The mass killings in Paris—with six separate shootings including in the Bataclan concert hall, and the use of suicide bombings—were horrendous acts. There can be no justification for these actions. The perpetrators, Islamic State (IS), are a reactionary political organisation. Their actions will only allow France and other imperialist powers to respond with more violence and more anti-Muslim racism. Our leaders will use the Paris attacks as an excuse for more anti-terror laws.
However, the innocent people murdered in these attacks would still be with us today if it wasn’t for two connected things. First, the cycle of violence and terror set in motion by the Western invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and now, the bombing of Syria. And secondly, the Islamophobia and alienation accompanying these wars that leads to desperate, violent reactions at home.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks Malcolm Turnbull, Francois Hollande and Barack Obama want us to brace for more war. Two days after the attacks France targeted Raqqa in its largest bombing raid in Syria to date, after Hollande promised “a war which will be pitiless”. They will dismiss any attempt to understand the roots of the Paris tragedy and will instead increase Islamophobia by presenting the atrocities as inexplicable acts of terror fuelled by backward religion (“the work of the devil”, according to Turnbull). Immediately after the attacks, Hollande also closed the French border, and Western media is now full of talk of a connection between refugees and terrorism.
If these ideas win out, the cycle of violence will only continue.
The fruits of war
The US and their allies killed over one million people in Iraq. Unable to keep control after the invasion, they employed a divide-and-rule tactic of sectarian division between Sunni and Shia that laid the basis for a sectarian Shia state and the Sunni reaction, IS.
France joined the war in Afghanistan, withdrawing only in 2012—leaving behind them war lords and a resurgent Taliban, and a society devastated by war and bombing.
The US and its allies are now back in Iraq, with France a willing partner. France has been bombing Iraq for over a year. It has led 1200 bombing raids and killed at least 450 people, according to official estimates.
In September, France began bombing Syria too.
In August, a team of independent journalists established that the US alone has been responsible for 457 civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, including over 100 children.
The Western intervention in Syria has boosted Assad’s dictatorship, which has destroyed whole cities and created 90 per cent of the four million refugees who have fled Syria’s civil war.
This newest war is only helping to feed IS. According to one witness in the Bataclan, one of the attackers shouted, “It’s Hollande’s fault, it’s your President’s fault, he shouldn’t have intervened in Syria.”
But it’s not just the French government’s intervention in Syria or Iraq that fuels resentment and reaction. French imperialism has a long and bloody history of its own. France currently has 20,000 troops deployed around the world. In 2013, France invaded Mali, its former colony, attempting to re-establish control after uprisings by the minority Tuareg and Islamist groups. It still has 1000 troops there, and military bases across Africa. It is also a key supporter of Israel.
French colonialism was a ruthless and brutal affair. When Hollande claimed the Paris attacks were the worst in the city since the Second World War, he conveniently failed to mention the 1961 Paris massacre, when French police murdered over 200 Algerian anti-colonial demonstrators, and threw them in the River Seine.
If French politicians were concerned for safety and peace, they would stop the bombings in the Middle East, withdraw the troops and welcome refugees who are fleeing those wars. And they would put a stop to the rampant Islamophobia in France itself.
Le racisme Français
The wars in the Middle East have gone along with a war at home, targeting Muslims and civil liberties.
Anti-Muslim sentiments have been encouraged by French politicians. Muslim women have been the worst victims, with a ban on face coverings and religious symbols in schools.
The satirical journal Charlie Hebdo published anti-Muslim cartoons with impunity. In January when there were similar attacks on Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris, the French government held mass marches led by Western leaders and presented Muslims as enemies of “French values”.
Such Islamophobia has fed the far right. Marine Le Pen of the National Front is polling at around 40 per cent. She was in court in October, charged with hate speech after comparing Muslim prayers in the street to Nazi occupation.
There is entrenched social and racial segregation within France. Muslims from former colonies live alongside poor whites in dilapidated housing estates where they manage with meagre social services and one of the developed world’s most unequal school systems.
The Charlie Hebdo attackers were raised in poor French neighbourhoods. Young Muslims grow up in a French society that treats them as outcasts and aliens. This is the despair that feeds extremism.
No unity with warmongers
In the coming weeks, we will be asked to drape ourselves in the French flag and defend the values of France and the West. This was the kind of response we also saw after the Charlie Hedbo attacks.
In Australia, the result was escalating Islamophobia from then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and more anti-terror laws.
Now, Malcolm Turnbull is set to do the same. His government wants to harass young Muslims with control orders for teenagers as young as 14, orders that will place incredible restrictions on the movements and liberties of people who have committed no crime. NSW Premier Mike Baird wants teachers to join the campaign and spy on Muslim kids with his de-radicalisation programs. The government has given itself unparalleled powers to cancel citizenship and to monitor metadata.
Turnbull has even floated the possibility of putting Western troops on the ground in Syria.
The victims of war and terror—the hundreds of thousands of refugees desperately trying to get into Europe—have already become victims again. Poland is now refusing to accept them completely. Thousands of people are living on the streets in the cold European winter, waiting for elusive freedom.
Disgracefully, the Today show gave airtime to racist Pauline Hanson in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, to demand a stop to “Muslim refugees”.
More war and more racism from our leaders will not end the violence. It is their imperialism and discrimination that started it. Those of us who want to put an end to it must stand against their attempts to divide us. We need to fight to end the bombing in the Middle East and get the troops out; to stop the domestic Islamophobia; and insist that the refugees be accepted and not turned back or dumped on Nauru and Manus Island.