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Paris attacks show the interconnectedness of our troubles

If the attacks on Paris are viewed as ‘an attack on us all,’ then so too should the wars in Syria and Iraq.

A woman lays flowers at an impromptu memorial a day after the Paris terror attacks, Le Petit Cambodge / Carillon, November 14, 2015. (Maya-Anaïs Yataghène/CC)

A woman lays flowers at an impromptu memorial a day after the Paris terror attacks, Le Petit Cambodge / Carillon, November 14, 2015. (Maya-Anaïs Yataghène/CC)

Like millions of others last night, I stayed up for hours following the news of the horrifying attacks in Paris. At the same time that I dreaded the rising body count and the welfare of my friends and a family member (all safe), I was also afraid of what the public responses would be to the events both from France and around the world.

Indeed, I came across plenty of hateful and racist comments lambasting Muslims, cursing Syrian refugees, and calling for an all-out war on “them” (whoever “they” are). But I also saw that many people were just as quick to condemn these hostile messages, chastise racism and political opportunism, and insist that “terrorism has no race or religion.” In the midst of yesterday’s dark events, it was comforting to know that there were still many beacons of humanity refusing to succumb to twisted narratives.

The next weeks will be filled with analyses of the attacks in Paris, seeking to provide lessons for moving forward on the questions of Da’esh (the Arabic name for ISIS), the security of European countries, and the ongoing humanitarian crises in the Middle East. At the same time, many political actors will try to exploit the events for their gain, from Bashar al-Assad to the French far-right to Israeli government officials.

The biggest challenge in the midst of this mess is to assert a key understanding about last night’s events. The cause of the Paris attacks is not the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, nor France’s involvement in military operations in the Middle East, nor the religion of Islam. It is the desire by groups like Da’esh and their followers to exert power over governments and civilians, and to project an image of omnipotence and far-reaching influence. Fear is the most effective tool to achieve this goal, and atrocious acts of violence are its quickest generators.

However, contrary to the claims of Da’esh and many politicians and pundits, the main targets of this agenda are not people from Western countries. In fact, its primary victims are the people of the Middle East. A night before the Paris attacks, two suicide bombings by Da’esh ravaged the Beirut neighborhood of Burj al-Barajneh, killing 43 people and injuring over 200 more. The following day another suicide bombing, also believed to have been committed by Da’esh, killed 19 people and injured over 30 at a funeral in Baghdad. These are only some of the undoubtedly countless acts of killing by the group this week alone, most of which hardly receive attention despite their daily occurrence.

Sadly and expectedly, the attacks in Beirut and Baghdad did not create the uproar that we are seeing with Paris today. Just as bad, however, is how various international media outlets covered the news, such as the New York Times’ initial headline of “Deadly blasts hit Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut.” Few take the time to comprehend how such labels are insulting and dehumanizing to the victims and their loved ones, in the same way it would if newspapers described the Paris events as “Deadly attacks hit capital of European power waging war in Syria.” Civilians should never be explained as political items; they are human beings with stories and families who do not deserve such atrocious deaths.

The disparities of international media and public interest are unfortunately a fact of life that all people from West to East are guilty of. They are even more severe when it comes to our ignorance of the far-worse daily events happening in places like Syria, Iraq and other parts of the world. But the imbalance is nonetheless crucial for us to keep in mind. Many Middle Easterners hit hardest by the region’s conflicts watch the outpouring of political and public support for Paris, only to feel further isolated, ignored, and irrelevant to the world, thereby oftentimes increasing their sense of despair in environments far more brutal and deadly than in Paris yesterday evening.

This is not at all to say that the inspiring solidarity with Paris is wrong or misplaced. But the world should be reminded that the selectivity of our responses, though natural, has real effects on millions of others watching from afar. As Europe is learning through its refugee crisis and now with Paris, governments and their people cannot hide behind their borders to escape the conflicts occurring on their doorstep. Similarly, the lack of active sympathy for people suffering from severe crises does not shield us from the effects of those crises. In one form or another, what happens in one part of the world will always affect another.

