Reprinted from Empire Burlesque
Juan Cole has some insightful words on the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. As he points out, the shooters were neither "attacking free speech" nor "defending Mohammed"; they were using a time-honored tactic of radical extremists (of all stripes): "sharpening the contradictions," hoping to provoke an overreaction that would lead to repression and persecution of Muslims in general -- thus helping the extremists recruit new members.
This is what bin Laden did with such spectacular success with 9/11: provoking an endless global war, with Western "interventions" and "targeted assassinations" and drone strikes that have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people -- all of which, as our own security services tell us, have fed the flames of extremism and made the situation worse.
It would be nice if we tried a different approach, but this is not going to happen. By this time, the symbiosis between the West's military-industrial-security complex and the extremists it purports to fight is virtually complete. The MISC holds the commanding heights of society now, and it is utterly dependent on a steady supply of terrorist attacks (and the constant production of new terrorist entities to fight) in order to keep its power, privileges -- and profits -- going strong.
It is probably not too far-fetched to say that the modern American system -- a militarist state protecting the interests of a small, rapacious elite -- would collapse without terrorism. "Security" is the only "legitimacy" this system has. Its power rests entirely on the belief -- the completely unfounded, hysterical, hallucinated belief -- that only the System (with its wars, its death squads, its torture, its mass surveillance, etc. etc.) can protect "us" from terrorism ... the very terrorism that the System itself foments and creates with its depredations. And organized terror depends on the System feeding it recruits. (And of course, in many cases, feeding it directly with arms and money when it suits the System's agenda, as in the stoking of jihad in Syria, just to take one example.)
"The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public.
"The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. ... French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world. ... In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.
"Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination ...
"This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram). Ironically, there are reports that one of the two policemen they killed was a Muslim. ...
"For those who require unrelated people to take responsibility for those who claim to be their co-religionists (not a demand ever made of Christians), the al-Azhar Seminary, seat of Sunni Muslim learning and fatwas, condemned the attack, as did the Arab League that comprises 22 Muslim-majority states."
While putting this together, hoping to add a few more thoughts, I ran across Tom Englehardt's latest piece, which deals with these same themes: the way the "War on Terror" is producing more terrorism -- to the benefit of our powerful national security profiteers and terrorist organizations ... while the rest of us have to live with the growing chaos, insecurity, lack of liberty, depleted treasuries and broken economies this deadly symbiosis keeps producing.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, here are some excerpts from his article that underscore and expand upon many of the points I was making above. The frame of Englehardt's piece is imagining how a visitor from January 1963, just months after the Cuban missile crisis, would confront the bizarro world of today.
"... In these years the national security state triumphed in the nation's capital in a way that the U.S. military and allied intelligence outfits were incapable of doing anywhere else on Earth ... They had been engorged by literally trillions of taxpayer dollars. A new domestic version of the Pentagon called the Department of Homeland Security had been set up in 2002. An 'intelligence community' made up of 17 major agencies and outfits, bolstered by hundreds of thousands of private security contractors, had expanded endlessly and in the process created a global surveillance state that went beyond the wildest imaginings of the totalitarian powers of the twentieth century.
"... Its officials increasingly existed in a crime-free zone, beyond the reach of accountability, the law, courts, or jail. Homeland security and intelligence complexes grew up around the national security state in the way that the military-industrial complex had once grown up around the Pentagon and similarly engorged themselves. In these years, Washington filled with newly constructed billion-dollar intelligence headquarters and building complexes dedicated to secret work -- and that only begins to tell the tale of how twenty-first-century 'security' triumphed.