Why it is so important to connect the dots and interrogate the narratives of convenience
The acts of violence on the streets of Paris depict the ongoing role of religious extremism as a site of terror.
As my Facebook wall is inundated with the flow of emotions showing support for the people of Paris, I am struck by an all-too-familiar narrative that emerges in a global network of emotions mediated through new communication technologies.
At the heart of this network of emotions is the framing of the world into a binary, parsing out "freedom loving" spaces and spaces that "threaten freedom." The freedom loving spaces are White, cultured, and democratic, juxtaposed against the brownness of the primitive bodies that inhabit the freedom threatening spaces.
The Facebook narrative of 13/11 invokes the 9/11 archetype. When Hollande promises us a "pitiless response," I am eerily reminded of George Bush's promise: "America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism."
This is the narrative that quickly took hold in the post-9/11 U.S., and rapidly anchored itself as a global pivot for framing 9/11.
This narrative juxtaposes "our" freedom against "their" barbarianism. Declaring the resilience of freedom as a trope, the narrative quickly anchors itself in a war cry.
Attacking the Middle East will bring justice and teach the barbarians a lesson.
The structure of the symbolic enunciation and its potential material manifestation are both familiar.
What had unfolded into the Iraq war, opening in 2003, is a spatial-temporal enactment of the "freedom" narrative. Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched on the pretext of fighting Iraq's supposed support for terrorism, a premise that was cooked up by the US propaganda machine and its paid mainstream media.
The terror of 9/11 served as a catalyst for a much larger scale state-sponsored terror launched by the imperial powers US and UK to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. The everyday terrors experienced by Iraqi families and families in Afghanistan in the hands of the imperial military remain unaccounted for in the mainstream media. The large scale violence and the large numbers of murders in Iraq and Afghanistan unleashed by the US remain unaccounted for, written off ironically as collateral damage in an operation of bringing freedom to the Middle East.
The attack on Paris is similarly being portrayed as the backdrop for the mobilization of an attack on Syria. Within just a few hours of the attacks, the power of the war cries and imperial calls for invasion has proliferated through the short phrases of Facebook posts and tweets.
The simplicity of this story, the primitive Middle East calling for a Western invasion, ignores the lessons that emerge from the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The simplicity of the story of terror also obfuscates the terror and violence perpetrated by the agents of freedom and democracy, US, UK, Australia, and Poland, carrying out the acts of terror in the very name of freedom.
The US attack on Iraq that killed over a half million Iraqi civilians, and created the structure for the emergence of the Islamic State, often offering training to specific groups and supplying weapons to these groups that would later emerge as members of the ISIS.
That many of the ISIS members were trained by Western military and were supplied weapons by the US and UK is a key point that remains missing from the symbolic representations of the attacks. In Libya, Egypt, and Syria, the US and UK offered at various points vital resources to actors that would coalesce around the structure of ISIS. The US and UK funded and trained religious sectarian groups with the broader goal of toppling the Assad regime in Syria. ISIS thus is very much a product of the imperial strategy of divide-and-rule perpetuated by Western imperialism, couched in the language of freedom.
Further connecting the dots points toward the role of Saudi Arabia, a key Western ally, in supporting ISIS. In spite of evidence that point toward the implicit role of the House of Saud in disseminating and funding the violent strands of Wahaabism, the Western apostles of freedom continue to support the Saudi structure to safeguard imperial interests in the Middle East.
Much of the Western media are complicit in reproducing acts of terror by creating symbolic resources around terrorism in selective ways, by projecting binaries, and by carrying out propaganda functions on the basis of these binaries. Even as media narratives rally around the terrorist attacks on France, they remain mostly silent about ISIS attacks on Beirut and Iraq.
Even when the Beirut attack does emerge into the occasional story, the attack gets framed as an attack on Hezbollah strongholds, somehow thus offering implicit justifications for the ISIS attacks. The Western media narrative here cooperates with the ISIS agenda, symbolically depicting the symbiotic relationship between ISIS agendas and Western agendas at specific points and spaces.
Similarly, the ISIS attack in Iraq that led to 25 deaths remains mostly invisible from the media narrative.
In selectively sharing specific stories of freedom and terrorism while largely remaining silent about various other forms of terrorism, the media actively construct the dichotomy between Western freedom and Middle East terrorism. Moreover, the media actively participate in cultivating a public opinion climate that sees imperial invasion as the solution to terrorist threat.
The lessons of Iraq call for cultivating deep skepticism toward this narrative of violence and geosecurity. The paradigm of violence circulated by Western imperial powers is cyclically connected to various forms of violence across time and space.
To really address the questions of violence and terror globally, the rhetoric of freedom needs to be examined closely. The very narrative of freedom that birthed ISIS can't offer a way out of the network of violence established in strategies of response and counter-response.
That freedom is often used as the trope for disseminating terror needs to be acknowledged, critically interrogated, and resisted. Each of us must critically examine simplistic frames that depict the Paris attacks as attacks on fundamental freedoms.
Finally, a fundamental transformation is needed in the global narrative of geosecurity, shifting the discourse from imperial invasions to protect freedom to a global discourse of peace and dialogue that challenges the terror implicit in acts of violence.