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Understanding the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris


It is one thing, and it is justifiable, to be indignant over the terrorist action that killed the best French caricaturists. It was an abominable and criminal act, which no-one can support.

Trying to understand analytically why such terrorist acts occur is different. Such acts do not fall from a clear blue sky. The sky behind them is dark, comprised of tragic histories, great massacres, humiliations and discrimination, and not just from true wars, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, that sacrificed the lives of thousands upon thousands of people, or forced them into exile.

The United States and several European countries were involved in these wars. Millions of Moslems live in France, the majority in the peripheries of the cities, in precarious conditions. Many of them, although born in France, are discriminated against to the point that it appears to be true Islamophobia. After the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a mosque was sprayed with gunfire, a Moslem restaurant was set on fire, and an Islamic prayer house was also shot at.

The issue is one of overcoming the spirit of revenge, and renouncing the strategy of confronting violence with still more violence. That creates a spiral of never ending violence, that produces countless victims, most of whom are innocent. And it will never achieve peace. If you want peace, prepare the means of peace, which is the fruit of dialogue and of the respectful coexistence among all.

The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 against the United States was paradigmatic. The reaction of President Bush was to declare “endless war” against terror and to pass the “Patriot Act” that violates citizens’ fundamental rights.

What the United States and her Western allies did in Iraq and Afghanistan was a modern war with the loss of countless civilian lives. If in those countries there had only been large date palm and fig plantations, nothing like that would have occurred. But in those countries there are great oil reserves, the blood of the world system of production. Such violence left a residue of rage, hatred and a desire of revenge in many Moslems who lived in those countries and elsewhere, all over the world.

Starting from that background one can understand that the abominable Paris attack was the result of this prior violence, not a spontaneous act. Not that this justifies it.

The effect of this attack is to instill widespread fear. That is the what terrorism seeks: to occupy the minds of the people and make them prisoners of fear. The principal point of terrorism is not to occupy their territory, as Westerners did in Afghanistan and Iraq, but to occupy their minds.

Sadly, the prophesy the intellectual author of the September 11 attempts, Osama Bin Laden, made on October 8, 2001 was realized: «The United States will never again have security, never again have peace». To occupy people’s minds, to keep them emotionally destabilized, to make them distrust any foreign gesture or person, is the essential objective of terrorism.

To reach its objective of dominion of the minds, terrorism follows this strategy:

(1) the actions must be spectacular, otherwise they do no cause widespread commotion;

( 2 ) the actions, in spite of being hateful, must inspire admiration for the ingenuity involved;

( 3 ) the actions must show that they were meticulously prepared;

( 4 ) the actions must be unexpected, to give the impression of being uncontrollable;

( 5 ) the authors of the actions must remain anonymous (using masks) because when there are more suspects, the fear is greater;

( 6 ) the actions must cause lasting fear;

( 7 ) the actions must distort the perception of reality: anything that is different can produce terror. It is enough to see some poor children walking into a commercial center, and the image of a potential assailant is produced.

Let us formalize the concept of terrorism: it is any spectacular violence, done with the purpose of filling people’s minds with fear and dread. Violence itself is not important, what is important is its spectacular character, its capacity for dominating everybody’s mind. One of the most lamentable effects of terrorism was that it promoted the terrorist State that the United States is now. Noam Chomsky quotes an official of the North-American security apparatus, who confessed: «The United States is a terrorist state and we are proud of it».

Hopefully this spirit does not predominate in the world, especially in the West. If it does, we are headed for the worst kind of encounter. Only peaceful means have the secret strength to overcome violence and war. That is the lesson of history, and the counsel of wise humans, such as the Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Francis of Assísi, and Francis of Rome.

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org

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