These are the thoughts that kept me awake on the night of Friday the 13th to Saturday the 14th. I couldn’t, of course, help anyone involved in the attacks in France or in Lebanon, where there was also an attack that week. I was stuck in my room, stupidly, with thoughts I couldn’t get out of my head and I was scared of talking to anyone about them, because there was nothing popular or positive in them and because it was the middle of the night. I cannot do anything to help people, who have had their lives cut off or have suffered because of what has happened and I was frustrated and all I could do was write – that seemed like the only thing I could do and I hope it doesn’t do anything to worsen the situation. I am writing from the point of view of a British citizen, a part of the Western wold, a part of a country that has not been war-torn for an incredible amount of time, as someone who is not an expert, and a student of history, who apologises for not baving all the necessary terminology and knowledge to discuss the issues I attempt to address below.
An extremist Islamist group killed people in Paris on Friday night. Other Western countries killed people, including a man our media has publicised as ‘Jihadi John’, days before the attack. The attack on Paris drove me, personally, to think that things have gone way beyond hashtags and shared images of solidarity over social media.
There are all sorts of reactions on social media. People telling their followers that they are praying for people of Paris – ‘praying’, a word I haven’t heard from young people in years. Other people are calling for us to ‘brace ourselves for the start of the War on Terror II’. The French Prime Minister is saying that France will keep fighting.
Fighting in a psychological sense, as well as in terms of emergency services – of course. But perhaps it is time to stop fighting? What are we expecting to achieve in the end – the killing and/or imprisonment of all extremists of a certain region and belief? That will never happen. Do we really WANT to kill them ALL? What does that make us? It is clear that these extremists form into what they are because of the environment that they live and grow-up in. Given that, it is beyond me why we do not harness that precious piece of psychological information and ask them or investigate WHY they have resorted to extremism. Ask those that we have access to. I understand that many claim that extremists are not people to be talked with, but the problem is that we have never even humoured that option to my knowledge and that it is likely being ridiculed by some readers now. However, I have not seen decent explanations about WHY people turn to extremism in the media, yet those people are like all of us. People with ideals, people who are extremely unhappy with certain structures in the world, people who want to change things, people who see themselves as activists. We have dismissed them as bad people, and sometimes non-people, and are, on that grounding, for some reason, not even trying to understand their thinking. We are not asking these people where they are coming from or trying to understand at all and, therefore, are not trying to change that environment that develops their ideology. We do not know how to change it. Instead of trying to change this environment, which, if we look back into history, was at least in some sense created by us, we are trying to change the people, the extremists, that have been affected by it. Not even trying to change them, our strategy is, as mentioned above, to kill them all (or, if we happen to have the opportunity, to isolate them in prisons). How far will we go? Will we kill or isolate babies and children who seem to be set for a life of extremism? Because there are many of these. And, as I say, we are not drastically changing the environment that extremists, both in Western and non-Western countries, are growing up in – we’re simply telling people within those that extremism is bad.
The above is not enough. We know from our own lives that we want explanation. Simply telling people that extremism or discrimination is wrong will not do. Killing their peers to show that it is wrong will not do. We have to spend genuine efforts not just on killing figures involved currently in extremism, but on finding out WHY they turn to extremism and resolving and improving those factors that drive them to it. Because we (in terms of the history of countries relevant to the extremist groups that were involved in Friday’s attacks) have been heavily involved in forming those factors that drive people to extremism in certain key regions.
More than once were the attackers branded as ‘monsters’ on social media. There was also a memorable comment along the lines of ‘this cannot be humanly explained’. It can. It can be humanly explained and that makes it so very much worse. And we shouldn’t dismiss it as unexplainable, because that leaves the option of it happening again simply by chance and gives us the option to not do anything about it. The people who commit acts like this are very much human. They are far from the type of human that most of us are, because they have, often, had their countries of origin either largely or politically or historically destroyed, again, often, because of our own involvement there. Again, statistics on such important factors of their identity aren’t popularly distributed. As with the current refugee crisis, we cannot empathise with what it is to have to run away from what is most culturally comfortable for you – your country. We do not know what it is like to have your country portrayed as being in a perpetual war-zone in the media. We do not know what that is like, as well as many many other unfamiliar factors. And it is factors, that we do not understand, that drive extremists to commit the acts that they do. When we decide that we are capable of pulling one of those in-some-way-destroyed countries out of its problems, we have to remind ourselves that we do not understand its citizens, because our country has not been in that situation for generations upon generations. We do not understand what they want or how they want to accomplish a conclusion to their crisis and we have to give ourselves the assurance that, whether it be in defence of human rights or the spread of similar political systems to ours, our intervention is a decision enforced on those people by us. It is a forceful decision and a risk. It is a risk to make decisions on behalf of thousands or millions of other people. And too often, it is like someone dropping a pea and someone else walking in and dropping all of their items, their backpack and everything out of it, to try and help pick the pea up – there is so, so very much more left to clear up afterwards.
