charlie hebdo

Quick Thoughts on the November 2015 Paris Attacks

November 2015 Paris Terror Attack

Everyone interested in world affairs has probably been glued to the news over the past twenty hours or so, so there is no need to review the horror of the crimes that have committed, but it’s definitely worth sharing a couple of immediate thoughts about the situation, as they may be worth reflecting on.

1.  Extremist groups, it seems, are incapable of learning.  We’ve examined before the fact that these extremists are incapable of accepting the inevitability of a modern, free and inclusive world, in which globalization is a given and women are equal to men, but the sheer stupidity of this latest series of attacks surprises even in that context.

In the first place, France has traditionally been a lukewarm supporter of the international war on terror, at best.  The French combination of arrogance and an anachronistic view of their own importance has seen the country often holding back nations who would pursue the war more aggressively.  In fact, as a staunch opponent of the Al-Assad regime in Syria, France has actually been hindering the war against ISIS.

While it’s true that France is the origin of freedom in the modern sense, and thereby represents a highly symbolic target, an armed insurrection that has been catalogued as a criminal enterprise by all respectable elements on the worldwide stage should be a little more pragmatic when selecting targets.  All this attack will do is galvanize the French people against ISIS… an organization that seems not to understand that ANY of the countries they are attacking could wipe them out in a few weeks if they have popular support.  And now, the French do – and after listening to Hollande last night, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sent in troops and did just that.  It would be the best thing for everyone.

And ISIS can’t say that this is a surprise.  In 2001, Osama Bin Laden decided it would be a good idea to attack the US.  That ended extremely badly for him, his Afghan allies, his organization, and also for Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with any of it, but was a target of opportunity.  A people that had been supporting a fight against terrorism half-heartedly suddenly awoke, rallied behind an otherwise unloved president and kicked some ass.

ku klux klan

It’s not just recent examples that show how silly this is, either.  After the US Civil War ended, the Ku Klux Klan was born as a terrorist group to attempt to end Reconstruction, which, though a colossal injustice in practice had the might of the Union army behind it.  That original incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan was eventually disbanded… because the leaders understood that the terror attacks were only serving to intensify the crackdown, and that claims had to be pursued using other methods.  Which shows that even white supremacists, a group not noted for their brilliance, are less moronic than the current generation of Islamic extremists.

2.  Has Al-Jazeera replaced the BBC as the go-to news source when something globally important happens?  In the 1990s, especially during the first Gulf War, CNN was often the only international option to watch news live, and was the most complete coverage on cable.

But as more and more options became available, most global audiences grew to prefer the BBC’s news channel, as the stories were covered with a much more global and complete set of assumptions.  CNN was clearly too US-centric to be useful, while Fox news, of course was ridiculous (last night they referred to Hollande as the President of Paris).  Watching feeds from France and Italy last nigh left me impressed with the RAI’s coverage, while I think the French channels were in shock.  But both the RAI and the French channels are hampered by the fact that not everyone understands French or Italian (my own French means that I need to concentrate hard on that), while almost everyone interested in world affairs speaks English.  The BBC was plodding along, and Euronews, caught with it’s late-night anchors on the air, was a mess.

And then I turned to Al-Jazeera.  What a revelation.  Impeccable British accents giving the news without stridence or partiality, combined with interviews with security analysts from the US, political analysts from everywhere – including the middle east – and French government officials.   A near-perfect balance.

And they had a team on the ground, a hyper-professional impeccably dressed reporter (British accent, of course) and a couple of camera men.  And twhat they were saying was better and more informed than anything else going on at the time.

I’d never paid much attention to Al-Jazeera before, but a quick side-by-side with everyone else gives me the feeling that impartial audiences are going to keep increasing for them if they keep up the good work. I know I’ll be looking to them within the first few minutes (as opposed to just out of curiosity) the next time anything big happens.

Charlie Hebdo and History Repeating itself

Je suis charlie

On April 11th, 1812, a group of Luddites attacked a mill in Leeds, exchanging fire with the armed guards within and leaving two dead.

On January 7th, 2015, a pair of Islamic extremists attacked the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, opened fire, and left twelve dead.

The incidents might seem completely unrelated.  After all, one is an incident over two hundred years old, involving a group that was protesting against the social changes brought about by technology, while the other is based on a religious premise, a protest against a specific act, and looks more like the continuation of ancient crusades and jihads than anything else.

And yet, the parallels are pretty obvious.

The superficial similarities are what jumps out first.  The Luddites were a pseudo-military force that trained and indoctrinated its recruits and eventually found itself facing the might of the British army before being eliminated.  Islamic extremists are similar, except that they are facing the might of most of the world’s armies as opposed to that of just one nation (thanks in large part to the Luddites defeat, the world is now one single nation, essentially).

But there exists a much more subtle similarity as well.  Both events essentially motivated by fear of progress and change.  While the Luddites expressed this openly, religious extremism is just another symptom of the same disease: man’s fear to move forward into a new era.

Of course religious fanatics don’t fear the newest iPhone or electric cars (although some of them do).  The thing they are fighting against is progress as society moves away from religious thinking.  Whether it be jihadis attacking freedom of speech by killing the editors and staff of a magazine that published things they found offensive or right wing Christian fundamentalists taking advantage of regional political power to ban the teaching of science in favor of pseudoscientific theories (and stunt the education of innocent children in the process), they are all reacting against the same thing: religion is no longer a leading driver of social change or social mores.

paris not afraid

Yes, there is a world where people can satirize any prophet and continue living, and it is this one.  The men and women who died in the attack are the ones the world considers heroes… not the attackers.  All but a few misguided souls will be raising a glass in remembrance to the dead – their magazine might have been a bit over the top, and often in incredibly bad taste, but no one can doubt that they had balls and integrity, or that they were true to the spirit of freedom of speech and thought.

This doesn’t mean that religion is unimportant or something to be dismissed.  People are much more free to explore their spiritual side and find a path that helps them deal with modern life than ever before, and many religions are keeping up with the times and offering heir adherents answers that truly help them cope.  But as a force that can force others to conform and be a homogeneous flock, it is spent.

This is anathema to many, to the same type of people who, had they lived in the 1810s would have been part of the Luddite Revolution.

They have already lost, but they just haven’t been able to accept it yet.  They see the world around them getting more and more alien to their beliefs and, unable to adapt, they become violent in their extreme.

I can’t do anything to ease the pain of the loved ones of the people murdered this week.  Or to heal the wounds of the city of Paris or of France.  I can’t even shout loud enough to be heard what a wonderful religion Islam is when it isn’t being practiced by ignorant, frightened, worthless extremists.  The action of fools will harm innocent, peaceful muslims all over the world, including many that I am proud to call friends.  All we can do is support them from here at Classically Educated, which makes me feel impotent and angry.

But at least we can take solace in the knowledge that, like the Luddites before them, religious extremists are just rabid dogs.  They are dying off due to forces they don’t have the mental faculties to understand.  All they are smart enough to do is hurt people before they die.  But both rabid dogs and religious extremists are doomed by the very forces that give rise to their aggression.  Yes, they might get more and more rabid as their time passes, but in the end, they will just be a curious memory, like the Luddites.

We won’t miss them when they’re gone.  And we won’t fear them while they’re here.