Major Investigation Reveals Disturbing Connection Between U.S. Intelligence and Al Qaeda Since 9/11

Seasoned journalist Andrew Cockburn’s major report in Harper’s should have gotten a lot more attention than it did.

Over the past year and a half, the United States and other military coalition members have launched nearly 10,000 strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Zooming out, the United States military has spent nearly the entire 21st century engaged in an amorphous war on terrorism, in which the whole world is a potential battlefield, from Yemen to Somalia to the now-expanding war in Afghanistan. Lurking beneath the surface of the seemingly endless series of military campaigns is the contradictory U.S. historical legacy of direct support for some of the very extremist combatants the war on terror is allegedly predicated on fighting.

A recent in-depth investigation published in Harper’s by journalist Andrew Cockburn finds that the U.S. is “teaming up with Al Qaeda, again,” suggesting that this sinister legacy is alive and well and raising disturbing questions about the logic underlying over 15 years of continuous war.

Cockburn is not the first to point out the United States’ role in backing such forces, and some prominent voices are even openly calling for the U.S. to embrace Al Qaeda. But what his account does offer is a devastating illustration of the historical symmetries, from Afghanistan in the 1980s to Syria in the 21st century, underlying what he calls the U.S. government’s “cold-blooded” calculations.

Cockburn writes:

In the wake of 9/11, the story of U.S. support for militant Islamists against the Soviets became something of a touchy subject. Former CIA and intelligence officials like to suggest that the agency simply played the roles of financier and quartermaster. In this version of events, the dirty work — the actual management of the campaign and the dealings with rebel groups — was left to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was Pakistan’s fault that at least 70 percent of total U.S. aid went to the fundamentalists, even if the CIA demanded audited accounts on a regular basis.

Fast-forwarding to more recent history, Cockburn notes that U.S. officials have been eager to blame transgressions on allies:

[I]n 2014, in a speech at Harvard, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that we were arming extremists once again, although he was careful to pin the blame on America’s allies in the region, whom he denounced as “our largest problem in Syria.” In response to a student’s question, he volunteered that our allies “were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

But Cockburn cites specific examples in which U.S. involvement was far more direct.

In the spring and summer of last year, a coalition of Syrian rebel groups calling itself Jaish al-Fatah — the Army of Conquest — swept through the northwestern province of Idlib, posing a serious threat to the Assad regime. Leading the charge was Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, known locally as Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front). The other major component of the coalition was Ahrar al-Sham, a group that had formed early in the anti-Assad uprising and looked for inspiration to none other than Abdullah Azzam. Following the victory, Nusra massacred twenty members of the Druze faith, considered heretical by fundamentalists, and forced the remaining Druze to convert to Sunni Islam. (The Christian population of the area had wisely fled.) Ahrar al-Sham meanwhile posted videos of the public floggings it administered to those caught skipping Friday prayers.

This potent alliance of jihadi militias had been formed under the auspices of the rebellion’s major backers: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar. But it also enjoyed the endorsement of two other major players. At the beginning of the year, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had ordered his followers to cooperate with other groups. In March, according to several sources, a U.S.-Turkish-Saudi “coordination room” in southern Turkey had also ordered the rebel groups it was supplying to cooperate with Jaish al-Fatah. The groups, in other words, would be embedded within the Al Qaeda coalition.

A few months before the Idlib offensive, a member of one CIA-backed group had explained the true nature of its relationship to the Al Qaeda franchise. Nusra, he told the New York Times, allowed militias vetted by the United States to appear independent, so that they would continue to receive American supplies. When I asked a former White House official involved in Syria policy if this was not a de facto alliance, he put it this way: “I would not say that Al Qaeda is our ally, but a turnover of weapons is probably unavoidable. I’m fatalistic about that. It’s going to happen.”

And in another example, Cockburn writes:

The determination of Turkey (a NATO ally) and Qatar (the host of the biggest American base in the Middle East) to support extreme jihadi groups became starkly evident in late 2013. On December 6, armed fighters from Ahrar al-Sham and other militias raided warehouses at Bab al-Hawa, on the Turkish border, and seized supplies belonging to the Free Syrian Army. As it happened, a meeting of an international coordination group on Syria, the so-called London Eleven, was scheduled for the following week. Delegates from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East were bent on issuing a stern condemnation of the offending jihadi group.

