What happened in Paris is a tragedy. Pure and simple. There aren’t “ifs” or “buts” about it. The people who committed these acts of terror, in the name of a poisonous religious and political philosophy, did so well aware of what they were doing. Although it was a monstrous act, these were not “monsters”; they were people, flesh and blood creatures, who deliberately chose to murder innocent civilians.
Whatever you might have to say about ISIS (for example, that they are a direct result of the US-lead coalition’s quagmire in Iraq and the subsequent power vacuum) says nothing about the fact that they murdered civilians. While there are indeed contexts to understand terrorism and insurgency, those contexts cannot be used as a pretext for the massacres. What they did is horrible, and they deserve to be punished.
Even though for many the events in France are the first glimpse of what ISIS does, people in the Middle East are all too familiar with their methods. As a matter of fact, the day before the attacks on Paris, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, was the site of another ISIS attack, and which took the lives of 40 people. Despite also being innocent civilians, their deaths did not really make it into the front pages, nor did Facebook offer you the chance to have a tacky overlay of a Lebanese flag on top of your profile picture.
Although this could be explained by the fact that the Paris death toll was larger than that of Beirut, this does not explain why the massacre in Nigeria of over 2,000 people by Boko Haram, part of ISIS, or the murder of 146 people in Syria, also by ISIS, went under the radar. In the West we have come to accept that death is something that happens over there, so that while their deaths are mere footnotes in history, our deaths deserve their own chapter. We are all equal, true, but, in the immortal words of Orwell’s Animal Farm, “some are more equal than others.”
It’s part of the hypocrisy that we have regarding terror and liberty. What happens to the rest is “business as usual”, while what happens to us is terrorism. Our allies are “freedom fighters,” and their allies are terrorists.
It’s this kind of hypocrisy that scares me.
The so-called “war on terror” that came as a direct result of the 9/11 attacks has brought as one of its many consequences, the increasing encroachment of our civil liberties. From having to undergo sexual assault to get on a plane, to see that, as in the case of Varg Vikernes, speech alone can get you arrested without charges for “being the kind of person” who could commit an act of terror, to seeing the extrajudicial murder of a country’s own citizens accepted as a reasonable method, the fight against terrorism has been appropriated by governments who seek to expand their power.
“Many governments, including the US, instituted measures to discipline the domestic population and to carry forward unpopular measures under the guise of ‘combating terror,’ exploiting the atmosphere of fear and the demand for ‘patriotism’—which in practice means: ‘You shut up and I’ll pursue my own agenda relentlessly.’”
This is what, in all likelihood, will come as a result of the Paris attacks, and what we must fiercely oppose. We will see governments increase their power arguing that they need it in order to combat terrorism. They will use these attacks to justify continuing to eavesdrop on our conversations, to arrest people without charges, to criminalize dissent (if not in the law, at least in practice). All in the name of keeping us safe.
We are already seeing the first examples of this, as US officials are laying blame on Edward Snowden for the attacks, falsely arguing that his revelations somehow tipped ISIS off about the fact that they were being spied on. That’s right, they’re trying to say that if it wasn’t for Snowden ISIS wouldn’t even know that the US and their allies were trying to see what they were up to. Earlier this year the Canadian government did the same, when they tried to use the murder of Canadian soldiers as an excuse to seek the increase of governmental powers against their citizens; now, after the Paris attacks, British security services demand extra powers to “intercept and disrupt plots.”
The problem about this continuous demands for more power is that they do not work against our enemies, but only against us.
With the available tools, French authorities already knew three of the attackers that participated in the Paris massacre. They clearly had the tools to find and locate these people; it was only their negligence and stupidity that let them get away with it. As Glenn Greenwald mentioned,
“So when they fail in their ostensible duty, and people die because of that failure, it’s a natural instinct to blame others: Don’t look to us; it’s Snowden’s fault, or the fault of Apple, or the fault of journalists, or the fault of encryption designers, or anyone’s fault other than ours. If you’re a security agency after a successful Terror attack, you want everyone looking elsewhere, finding all sorts of culprits other than those responsible for stopping such attacks.”
Our commitment to freedom and liberty is really tested in the most difficult moments. While the deaths of those innocent victims cannot be undone, we can make sure we don’t allow their memories to be tainted by our voluntary surrender. What terrorists want is, by means of terror, to change our way of life, to make us surrender the values that we hold dearest. Governments will always seek more power and, with their siren songs, will always try to lead us to our total surrender and submission.
Our liberties will not be taken away from us all at once. It will always be done little by little. Our freedom won’t end with a bang, but with a whimper.
And only we can stop it.