I understand that this pea can be representative of so many things; from genocide, human rights abuses, enforced political systems, to oil, trade and political opportunities. But even so, will we, every time, in order to pick up that pea, run in all guns blazing and ready to kill EVERYONE who is branded ‘wrong’ and more? Every time? Ready for the consequences we have seen over the years and the conseuqences we are seeing this past Friday? Everytime? But don’t make the error of thinking that it was all so rosy for us in OUR history. We had our human rights abuses in our history, we killed our own citizens, we sent our citizens off to war without question, we exploited certain sections of our society and ignored others. It took us hundreds upon hundreds of years to rid Britannia of that and to form the system that we have now. Nobody ‘helped’ us pick up our pea and I don’t know how we would have felt if they had dropped all of their stuff whilst doing so and what certain citizens would have resorted to. Nonetheless, other countries are different. No matter how much we argue, all people do not move at the same pace and countries, even more so, do not move at the same pace. Yes, there are things that we are coming to all think of as unacceptable for everyone, some of which, such as an individual’s unexplained murder, are accepted everywhere as having to be cast out from society. However, other things are more complex and need time to develop in order to become accepted facts within a certain society. And if people are dying because certain facts have not been accepted yet, then that is exactly like what happened in our history, some, perhaps many, years ago – and nobody intervened and we have come out of this. I do not mean to say that we should take a completely passive stance on issues such as human rights abuses in places that aren’t our own countries, while some people may be of this opinion. But I am saying that we need to be aware that sometimes, and (as we are seeing more and more) often, involvement is an option that will cause more deaths or more damage than the abuses themselves; and this damage may not be immediately seen, but, like with the mass terrorist attacks that I’ve been seeing throughout my short, 22-year-old lifetime, they may be seen in and for years and years to come. When you intervene in something as large as a country, you will see large consequences, over a large period of time. It is serious and incomparable to an intervention on a situational basis. The branding of a whole section of people as ‘evil’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘material we can bomb’ or ‘material we can boycott or evade’ or ‘material we have to change’ often does not take into account this grand scale of the decision, as well as the changes that development in time brings for that decision, and, of course, the grand scale of the counter-reaction to that decision. If you are branding a mass as ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’, without the consideration of the fact that, at that point in time, at that point in their history, they see themselves as simply living their life, you will most definitely be branded as ‘evil’ or ‘wrong’ back by some of that mass.
I cannot believe it takes things like the attacks in Paris for us to understand and think about issues that are not considered in the mainstream of our politics and media and are slightly outside of the box of strategies we usually use. And the reason I, and perhaps others, are thinking of these more than ever, is because we desperately do not want mass deaths to keep happening both in our region and on the other side of the globe. And that is why I have written this vague selection of thoughts down into an article. Because it simply cannot go any further. It is no longer an ‘I will share this article with this hashtag and hope for the best’ scenario. It has come to a point where we simply HAVE to think outside the box of our usual strategies, as these are leading to things which are clearly (this has become clearer than ever to me after Friday) completely unbearable. I appeal to nations, who see themselves as highly developed, to stop going so far with interference as to ‘restructure’ other nations; to accept that people have and will suffer within certain systems and have done so in our own, and that certain systems are different to ours and have a way to go to develop, in a way we cannot predict, into something that is more inclusive towards their citizens. It would be a denial of the world and an illusion to not accept this, while I do not deny that a different world may, sometime, come to exist. And I also appeal for understanding that sometimes intervention WILL make things worse, and that we should not wait for attacks like those on Friday, years after involvement overseas, to make us understand that this is the case and that things are not all black and white and that decisions of a certain magnitude have to be considered incredibly seriously.