The Turks and Qataris, however, adamantly refused to sign on. As one of the participants told me later, “All the countries in the room [understood] that Turkey’s opposition to listing Ahrar al-Sham was because they were providing support to them.” The Qatari representative insisted that it was counterproductive to condemn such groups as terrorist. If the other countries did so, he made clear, Qatar would stop cooperating on Syria. “Basically, they were saying that if you name terrorists, we’re going to pick up our ball and go home,” the source told me. The U.S. delegate said that the Islamic Front, an umbrella organization, would be welcome at the negotiating table — but Ahrar al-Sham, which happened to be its leading member, would not. The diplomats mulled over their communiqué, traded concessions, adjusted language. The final version contained no condemnation, or even mention, of Ahrar al-Sham.

Cockburn’s piece underscores the seemingly obvious point that there is a contradiction between the U.S. government’s supposed war on terror and its backing of such forces.

The Syrian war alone has killed nearly a quarter of a million people. According to a report released by the United Nations this summer, one out of every 122 people on the planet has been forcibly displaced by war and persecution. Meanwhile, many from within the region have argued that, in the wake of the Arab Spring, the U.S. and allies like Saudi Arabia played a profoundly counter-revolutionary force against grassroots movements seeking real, democratic alternatives to authoritarian regimes.

In the past year and a half, ISIS has expanded to over 20 countries. The Global Terrorism Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, estimates that global terrorist incidents have significantly increased since the U.S. war on terror began.

As Iraqi-American activist Dahlia Wasfi told AlterNet over the phone, “The people who live in these countries that the U.S. has determined will be the battlefield—those are the people who are suffering.”

If the dealings Cockburn highlights in his report stem from well-thought-out and calculated policies, they are extremely dangerous. If they are merely the product of incoherence, we are already seeing who pays the price.

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

 

http://www.alternet.org/world/major-investigation-reveals-disturbing-connection-between-us-intelligence-and-al-qaeda-911?akid=13961.265072.7_FAge&rd=1&src=newsletter1050408&t=12

Stop the persecution of Julian Assange!

UN panel condemns detention of WikiLeaks founder

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5 February 2016

More than five years after first being detained under a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Sweden in relation to fabricated allegations of sexual misconduct, and after more than three and a half years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been vindicated by a United Nations human right panel. This body has ruled that his persecution by the Swedish and British governments amounts to “arbitrary detention” and constitutes a violation of international law.

Assange’s sole “crime” is making public secret documents detailing the real and murderous war crimes carried out by the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the conspiracies hatched by the US State Department and the CIA in countries around the world.

For exposing its criminal operations, Washington is determined to silence and punish Assange, using the lies concocted by Swedish prosecutors and the complicity of the British government to achieve its aims.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry Thursday acknowledged that the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) will today issue its findings that Assange has been “deprived of his liberty in an arbitrary manner for an unacceptable length of time.”

The UN panel could only have reached such a decision based on overwhelming evidence that the charges against Assange constitute a legal frame-up mounted for political purposes.

Even before the findings of the UN working group were made known, Assange issued a statement from the Ecuadorian embassy accepting the decision as the culmination of his final legal appeal. He declared that, were the panel to rule against him, he would leave the embassy on Friday “to accept arrest by British police.” He went on to insist that if it found that the Swedish and British governments were acting in violation of international law, “I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me.”

Neither London nor Stockholm, however, have shown any similar inclination to allow international law and the human rights treaties to which both are signatories to guide their actions.

A spokesman for the government of Prime Minister David Cameron issued a cynical statement insisting that Julian Assange “has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorian embassy.” Only last October did British police end a round-the-clock siege of the embassy, announcing that they were pursuing “covert” methods in seeking Assange’s capture. At one point, the British government indicated that it would ignore international law protecting embassies and send security forces to storm the building.

As for the Swedish government, the foreign ministry in Stockholm issued a brief note asserting that the UN’s ruling “differs from that of the Swedish authorities” and would not alter its legal vendetta against the WikiLeaks founder.

The British and the US governments have regularly invoked the findings of the UN panel on arbitrary detentions when they could be used to lend a “human rights” pretext to imperialist operations against countries like China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba. That the actions taken by London and Washington themselves should be subject to international law, however, is rejected out of hand.

What they find impermissible is the exposure of their crimes, which have killed and wounded millions, while turning many millions more into homeless refugees. This is why they have not only hounded Assange, but placed Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning in prison for 35 years.

