Friday, 9 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo and 9/11

I'm afraid that the global reaction to the Charlie Hebdo atrocity reminds me more than anything else of the mad response to 9/11.

The Guardian has offered an editorial and a commentary urging moderation and thoughtful response and quite quickly shut down commenting with bricks being hurled at the paper. It has highlighted some letters which point to the need to maintain perspective, not least the context of western military violence, including against media, this without offering room for comments.

In my view the mass outpouring of sympathy is one thing, the mass leaning towards retribution is very dangerous, especially as it seems more global and crowd-pushed than 9/11. It will be difficult for governments to be moderate, it will be easier for security perspectives to prevail if people demand hostile responses and if people use the event to tag every Muslim. And easier for far right politics to come to the fore. Along with anarchic leftish activity, the old left being as comfortable as President Hollande is popular in this swirling stream.

And some pillars of progressive editorial virtue are ready to pillory any murmur of doubt about the righteousness of Charlie.

I find myself very uncomfortable finding any measure of agreement with the disagreeable Bill Donohue, given his demeanour and his ugly outpourings generally, but there is a germ of reality in his comment on this event.

While social media and much mass entertainment depends upon and stokes extravagant rudeness and wildness there are things which work towards peace and freedom and things which reinforce intolerance and whip up hatreds. As did many of the cartoons, the wild-child nose thumbing and toilet humour of Charlie Hebdo and your everyday wave of nastiness on social media. It is of the fabric of bullying, of American exceptionalism, of the right to rush into other countries, the right to bash a spouse for disagreeing or just to vilify. Vilification is vilification.

And if we are concerned for war avoidance and enhancement of development and stability in the world, we need to be very concerned about what has happened in the reaction as much as the atrocity. Or more, because if we assert that we are better people, we should try to be better people.

The atrocity in Paris is criminal, not an act of war... of if it is found to have been directed rather than inspired by some known terrorist organisation, then we should look carefully at its effects and our responses have to be deliberate and constructive. If is is an act of war it has been immensely successful in causing political chaos in the enemy. Clausewitz discussed the tendency of war to drive out policy:

Were [war] a complete, untrammeled, absolute manifestation
of violence (as the pure concept would require), war would of
its own independent will usurp the place of policy the moment
policy had brought it into being; it would then drive policy out
of office and rule by the laws of its own nature, very much like a
mine that can explode only in the manner or direction
predetermined by the setting. This, in fact, is the view that
has been taken of the matter whenever some discord between
policy and the conduct of war has stimulated theoretical
distinctions of this kind. But in reality things are different,
and this view is thoroughly mistaken.
Sadly I think Clausewitz's last sentence quoted above, while relevant to war in the early 1800s, is not relevant now, in a period of absolute and pervasive war, with proliferation of tools of violence and mobility and independence of decision that he could not have imagined. He wrote in the wake of the Congress of Vienna, the great moment in which 'the state' was affirmed as the definition of international life and strategy and power. Presided over by Metternich, hero and role model of Henry Kissinger, whose metternichian approach to international affairs as national security advisor to Nixon, later Secretary of State under Nixon and Ford in the United States, 1968-1976, saw pursuit and promotion of notions of a two or three power world model in which the interests of lesser states were utterly disregarded, creating the basis for many ongoing miserable conflicts which have become more inflamed with the removal of the cold war packaging, direction and savagery. That mindset evident in the embalmed perspectives of such as Edward Luttwak. Mindset that is part of the blood stream of American exceptionalism, Clintonist we-will-be-great-again (see second last para) as well as the now dominant American right.

And now we have Charlie exceptionalism, driven as wildly as extreme Islamist exceptionalism. And shouting drowns out thinking, war drowns out policy, war in its own exceptionalism, war as a virtue for some industry, war easily made and easily armed, war increasingly unconventional.

See how even my local tourist office wants to exploit terrorism-mindedness for business.

I recall, in the wake of 9/11 and at the beginning of the Iraq invasion, in 2003, listening to talkback radio, driving at night, in which people in Sydney were ringing in with all sorts of apprehensions, explaining how their attitudes and behaviours had changed, how they looked at parked cars, how they did not want to stop in strange places in the dark... There is a recent shift in body language, in how people smile or seem to smile less, meet the eye less in negotiating passage through confined spaces in shopping places. I'm thinking it's not just Howard-encouraged self-centredness, it's a depth of irrational apprehension, adding now with economic insecurities with their real base and as fomented by government doomsaying.

No comments:

Post a Comment