Paris-based journalist Ramin Mazaheri says the Nice attack was a criminal, not a terrorist, act, but that won’t prevent the French state from using it as a pretext for more draconian security actions at home and more militarism abroad.
The New York Times recently tapped Iranian-Franco professor Farhad Khosrokhavar for an opinion column that attempted to explain why France is such a target for terrorists.
Khosrokhavar make some good criticisms of French society, albeit far from strident and all now-commonplace: endemic racism and poverty, a hypocritical and intolerant form of secularism and the “scars” of colonialism.
But he tosses in a final afterthought: “An additional factor is France’s muscular foreign policy, which seems to target mostly Muslim countries, such as Libya, Syria and Mali.”
We dare not be 100% emphatic and clear: France has made themselves a target precisely because of its destructive foreign policy, and my source is unimpeachable – the terrorists themselves.
Since 2012 seemingly every terrorist in France has cited Syria, Mali, Libya and France’s overall foreign policy as their motivation. It’s a policy which is, of course, the very definition of “neo-colonialism” and one of the main reasons why the term was even invented in the first place.
If we are to prevent future terror attacks in the West, we must take the terrorists at their word in such occasions – these are unforced confessions, after all. These are not words which were designed to sell newspapers, to justify an executive branch power grab or were extracted through torture at Guantanamo Bay.
But ignored they are. It is buried under a tidal wave of inane cultural chauvinism we know as the “clash of civilizations”. For Khosrokhavar and the average Westerner, the primary problem is values, and the Muslim world’s lack of them, or the Muslim world’s inferior ones or some other reality-obscuring nonsense.
Nice was not a terrorist attack
This prelude helps to understand the absolute travesty of the Nice attacks, and I am speaking of the extremist reaction of French society following the sad tragedy itself.
To put it simply: France’s government has admitted that Nice was not a terrorist attack, and yet they immediately manipulated the threat of terrorism to extend their domestic militarism in an unprecedented, reactionary and racist manner.
To do so France had to invent and tirelessly promote a new idea of terrorism: terrorism because it scared the public; terrorism as evidenced by an 8-day old beard; terrorism because ISIL called on people to hit their victims with a car.
And it worked on the public and the media – they mostly bought it. However, after a couple days the French media did start to question the official narrative, and that was a positive development.
Because try as they might, the French state found no proof at all of links between the Nice killer and organized terrorism. What became abundantly clear is that the Nice killer was severely mentally ill: he was on medication, he required psychiatric help, he was prone to rages where he would “smash everything” (sounds like the Nice attack), he would beat his wife, scare his children, “defecate everywhere”…this was a very sick man.
Unfortunately for everyone he also happened to be Arab. If he was a Muslim it was only by lineage: his family said he was never religious, he ate pork, he drank, he was unknown at any mosque, etc.
But being from Tunisia meant a certain reaction: terrorism would be privileged first, last and always.
And I cannot let my fellow journalists off the hook for immediately and unquestioningly giving in to the idea that Nice simply had to be terrorism.
Right away there were eyewitness testimonies which created doubt about the now-disproven terrorist hypothesis: He had been driving erratically prior to the attack, which is counter-intuitive behaviour. He appeared panicked on exiting the vehicle, which is the opposite of the battle-hardened killers at Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan. He even had been put on police supervision just two weeks earlier for falling asleep at the wheel and hitting four cars – perhaps that happened again and panicked?
That last one seems like a stretch, but the history was there and therefore it needs to be checked out before you go to press. It met the standard of reasonable doubt, and it was as solid as the terrorism lead, which was, mainly: he was Brown.
(And then there is this, which I am at a loss to explain: This is from a published report by France’s reputable l’Express magazine, citing a man from the killer’s neighborhood named Wissam: “What happened Thursday night is that he drank with a colleague of his, they had an argument, his friend told him ‘You aren’t worth anything’. He (the alleged killer) responded: ‘One day you’ll hear about me!” This amazing claim has been totally ignored, to my knowledge. It would be terrible journalistic practice to publish such a claim if the reporter was not willing to stand behind it; it is terrible journalistic practice that it should go unpursued by the French media.)