Manning was convicted by a drumhead military tribunal in 2013 on charges of “aiding the enemy” for providing WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including the “collateral murder” video showing an Apache helicopter’s gun sight view of the 2007 massacre of 12 Iraqi civilians. Also leaked were the “Afghan war diary” and the “Iraq war logs,” exposing multiple war crimes committed by the US military, and over 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables revealing Washington’s counterrevolutionary intrigues around the globe.

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed the NSA’s wholesale collection of every form of data on the planet, from US and non-US citizens alike, in open violation of the US Bill of Rights and international law, has been turned into a man without a country, living in forced exile in Moscow.

There are a number of other such cases, including that of ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, the only person punished in connection with the CIA’s torture of detainees—sent to prison for publicly exposing it. The Obama administration has prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act for leaking secret information to the media than all other US presidents combined.

Assange can expect even worse if he falls into the clutches of the British police and the Swedish authorities, who are acting as the agents of the US military and intelligence apparatus. He has been the subject of a secret grand jury investigation for over five years and is undoubtedly charged in a sealed indictment with espionage and other crimes against the state that could bring him life in prison or even the death penalty. Meanwhile, leading political figures in the US have openly called for his assassination.

Assange, Manning, Snowden and others have faced relentless persecution for daring to lift the lid on the secret operations of the US government.

This witch hunt is driven by the deepest needs of the American state, which functions as the instrument of a financial oligarchy. It defends this ruling layer’s vast wealth and monopoly on political power against the masses of working people in the US and around the world, while seeking to offset the economic decline of American capitalism by waging ever-more dangerous wars of aggression. Given the criminal character of these operations, a regime of secrecy and increasingly dictatorial methods is indispensable.

The only genuine constituency for the defense of democratic rights is the working class. Working people must come to the defense of Assange, Snowden, Manning and other victims of state conspiracies and repression.

Any attempt to arrest or extradite Assange must be answered with mass demonstrations and work actions in the UK, the US and all over the world.

This campaign in defense of Assange and the other victims of state repression can go forward only as part of the struggle of the international working class against the capitalist system, whose historic crisis threatens humanity with both world war and police state dictatorship.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/05/pers-f05.html

We now have threat scores to match our credit scores

“Minority Report” is coming true: 

“Beware” analyzes arrest reports, property records and commercial databases to calculate our potential for violence

"Minority Report" is coming true: We now have threat scores to match our credit scores
(Credit: Dreamworks)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Police have found a new way to legally incorporate surveillance and profiling into everyday life. Just when you thought we were making progress raising awareness surrounding police brutality, we have something new to contend with. The Police Threat Score isn’t calculated by a racist police officer or a barrel-rolling cop who thinks he’s on a TV drama; it’s a computer algorithm that steals your data and calculates your likelihood of risk and threat for the fuzz.

Beware is the new stats-bank that helps officers analyze “billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and…social-media postings” to ultimately come up with a score that indicates a person’s potential for violence, according to a Washington Post story. No word yet on whether this meta data includes photos and facial recognition software. For example would an ordinary person, yet to commit a crime, be flagged when seen wearing a hoodie in a gated Florida community?

The company tries to paint itself as a savior to first responders, claiming they want to help them “understand the nature of the environment they may encounter during the window of a 911 event.” Think of it like someone pulling your credit score when you apply for a job. Except, in this instance you never applied for the job and they’re pulling your credit score anyway because they knew you might apply. It’s that level of creepiness.

Remember the 2002 Tom Cruise movie Minority Report? It’s set in 2054, a futuristic world where the “pre-crime” unit arrests people based on a group of psychics who can see crimes before they happen. Only, it’s 2016 and we’re not using psychics, we’re using computers that mine data. According to the Post piece, law enforcement in Oregon are under federal investigation for using software to monitor Black Lives Matter hashtags after uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson. How is this new software any different? In fact, this is the same kind of technology the NSA has been using since 9/11 to monitor online activities of suspected terrorists—they’re just bringing it down to the local level.

According to FatalEncounters.org, a site that tracks deaths by cop, there were only 14 days in 2015 in which a law enforcement officer did not kill someone. So, leaving judgment up to the individual hasn’t been all that effective in policing. But is letting a machine do it any better? Using these factors to calculate a color-coded threat level doesn’t seem entirely practical. Suppose a person doesn’t use social media or own a house but was once arrested when he was 17 for possession of marijuana. The absence of data might lend itself to a high threat level. The same can be said for online meta data that might filter in extracurricular interests. Could a person who is interested in kinky activity in the bedroom be tagged as having a tendency toward violence?

