Paris: how we in the ‘West’ step into the ISIS narrative (& thoughts on how not to)
Last night’s events in Paris were horrific. I went to bed with a heavy heart, in the knowledge that the original death toll of 40 people would surely rise, and that those people with murder in their hearts had slaughtered people enjoying Friday night in the City of Light for brutally cold reasons, heavy with symbolism and narrative.
When it comes to ISIS terrorism it seems as if we go round in a circular discourse in Europe – never coming to a meaningful, cohesive strategy, stuck in the language of condemnation, solidarity, and retaliation until the next atrocity on European soil, or off it as with the likely bomb on the Russian plane over Sinai a fortnight ago.
The whole discourse is bogged down in category errors. For a start, every time the term ISIS, IS or even ISIL is used, we are linguistically legitimating the territory claims of an organisation centred on suppression of human rights and rule through terror. These are the three acronyms most commonly used:
ISIS – The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
ISIL – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
IS – Islamic State
Islamic State does not exist as a recognised state, except in the minds of those who support it, but the term is a powerful one that recruits to the wider cause. Muslims in the UK pointed this out last year in a letter to the Prime Minister signed by members of the Islamic Society of Britain and the Association of Muslim Lawyers stating that it, ‘is neither Islamic nor is it a State. The group has no standing with faithful Muslims, nor among the international community of nations.’
A suggestion also made within the letter was that the group was referred to as the ‘Un-Islamic State’. That the media, and politicians continue to use any one of the 3 acronyms listed above steps directly and repeatedly into the narrative space controlled by the organisation I will now refer to as the Un-Islamic Non-State (UNINONS). UNINONS already sounds less powerful to my ear than IS, or ISIL or ISIS and by changing the name we create a different narrative and a potentially different way of relating to the organisation that successfully drew people in order to ultimately murder other people in Paris last night.
Another category error (and there will be far more than just these) is the concept of ‘the West’. This morning the unhelpful in the world Rupert Murdoch tweeted this:
Paris outrage not an attack on all humanity, but an attack on us. ie, Western civilisation!
‘Us’, eh? ‘Western civilisation’ eh? Murdoch has stepped straight into the narrative space controlled by UNINONS. I have little ‘us’ with a poisonous media mogul whose media outlet hacked the mobile phone of a murdered teenage. But I do have an us with my brothers and sisters under attack around the world, wherever I may find them. I do not claim a ‘civilisation’ where inequality booms and Islamophobic sentiment flourishes. As for ‘the West’ that has become a stick that UNINONS and Al-Quaeda before them could beat parts of the world with and it’s a stick we created by the way cartographers set out the world. Make China the centre of the map and America is the new East and Africa the new West.
‘The West’ has become shorthand for Europe and America, UNINONS use it to create a generic common enemy, and when we use it ourselves we simply reinforce a historic colonial way of viewing the world that, like Rupert Murdoch, is not helpful when looking to create worldwide peace and harmony in the 21st century.
Our inhumane treatment in Europe of refugees, many of whom are fleeing destruction and terror caused by conflict that involves UNINONS, potentially sows seeds of radicalisation. Those who say that the refugee population contains UNINONS supporters who will bomb us later, manifestly fail to recognise that we are growing our own radicalised UNINONS supporters in-house already. We do that by everything we do above.
We do that by marginalising Muslims in our society – in a world where racism is not acceptable, Islamophobia seems to be worryingly acceptable in certain quarters.
We do that by asking Muslims to apologise for the actions of UNINONS when we would never consider asking Catholics to apologise for the IRA, or Christians to apologise for the Holocaust.
We do that by increasing economic and social inequalities through austerity and by cutting the funding of the education sector that is one of the few places in secular society where different races and religions can come together and gain an understanding of another viewpoint (see contact theory).
We do that by threatening teachers with jail time if they do not report suspicions of radicalisation, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia.
We do that by publishing front page pictures of the killers of Lee Rigby with bloodied hands holding a knife.
We do that by breaking international law and killing people in countries around the world because we can.
We do that by picking and choosing the so-called righteous beneficiaries of our aid and intervention – yes to refugees in Jordan, but no to those in Europe. Up to our necks in Iraq, but silent on Palestine. We protect oil wells, but not people.
Until we get our own houses in order, and take responsibility for what needs to change on the ground in our own countries, it seems inevitable that UNINONS will continue to flourish. Everything we do has an effect. Bombing with drones may seem like a bloodless way to engage with the world’s problems over here, but in the countries where that happens, children grow up to be afraid of a clear blue sky.
The victims in Paris of yesterday’s outrage were innocent, but our history, the media, our governmental institutions and our politicians are not. The refugees who continue to flee from areas where UNINONS and governments are in conflict are also innocent. The pain from one atrocity does not somehow nullify that of the other.
As individuals we can only point this out, keep love in own hearts for all our brothers and sisters, and organise for change – soon.