The violence in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad this week should therefore be a reminder of the interconnected nature of the world’s troubles, and our need to channel the same energy and empathy in the Middle East as we do in Europe. If the attacks on Paris are widely viewed as “an attack on all,” then so too should the wars in Syria, Iraq and others. Thankfully, despite powerful negative forces seeking to turn the attacks into a source of division, many in France and elsewhere are working to encourage a more unifying belief, and are fighting for their governments to enact better policies based on that worldview. The attacks in Paris are unlikely to be a game-changer in this regard. But they can at least serve as a platform for us to not only share our collective grief and support, but also to re-energize our efforts to help others in need.

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    1. Gustav

      “and insist that “terrorism has no race or religion.”

      That is self evidently true. I am supposed to be a right wing war monger according to the left wing posters who post here. It is true that I am a centre rightist but I am not a war monger and I do concede the above point…

      …yet one must not be in denial about reality. RIGHT, NOW, at this point of human history, the majority of terrorist acts are carried by Arab Muslims for the glory of Islam.

      Decent Arab Muslims and there ARE many of those, should readily admit that reality and join the rest of us to get rid of this curse for humanity. And that should not stop with ISIS. It should include groups like Hamas and Hezbollah who have the same mentality. Decent Arab Muslims should not call it racism when we point such facts out. Otherwise they help to mask a common problem instead of fighting it.

      And what about Israel? I can already hear haters like Benny ask. My response to them is this…

      Get rid of the problems that Israel faces and which give us the reason to dig our heels in. And if after that we still refuse to give anything in return for REAL renunciation of the war by strengthened Arab moderates, then deal with us too. It is called prioritization. Deal with the bigger problems first, radical Islam and Arab supremacism as practiced by Hamas and Hezbollah too, is the big problem. So long as they are the strongest, we cannot afford to make more concessions than our past prime ministers already made. Especially since even the so called moderates like Abbas refuse to renounce their old rejectionism of the Jewish nation state.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “a common problem”

        But the principal Palestinian leadership has foresworn terrorism. For all to see. They spend all their time being Israel’s faithful security contractor. And yet it is these very Palestinian leaders–who have foresworn terrorism and serve Israel while trying to keep the lid on an oppressed, suffering population; and who fend off charges from their own public that they they are quislings; and who in fact are openly sworn enemies of the Hamas*–it is these leaders who are most vilified, most humiliated by the Israeli leadership. Over and over. All protestations about terrorism stumble on this fact. If Israel truly wanted a just solution to the conflict and truly wanted to minimize its security problems it could solve this swiftly. It has solved far more difficult problems. It has people on the other side more than ready to help but Israel starves these people. These facts are not going away.

        “Deal with the bigger problems first…”

        Yes, always, something else first. “Leave us alone…we have stuff to do….”

        The last thing the world should do is leave you guys alone. You would love nothing more. All abusers have the same basic plea: “just leave us alone…we are ok…don’t worry…it will be alright….”

        _______________

        *Hamas, whom this commenter unfortunately persists in conflating with Da’esh in a move that destroys absolutely crucial differences, and in one fell swoop reduces his message to propaganda

        Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Amjad Iraqi’s is a wonderful, wise, irenic voice. I remember the repeated warnings here about how the passing of the baton from a Jewish person (Noam Sheizaf) to an Arab person (Sawsan Khalifé) portended the terrible consequences of “the new regime.” Quelle horreur! Amjad Iraqi is “the new regime”–it’s so terrible is it fellahs? It is a very good thing for the Israelis to have their prejudices–unceasingly manipulated and stoked by their cynical politicians–subverted like this.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Benny is in a panic. My above post was more than reasonable. Read it again.

        Now Benny is going to put distance between my reasonable post by making all sort of stupid provocative statements in the vain hope that he will obfuscate the self evident truth in my first post. But I will keep on referring to my first post and maybe copy and paste it. My first post speaks for itself Benny.

        The gig is up, obfuscating hateful propagandists like you will become the ones who are politically incorrect. You just wait and see Benny-leh.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          So Benny, again, how do you justify this barbaric terrorist act in France?