The Fresno, Calif. police department is taking on the daunting task of being the first to test the software in the field. Understandably, the city council and citizens voiced their skepticism at a meeting. “One council member referred to a local media report saying that a woman’s threat level was elevated because she was tweeting about a card game titled ‘Rage,’ which could be a keyword in Beware’s assessment of social media,” the Post reported.

While you might now be rethinking playing that Mafia game on Facebook, it isn’t just your personal name that can raise a flag. Fresno Councilman Clinton Olivier, a libertarian-leaning Republican, asked for his name to be run through the system. He came up as a “green” which indicates he’s safe. When they ran his address, however, it popped up as “yellow” meaning the officer should beware and be prepared for a potentially dangerous situation. How could this be? Well, the councilman didn’t always live in this house; someone else lived there before him and that person was likely responsible for raising the threat score.

Think what a disastrous situation that could be. A mother of a toddler could move into a new home with her family, not knowing that the house was once the location of an abusive patriarch. The American Medical Association has calculated that as many as 1 in 3 women will be impacted by domestic violence in their lifetimes, so it isn’t an unreasonable hypothetical. One day the child eats one of those detergent pods and suddenly the toddler isn’t breathing. Hysterial, the mother calls 911, screaming. She can’t articulate what has happened, only that her baby is hurt. Dispatch sends an ambulance, but the address is flagged as “red” for its prior decade of domestic violence calls. First responders don’t know someone new has moved in. The woman is giving CPR while her husband waits at the door for the ambulance. What happens when the police arrive?

It’s a scenario that can be applied to just about any family and any situation. Moving into an apartment that previously was a marijuana grow-house; buying a house that once belonged to a woman who shot her husband when she found him with his mistress in the pool. Domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous for police officers. Giving police additional suspicion that may not be entirely accurate probably won’t reduce the incidents of of accidental shootings or police brutality.

The worst part, however, is that none of these questions and concerns can be answered, because Intrado, the company that makes Beware, doesn’t reveal how its algorithm works. Chances are slim that they ever will, since it would also be revealed to its competitors. There’s no way of knowing the accuracy level of the data set given in the search. Police are given red, yellow or green to help them make a life-changing or life-ending decision. It seems a little primitive, not to mention intrusive.

“It is deeply disturbing that local law enforcement agencies are unleashing the sophisticated tools of a surveillance state on the public with little, if any, oversight or accountability,” Ryan Kiesel of the Oklahoma ACLU told me. “We are in the middle of a consequential moment in which the government is unilaterally changing the power dynamic between themselves and the people they serve. If we are going to preserve the fundamental right of privacy, it is imperative that we demand these decisions are made as the result of a transparent and informed public debate.”

While mass shootings are on the rise, violent crime and homicides have fallen to historic lows. You wouldn’t know that watching the evening news, however. Is now really the time to increase the chances of violent actions at the hands of the police, all while intruding on our civil liberties under the guise of safety?

 

http://www.salon.com/2016/01/15/minority_report_is_coming_true_we_now_have_threat_scores_to_match_our_credit_scores_partner/?source=newsletter

Google Accused of Tracking School Kids After Promising Not To

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In a complaint (PDF) filed Tuesday with the Federal Trade Commission, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) claims that “despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes.” The EFF says Google’s practice of recording everything students do while they’re logged into their Google accounts, regardless of the device or browser they’re using, puts the company in breach of Section 5 of the Federal Communications Act.

New York City police deploy new counterterrorism unit

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By Sandy English
23 November 2015

The political establishment in New York City is using the November 13 attacks in Paris to justify the further militarization of the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

At a media event last Monday, the city’s Democratic Mayor, Bill de Blasio, and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced the formation of the new counterterrorism unit called the Critical Response Command (CRC), comprised of more than 500 officers. De Blasio emphasized “how critical it is to have our own capacity to deal with each and every situation.” The creation of the new unit has been in the works for months.

About 100 CRC cops will be on duty at all times. The unit will be headquartered at Randall’s Island, which offers quick access to all five of the city’s boroughs. Randall’s Island is also where the NYPD conducted riot training during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

CRC teams will be equipped with special cars that can hold Colt M4 semiautomatic long rifles. The CRC, as the New York Times noted, will also be trained to “conduct undercover ‘hostile surveillance’ to detect those who might be gathering information about potential targets, and the use of new devices.”

