Paris Reflections

I have gone through a range of emotions after hearing about the 129 terrorist inflicted deaths in Paris. Paris may be on the other side of the world but I have French friends, I spent time in Paris relatively recently and my wife and son flew into Amsterdam the day after it occurred. I have some strong personal connections with the place and people and I found the news disturbing.

I was reminded of the dilemma my wife and I had when visiting her family in England and we were due to arrive in London with our children the day after the tube bombings. 52 people were killed and 700 injured in those explosions. We made the decision to continue with our plans with view that security will be much tighter and it was unlikely that there would be a repeat. However, it was a difficult decision to make and it rattled our feelings of security and made us look forward to returning to Invercargill where such things are unlikely to occur.

Many feel the horror of a "civilised" country suffering from these sort of attacks that generally only happen in those other Middle East countries where this sort of thing is more common. Obviously the deaths in Paris are shocking, and extremely distressing for those families who have lost loved ones, but I am am pleased that others are also commenting on the disproportionate attention and emotive reporting that these terrorist acts are receiving. The moral outrage being expressed is very selective and, given the reporting, one would think that 'we' are well above such acts and are somehow superior to those who would commit such heinous crimes.

The emotional distress caused by the 129 deaths in Paris will be no different to the distress caused by the 459 civilians (100 children) killed in Syria recently by US air strikes. For those living in Iraq or Syria the fear of an attack and possible death is constant and many probably fear the US as much as IS. The Obama sanctioned drones have killed around 1000 civilians and 200 children and the recent US bombing of an Afghan hospital, and attempted coverup, does not allow any moral superiority.

The West also turns a collective blind eye to Israel's persecution of the Palestinians. To those living in Gaza, the Paris attack is something they experience on a regular basis. There is a peculiar belief that terrorism via armed forces is justifiable but deaths via a suicide bomber is not. Some even claim because the Israeli military gives some warning before they bomb schools it some how makes the deaths morally acceptable.  The UN estimates that at least 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the 2014 Israeli attack, 1,462 were civilians and around 500 were children. Israel, through the support of the US, has a massive military advantage and its claims of self defense are easily discounted when comparing the casualties, the Palestinians killed 66 soldiers and 6 Israeli civilians as they desperately tried to defend themselves with largely homemade weapons.

The US has made a mess of the Middle East with its ongoing military interventions and its support of Israel.

The Islamic State would never have become such a powerful force if the US hadn't armed it in the first place in a misguided attempt to dislodge Assad by supporting rebel groups. For ordinary people living in Iraq or Syria life has become much worse because of Western involvement. Hussein and Assad may have been despots but under their rule Muslim extremism was not supported and women experienced greater freedoms. It is also hypercritical to decry Assad's regime while treating Saudi Arabia as an ally, given its human rights abuses. The attempts by the West to intervene to establish democratic governance in the region has been a dismal failure and has allowed extreme Islamic philosophies to become established. The realities of living in the region after the interventions has radicalised a generation of young people who see the West as the enemy.

The youth of Syria, Iraq and Gaza (where there is little personal freedom and 60% unemployment) see no future for themselves and many have become emotionally damaged through witnessing the deaths of family members. What happened in Paris is just a symptom of failed attempts to address the rise of extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. The French are a major player in military action in the region and there was an immediate reaction to the Paris bombings with French jets dropping 20 bombs on Raqqa, Syria, a supposed IS stronghold.

I really worry for the Syrian refugees attempting to escape the hell that their homes have become, their treatment in Europe is not going to improve after the Paris attack. All refugees will now be seen as potential terrorists. I also am concerned at New Zealand's vulnerability because of our support of the US and our presence in Iraq. The Prime Minister's claims of us being safer because of our five eyes connections are not reassuring at all.

The war on global terrorism is doomed to failure if the very violence, and misguided military action that has created it, continues to be supported as the solution. There are probably many thousands of young people who are prepared to become suicide bombers or risk their lives in an attempt to hurt those they believe are responsible for destroying their hope and their future. Paris is possibly just the beginning.


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