          Are you going to say it is because the French are occupying Arab lands? Because that is the direction this is heading. The free world, including the French will have no other option but to invade the hornets nests from which these atrocities are orchestrated and Arab lands will be occupied. Are you then going to jump up and down Benny, and yell at the top of your voice that such acts are understandable because of the occupation? Because that’s what you do with Israel.

          Again, Benny, so you won’t forget. First there was Arab violence. Similar violence to this. For instance the 1929 massacre of Jews in Hebron. Then, way later, in 1967, the occupation was the climax, the consequence of Arab violence.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “how do you justify this barbaric terrorist act in France?”

            I don’t. Of course. That’s a freshly stuffed straw man you propped up there to take potshots at. And a particularly brazen one. You’re desperately working the Da’esh = Hamas/Palestinians/Arabs hasbara line as hard as you can. Netanyahu-style. Again, the incessant and really quite shameless attempts to conflate Da’esh and Hamas, France and Israel, Syria and the occupied territories, etcetera, are as predictable as they are transparent, and are simply not credible. All you’ve shown in my opinion is that you’ll say anything to justify the occupation. That’s the last I’m going to want to say on this. Stop trolling me.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            France is not occupying Arab lands yet they were attacked by Arabs Benny.

            We were not occupying Arab lands before 1967 yet we were attacked by your Arabs, Benny. There is one similarity.

            Want more? ISIS deliberately attacks civilian targets and their Jihadis blow themselves up purely in order to kill and maim as many innocent civilians as possible. Hamas does the same thing.

            Want a third similarity? Both Hamas and ISIS spew the same supremacist Islamic ideology about Jihad against the infidel.

            You can run from all that Benny but you can’t hide. Not everybody shares your philosophy that only Israeli (Jewish) civilians are fair game.

            Reply to Comment
    3. David Newman

      Thank you for a thoughtful article. I am ashamed to admit that I too am guilty of spending much more time thinking about, and worrying about, the bombings in Paris, than I did about the bombings in Beirut and Baghdad. Crimes of terror that occur in the Middle East are of course no less egregious than those that occur closer to home. All acts of terrorism, no matter where they occur, are an affront on our common humanity. When we lose sight of this we are playing into the hands of the perpetrators of terrorism who use violence to manipulate us into viewing our potential allies as foes. Divide and conquer as a military strategy has been around since biblical times. ISIS is proving to be a master of making their enemies distrust, and even hate, each other. Defeating ISIS and other expressions of Islamic extremism will require us viewing the vast majority of Muslims not only as allies, but as family. When we are as outraged and grief stricken by the deaths that occur in Beirut and Baghdad, as those that occur in Paris and New York, we will be on the way to winning the war against terrorism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        “and insist that “terrorism has no race or religion.”

        That is self evidently true. I am supposed to be a right wing war monger according to the left wing posters who post here. It is true that I am a centre rightist but I am not a war monger and I do concede the above point…

        …yet one must not be in denial about reality. RIGHT, NOW, at this point of human history, the majority of terrorist acts are carried by Arab Muslims for the glory of Islam.

        Decent Arab Muslims and there ARE many of those, should readily admit that reality and join the rest of us to get rid of this curse for humanity. And that should not stop with ISIS. It should include groups like Hamas and Hezbollah who have the same mentality. Decent Arab Muslims should not call it racism when we point such facts out. Otherwise they help to mask a common problem instead of fighting it.

        And what about Israel? I can already hear haters like Benny ask. My response to them is this…

        Get rid of the problems that Israel faces and which give us the reason to dig our heels in. And if after that we still refuse to give anything in return for REAL renunciation of the war by strengthened Arab moderates, then deal with us too. It is called prioritization. Deal with the bigger problems first, radical Islam and Arab supremacism as practiced by Hamas and Hezbollah too, is the big problem. So long as they are the strongest, we cannot afford to make more concessions than our past prime ministers already made. Especially since even the so called moderates like Abbas refuse to renounce their old rejectionism of the Jewish nation state.

        Reply to Comment