On Thursday the new unit held training maneuvers in the city’s subway system with other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. The mock scenario included terrorists with automatic weapons and suicide vests. One hundred CRC cops will be present at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday.

In line with a number of officials and former officials in the federal military-intelligence apparatus, Bratton also called last week for eliminating restrictions on police surveillance in New York. “The [offensive] in our case is intelligence, the gathering of intelligence, nobody does it better than the NYPD and our partnership with the FBI,” he told the media. Promoting the campaign against the use of encryption software he noted: “We encounter that all the time. We’re monitoring and they go dark. They go on to sites that we cannot access.”

The CRC joins other specialized heavily armed NYPD units, such as the 800-member Strategic Response Group comprised of patrol officers, and the 700 cops in the Emergency Service Unit, the NYPD’s SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. In the last few months, the NYPD has roughly tripled the number of officers armed with high-powered semi-automatic rifles.

The NYPD also operates a massive spying apparatus of thousands of cops that includes the Intelligence Division and the Counterterrorism Unit. The notorious Demographic Unit that spied on Muslims at mosques, restaurants and other businesses after the terrorist attacks of 2001 was a part of the Intelligence Division. Combined, these units have offices in 11 cities worldwide.

This year the de Blasio administration supported several increases in funding for the NYPD, one of which included the hiring of 1,000 more cops, “that will be focused on counter-terrorism and crowd management,” as Bratton told NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday.

Bratton’s reference to “crowd management” is significant, and hints at the real purposes behind the increasing militarization of the NYPD.

During the frequent and sometimes massive protests against police violence late last year and early this year—provoked by longstanding grievances with the police that had been building for years, and especially by the refusal of a grand jury to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who choked to death Staten Island resident Eric Garner in July 2014. Demonstrators have noted the presence of NYPD officers wearing jackets that identified them as members of special counterterrorism units.

In January Bratton confirmed the NYPD’s intention to deploy militarized police against these and other peaceful protesters when he announced plans to form a heavily armed counterterrorism unit to “deal with events like our recent protests.”

This was entirely in line with the character of NYPD intimidation against the non-violent Occupy Wall Street protesters in lower Manhattan in late 2011. Demonstrators were besieged by hundreds of police every day, who filmed them, pepper-sprayed them, used sound cannons to disperse them, and eventually expelled them from their encampment in Zuccotti Park.

The reemergence of thousands of protesters on the streets of New York City in the last few years has been brought about by increasingly precarious social conditions for millions of New Yorkers. Rents have skyrocketed, wages have declined, real unemployment remains in the double digits, and the behavior of the NYPD itself has only increased the social volatility.

Last week the New York Times and Siena College conducted a survey of New Yorkers, which noted that half of those polled “say they are struggling economically, making ends meet just barely, if at all, and most feel sharp uncertainty about the future of the city’s next generation.”

Thirty-three percent of residents in the Bronx and 25 percent of residents in Brooklyn, the two poorest boroughs, said, “the prospects for finding a job are poor,” and 44 and 36 percent in each borough respectively said, “the chance that a family member will be incarcerated is very likely or almost certain.”

Twenty-one percent citywide said that there had been times in the last 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food for themselves or their family, and 66 percent citywide said that local government’s responsiveness to the needs of their neighborhood was fair or poor. Even in the less socially polarized borough of Staten Island, 46 percent of respondents said that life was getting worse.

Such sentiments will produce a response by millions, and the NYPD and other police agencies are arming and training elite and specialized forces to protect the privileges of the handful of multimillionaires and billionaires who rule the city.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/11/23/nycp-n23.html

Paris attacks: it’s time for a more radical reaction

By Claire Veale On November 19, 2015

Post image for Paris attacks: it’s time for a more radical reactionIn the wake of the Paris attacks fingers were pointed in all directions, but few were directed at France itself. What has radicalized the French youth?

Photo: A young man is arrested at a student protest in Paris, by Philipe Leroyer, via Flickr.

The deadly attacks in Paris on the night of Friday, November 13, were quickly met by a global rush of solidarity with France and the French people. From world leaders expressing their sympathies, to raising the French flag on buildings across the globe, and more visibly, on Facebook profiles, everyone stood unequivocally united with France.

