By Isabel Manuela Estrada Portales, Ph.D., M.S.
After the attacks in Paris, the supposed Western world promptly split into two camps: those who condemn the attacks and those who…what? Defend them? Justify them?
At least that’s how it was portrayed.
Perhaps due to professional malformations, I hang around too many people immersed in post-colonial, subaltern, cultural studies and the like. Therefore, perhaps I heard more than my fair share of accusations and diatribe against those people for bringing to bear a couple of thoughts in the aftermath of the terrorists’ crimes in Paris. The critics were not kind.
Two days after the attacks, the French president not just declared war on the terrorist group ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the murders, but French fighter planes began to bomb Syria in retaliation.
DIGRESSION: Wait! What does “began” mean? As we know, France was already bombing and involved in the campaign against ISIS, away from the front-pages. And we still had Paris. So, apparently, doubling down on what we were doing without success should be considered a plausible strategy. Not to mention that all of the sudden the United States could provide France with intelligence about ISIS targets that had not been bombed yet. How come? Why those targets that were so easily spotted that they could be supplied to the French army in two days flat had not been destroyed before? And, how come all the previous bombing and surveillance didn’t prevent the Paris attacks? Yeah. At some point we will need to awake to the governments’ manipulation of our emotions. We are so weak and feebleminded that they need to give us a pacifier…pun most definitely not intended.
As I was saying, the post-colonialists were criticized for pointing out a few of the obvious and longstanding problems so soon after the attacks, when “the bodies are still warm,” some said. But, in a matter of hours we are bombing a bit more and in a matter of days we are declaring war and forming a coalition – and the military industrial complex is ordering more champagne through Amazon.com because they’ll have something big to celebrate this Holiday season – and as our illustrious leadership dances to the music of the drums of war, when is the time to ask questions?
They are using our understandable hurt and fear to bring about more hurt and fear in others, as if that would soothe us or would prevent the next attack…since it has worked so well so far. We are dropping bombs and drones in many countries in the Middle East, and, yes, sometimes we killed the terrorists, but, obviously, many a time we killed many, many civilians. One of the diatribes against those calling for calm and thought before action said that, yes, a lot of civilians are killed, but the difference is that when that happens “Obama laments it; and ISIS celebrates.” I am sure that the mothers of those killed are making that distinction. I guess that’s what Ted Cruz counts on when he suggests we should increase the bombing with more tolerance for collateral damage. More tolerance from whom? As long as it is not our children, those there are just “collateral damage.” The notion that we are not creating more terrorists by doing that would be laughable, were it not so (o)pressing.
Of course, pacifist – which is said with the tone of an insult – has become synonym with coward. As if we the pacifists were actually going to go fight the wars we are trying to prevent. But, you know who won’t go to war either? Those encouraging it. They are like the king in the movie Shreck: “Some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
Then those who call for a thoughtful response and ask to put things in perspective are mocked for their “post-colonial” discourse. Or are accused of justifying, as if explaining, contextualizing and justifying were the same thing. How little accountability is demanded of the leaders who put us continuously in this predicament and have very little to offer in the way of real solutions; and how much is demanded of citizens to suspend their disbelief and put aside their critical thought!
More outrageous were the infantile calls to “take sides,” as if there were any sides to take; as if because we put things in context and warn not to go for the millionth time down the same road that leads to a dead end – literally and figuratively – we are somehow condoning the barbarism of ISIS in Paris and everywhere else.
Yes, history matters, particularly when we are about to repeat it.
Yes, the history that created Arab ghettos in France matters a lot, particularly when Europe is receiving many refugees and is creating neighborhoods for them, instead of integrating them – which is not the same as assimilating – to the communities.
Yes, only a purposefully blind person could ignore the connection between Algeria and France today. The warring factions at some point should be called to demonstrate how, exactly, the strategy we have been using since 2001 is increasing our safety and producing the results they promised. They ask mockingly of the pacifists “So, we do nothing? We just take it?” I wish some leaders would have the demeanor to say: “Yes, we do nothing unless we actually have something that would produce an outcome we can live with. We won’t double down on failed strategies and bring further pain, unintentional as it might be, to peoples that are at their wits’ end.” I realize that a wounded people, like the French after November 13, needs consolation and compassion; it needs its leaders to acknowledge the pain and the fear. It also, and perhaps more than ever in those moments, needs its leaders to be honest brokers and not PR hacks. Politicians, however, don’t show any qualms to take advantage of that moment of hurt and make policy that would compound it.
Viet Nam should be a useful history lesson. But not because the war ended badly, but because of the enormous manipulation that surrounded it.
The people opposing it back then were called the same names we are called now. Then, 30 years and innumerous deaths later, we have to hear Kissinger and McNamara say that it was a mistake, it was a civil war and we shouldn’t have gotten involved. Oh, really? What was the peace movement telling you then??? But there is no accountability and those who are now sending our kids to war, like Dick Cheney, back then had other priorities. We could try to excuse them by assuming they didn’t know it was a lost cause. Except that we now know they did know and they were lying to us in public television.
Nixon’s note to Henry Kissinger, then his national security adviser, on Jan. 3, 1972, was written sideways across a top-secret memo updating the president on war developments. Nixon wrote: “K. We have had 10 years of total control of the air in Laos and V.Nam. The result = Zilch. There is something wrong with the strategy or the Air Force.”“The day before he wrote the “zilch” note, Nixon was asked about the military effectiveness of the bombing by Dan Rather of CBS News in an hourlong, prime-time TV interview.“The results have been very, very effective,” Nixon declared.
I will bow down and state, in case it needs clarity, the obvious: ISIS, its terrorist brethren and their murderous religious ideology are at fault for the attacks in Paris, Beirut and Mali – just to mention the most recent. But, if we allow ourselves to be pulled into a whirl of never ending wars that has proved so appallingly unsuccessful so far, the sad joke will be on us.
DISCLAIMER: These are my personal views and do not represent the opinions of my employer, or any other organization.