in such an effort.
Strangely, there may be a perverse correlation between how much blood is shed and our eventual moment of self-examination. It took two world wars to produce such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How much blood has to be shed before we actually honor them?
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