The sentiment of solidarity behind this mass concern is heart-warming, however it must come hand in hand with a demand for a serious debate on matters of terrorism, violence and war. Rage and sadness should not hinder our ability to think.

Why Paris? Who were the attackers, and how could they do such things? How can we counter these kind of attacks? Before bowing to the often narrow interpretations provided by the media and our political leaders, we must look for well-informed answers to these important questions. The current response–including more French bombings in Syria and extreme security measures on French territory–may be a fuel for further violence, rather than bring viable solutions.

“Us versus Them”

As a French national, the sudden inundation of the tricolored flag on my Facebook wall was a little unsettling. I do feel grateful for the surge of solidarity and wonderful messages calling for love and unity from all over the world. However, I find myself wondering if the French flag is truly the appropriate symbol to demonstrate this call for peace and inclusiveness, and to bring people together in unity against terror.

To me, the French flag represents first and foremost the French state, the respective governments that have ruled my country, and their foreign policies. Domestically, it is mostly a nationalist symbol, too often used by the likes of Marine Le Pen to create enemies out of foreigners. It represents certain values defined as “French”, as opposed to foreign values France should not welcome, and as such it can be a dangerous vector of racism.

In parallel to this bleu-blanc-rouge frenzy, many artists and humorists have responded to the attacks defending the stereotypes of French culture; drinking wine, enjoying life, smoking on terrasses. They state that any attack on French values is an attack on enjoying life itself. Although flattering in a way, as they praise what may seem the essence of being French, it unjustly encourages us to see the attacks through the lens of the “clash of civilisations” where enemy and foreign ideals threaten our way of life, our moral values.

Let us be clear about two things. First, in this “us” versus “them” discourse, I am not sure who the “us” is supposed to be. Am I–a French citizen who has long opposed aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East–all of a sudden on the same side as my government?

To many of us, the political elites of the country, who have insisted in involving France in wars that we did not want, are part of the problem. The different successive French governments have indirectly contributed to the rise of extremist groups and the radicalization of young men to join them. Waving the French flag could contribute to diminishing their role and the responsibility they hold in this crisis. Worse, it could legitimize further undesirable military actions abroad.

And second, who is “them”? The “War on Terror”, as it has been clearly framed by world leaders, is not a war in the traditional sense, with a clear, visible enemy. The attackers of the Paris killings weren’t foreigners; most of them were French or European citizens, born and raised on European soil. We are not talking about a mysterious, faraway enemy, but about young French men and women who are as much a part of French society as anyone else.

A show of force

And yet, the French president so promptly declared “war” and intensified the direct and aggressive bombings of IS targets in Syria. The terrorists being mostly European citizens, may it not be wiser to ask ourselves what is wrong in our own societies instead of taking such rash military action abroad?

Worryingly, there has been little resistance within the media or even within French left-wing circles, to Hollande’s policies. Has the emotion and anger from the Paris attacks impeded our ability to recognize that dropping bombs in the Middle East will not resolve the security threats that emanate from within?

Terrorism is an invisible enemy emanating from complex socio-political circumstances, which needs to be tackled in a more subtle and thought-through way. History has shown us that 14 years of “War against Terror” in the Middle East has only contributed to more violence, more terrorism and sadly, more deaths. Isn’t it time we started thinking about different tactics?

Since the attacks, Francois Hollande has proposed changes in the constitution, to make it easier for the state to resort to the use of force when facing terrorism. These changes include an increase in presidential powers, allowing Mr Hollande to enforce security measures without the usual scrutiny of the parliament. The president wants to extent the duration of the state of emergency, limiting freedom of movement and freedom of association, including mass demonstrations, in the name of national security.

The suggested changes could also result in widening the definition of targeted citizens to anyone who is “seriously suspected” of being a threat to public order, opening the door to a worrying reality of aggressive police tactics directed towards poor, disillusioned youth. Furthermore, Hollande wants to withdraw French nationality to any bi-national citizen suspected of terrorism acts.

The president’s reaction is deeply disturbing, and reinforces the skewed vision of a “foreign” enemy, which will inevitable result in discriminatory and racist policies and reactions towards foreigners, or anyone perceived as foreign, in France. More worrying still, is a recent poll in Le Parisien, which shows that 84% of respondents supported the decision to increase the manoeuvring power of the police and the army, while 91% agreed with the idea of withdrawing French nationality to suspected terrorists.