And if he was a White person, I believe he would have gotten that reasonable doubt at the beginning, a beginning which I will later show to be of enormous historical importance for all of France. But it’s almost as if people wanted it to be terrorism, when very clearly that would be the worst and most divisive possible outcome for all of society.
History will compare this with the Germanwings attack, because that is the Nice tragedy’s true parallel: A mentally unstable person who irrationally decided to harm the maximum amount of people with no links at all to terrorist groups. I recall being interviewed shortly after the tragedy: Their first question was, “Why is this not being called terrorism?” Well, we have found no claim of political motivation (and he’s White).
Even dozens of hours after the initial shock, it was ironic that when ISIL announced its (rather belated) approval of the Nice attack, it was unthinkable to many journalists and commentators that actual proof was required of them. Their memo was repeated ad nauseam but it is standard practice in the West to assume that we simply don’t need to verify the claims of murderous terrorist because they are the evil enemy and that is how the war machine is fed.
But when terror groups wage major, coordinated attacks – like Charlie Hebdo or the Bataclan – and leave videos or notes to clearly state their motivations, those are buried under the litany of right-wing commentary about “culture war”. However, any responsible journalist and citizen have a responsibility to repeat and analyze their motivations, because the public should demand policy changes if it will ensure their own safety. Since 2012 this type of reflection has never occurred in the French media or government.
French government manipulation
The ruling Socialist Party evinces less awareness than the previous administration of Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Nice attack will ultimately prove most notable for just how far France’s government was willing to spin a tragedy of at least 84 innocent deaths for their own gain.
The maximum amount of condemnation goes to the person with the maximum amount of power: President Francois Hollande. At 3 am, just 5 hours after the tragedy, he declared it terrorism -“undeniably”. He announced that the state of emergency would be re-extended, when just hours earlier he had said it would expire on July 26. (A French Parliamentary inquiry this month found it had just a “limited impact” on security.)
He also announced an extension to Operational Sentinelle, which has stationed a massive domestic army of 10,000 soldiers on the streets of France. The cost is astronomical (roughly 700 million euros per month) as well as psychologically. (The same inquiry questioned the “real added value” of Operation Sentinelle).
Because 24/7 policing has already gone on for 9 months – and by army soldiers who are not even properly trained in the urban anti-terrorist tactics reserved for police – Hollande also announced the calling up of thousands of reserves.
In short, within hours of Nice and without any proof of terrorism, France was re-militarized just when we thought it was finally over, and also to an unprecedented degree.
We assumed the president was privy to knowledge that we were not – after a day or two it became clear he had none. It was clear that he had cried “terrorism” without any scruples regarding facts or effects, and he did so to increase his own executive branch power.
He also did it, I predict, to make sure he can violently and undemocratically even more detested right-wing austerity measures.
But here is the main problem: France simply does not care. All of their talk about “treasuring the birthplace of human rights” is for show.
It must be, because recent poll showed that more than 80% of the country supports the extension of the undemocratic state of emergency. In fact the police state has enjoyed close to this massive public support the entire 9 months.
And yet France feels even a police state is not enough. The only step left to Hollande would be to declare martial law, and yet 90% of the public says that he has not done enough on security/terrorism/making me feel safe under my blanket. It’s a fair question based on such data: Do they want martial law?
That question begs another question: Should this apparent love (lust?) for anti-democratic militarism and perma-war be considered a “Western value”? History shows that the grandparents in these societies participated in the most massive atrocities in the history of man? These are the kinds of questions non-Westerners ask, but something which would only be greeted with uncomprehending incredulity from Germany to California.
I raise this line of questioning in the hope that, just as many non-Muslim westerners throw up their hands in disgust and wonder at “Muslim values”, many Muslims do the same for “Western values” that appear to have no basis in reality or morality. I agree with you all: it’s complicated.