Where are the French values of openness and multiculturalism that we so ardently defend now? We must not let fear and an inaccurate “us” versus “them” discourse justify aggressive policies against our own citizens, or against anyone else for that matter, including refugees fleeing the very terror we claim to fight.

Why did French citizens decide to kill?

The reason why the media has focused on this angle of opposing the French values of liberté, egalité, fraternité, with the fearful and hateful values preached by the IS, is that it gives easy answers to complex questions. Why was Paris attacked? Because, we are told, it represents the heart of freedom, multiculturalism, secularism and joie de vivre. But does it really? France doesn’t always seem to live up to the values it professes.

The real question should be: why did young French (and Belgian) men and boys decide to sacrifice their life to kill members of their own society?

Two answers seem to have emerged. The first, mainly employed by the political elite and the media, is that the killers were “insane”, “brainwashed” and “barbaric”, and could not have acted rationally. This approach refuses proper analysis of the killers’ motives, brushing them aside to favour irrational and extremist religious ideology, and thus justifying a purely violent and heavy-handed response.

The second answer, coming from many left-wing, anti-racist circles, claims that such acts of terrorism are a direct result of France’s foreign and domestic policy. Although both seem radically opposed, they do have one thing in common: they undermine the agency and accountability of the attackers. This second approach, which points out undeniable political considerations, remains flawed in the same way as the first: it forgets that the killers are people who think and act, and not simply passive products of racist and imperialist foreign policy.

It is important to recognize the attackers as human beings, capable of acting and thinking rationally, as it is a first step towards understanding the reasoning behind their actions. Religious fanaticism is simply a vector of violence, as has been the case for many other ideologies in the past, such as nationalism, fascism, or communism. These ideologies are not the root causes of violence. Although this may seem obvious, there is a need to stress that religious extremism is not the reason why a young man would take up a gun and shoot into a crowd, it is simply an instrument to channel their anger.

We must try to look at the very roots of these young men’s discontent. Debates should be opened about the school system, about the ghettoization of urban areas across France, about police violence and domestic anti-terror security measures, about the prison system, about structural racism, about our skewed justice system, about oppressive and strict secularism; and the list goes on.

These questions are complex ones, and ones that are not easy to address. Thus, we prefer to paint the picture in black and white, our values versus their values, rather than to face the internal problems of our broken societies.

The little research that has been conducted on IS fighters, abroad and within Europe, shows that young men don’t necessarily join the extremist group for religious reasons. The Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo shootings had suffered a difficult childhood in poverty after the suicide of their mother, with little support from social services and surrounded by extreme violence as children.

Anger at injustices they face, alienation, and years of increasing humiliation from the very societies they are meant to be a part of can push young men to express their frustrations through the vehicle of religious extremism. IS just happens to be an organized group, which seriously threatens European societies, and which offers these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity and their pride.

As Anne Aly explains: “Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an ‘us versus them’ mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent ‘the enemy’, but they are not the drivers of radicalization.”

Radical solutions to radical problems

Radical solutions mean, first and foremost, tackling the problem at its roots.Julien Salingue expressed this idea very eloquently after the Charlie Hebdo shootings: “Deep change, and therefore the questioning of a system that generates structural inequalities and exploitation of violence is necessary”.

Every injustice and every act of humiliation towards a member of society can only cause anger and hatred, which might someday transform into violence. James Gilligan has written extensively about the way the prison system in America serves to intensify the feeling of shame and humiliation that push individuals to violence in the first place. This analysis is useful when looking at European societies, and the processes of discrimination and humiliation that push young men to react violently.

We must condemn all policies, discourses and actions that legitimize and reinforce the politics of hatred. Police violence towards young men of Arab origin, for instance, is frequent in France. Amedy Coulibaly, another actor in the Paris shootings in January 2015, suffered the death of his friend in a police “slipup” when he was 18. This kind of direct aggression perpetrated on a daily basis adds to the structural violence and discrimination young men from underprivileged backgrounds experience in European societies. War for them is not such a distant, disconnected reality, but closer to their every day life.

Every racist insult, act of police brutality, unfair trial, or discriminatory treatment brings them one step closer to carry out tragedies as the massacre in Paris. We must therefore question the very system we live in and the way of life we defend so defiantly after the attacks, for the problem may be closer to us than we imagine.

Claire Veale is a graduate from the SOAS, University of London, in Violence, Conflict & Development. Having lived and worked in several continents, she is particularly interested in writing about social movements, Latin American politics, gender rights and international development issues.

 

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