The problem here, perhaps, is that most French people assume it’s not them who will be affected by the militarism. After all, an estimated 99% of over 3,600 raids in the early months of the state of emergency targeted Muslims. (Only 1 indictment on terror-related charges, by the way.)
And it’s the subconscious subtext that is constantly repeated is that White people don’t commit terrorism, so what do they have to lose by such measures? This is proved by the coverage of the Germanwings tragedy or the Norway tragedy – they have “massacres”, “mass murder” and “mental illness”. I would assume that if Palestinian thinker Edward Said was here today he would agree with the idea that the West doesn’t accord Arabs the right to mental illness – clearly the case in Nice – because to them simply being an Arab is proof of mental illness. If that is too far for some readers, perhaps they prefer: professing Arab or Muslim values instead of European or Christian ones is proof of mental illness or incapacity.
But the non-Muslim French are very wrong about not being affected, and it is stunning that this is not crystal clear to them given the recent once-in-a-generation unrest.
The state of emergency, time will show, was extended after the initial three months because the Hollande regime planned to achieve a decades-old dream of Western capitalists: the gutting of France’s social model. France has for so long been such a bad example in the West, and the capitalists finally won – by any means necessary – after decades of propaganda war. France now has a labor law which is in-line with US, UK and German models, and they will surely soon have the much higher poverty and inequality rates those more-capitalist Anglo-Saxon countries “enjoy”.
The labor law was passed this month in a manner fairly described as “totally undemocratically”: it was written by Hollande’s cabinet, Parliament was bypassed twice, the government ignored months of polls showing 70-90% rejection of the law, and they also ignored four months of near-daily protests. However, the dictatorial climate of the long-running state of emergency so habituated both police and public to brutality that the constant scenes of tear gas, water cannons, brutality and arrests – 2,000 democratic protesters, at least – ceased to have an effect.
France had become so habituated to anti-democratic tactics worthy of, and even superior to, many of the West’s usual targeted enemies that when the state of emergency turned on the White majority, the people simply did not care enough or just could not stop it.
And that’s how Nice and the new state of emergency will continue to affect everyone; the spinning of the Nice terror attack is not about religion or terrorism, it’s about right-wing, militaristic, pro-capitalist control of the masses.
That is the same old story since the Industrial and Colonial age began. It became the height of Orwellianism when French President Francois Hollande declared that the reason France was a target was because it was “attached to liberty” just hours before the National Assembly approved the fourth extension to France’s anti-democratic police state dictatorship. (Six months this time, not three!) Hollande believes that by relinquishing your civil liberties – in a manner condemned by everyone from the United Nations to Amnesty International – you show just how much you treasure them.
I cannot explain why this logic works so well, or why the French public tolerates it. They are obviously very scared and very misled about this phony “war on terror”. But the government is not: they moved immediately to consolidate their power and to have more power to stop the anti-government, anti-capitalism protests many expect this fall.
France looked down at the US for so many years during the Bush era, but they have also forgotten that peace is not war, ignorance is not strength, and giving up fundamental human rights does not elevate you to an enlightenment thinker.
Roshan Muhammed Salih, editor of 5Pillars, was recently criticized by the neo-conservative Washington Times for tweeting post-Nice opinions like, “Way to stop future ISIS attacks is to address state Islamophobia & foreign policy.”
Mr. Salih is absolutely correct, and he is backed by the hard evidence of the terrorists’ own confessions. Ignoring this has caused France the appalling tragedies of Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan, and until they change course it will probably cause even more tragedies. I would wager that Mr. Salih was the subject of this anti-dissent campaign because that truth is getting increasingly harder to deny and therefore it needs to be smothered.
That’s foreign policy. The tragedy of France’s domestic war against itself, and the way an allegedly sophisticated public is so easily and willingly misled – that has fewer obvious solutions. That requires an analysis not just of religion and ethnicity, but of class and power, and also a humility which French culture is not known for, much to their discredit and danger.