After Charlie, Can We Ask Why?

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Twelve people have been murdered in cold blood at the Charlie Hebdo weekly magazine’s office in Paris, France. I’ve been listening to the radio, watching the television news and reading everything that there is to read about these horrible atrocities in mainstream media.

Not once have I heard the question Why?

There have been people trying to explain the things that happened and they seem to have arrived to one conclusion. These people, probably Muslims, have executed an attack against freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo is the magazine which has multiple times published the Muhammad cartoons. These people wanted to attack an institution, which, in their opinion, has mocked and ridiculed Islam over and over again.

But the question remains, Why? Let’s attempt to look for an explanation.

For many decades the perception has lived in the Muslim world that Western powers are at war with Islam all over the globe. The United States and its Western allies have hampered or blocked democratic, economic and political development in many parts of the world, serving their self-interest, without any regard for the interest of these local populations. We – and I mean Western powers and everyone who is willing to go along – have waged wars, time and time again, in countries around the planet. The pretext has always been to bring democracy to these countries, to fight for these peoples’ right to self-determination. The true goal, however, has always been protecting our own political and economic interests.

Already in the fifties, US president Eisenhower’s staff asked the question, Why do they hate us? They, meaning Muslims around the world. The results were crystal clear. They don’t like the Americans, and their allies, because they block economic development in the region. The US supports dictatorships all over the world, when this is in their economic interests. Oil and weapons manufacturers have fared quite well because of these policies.

Imagine for a second the millions of people who have died or have been tortured at the hands of Western powers or their allies in the Middle East. Whether it’s the Iranians under the dictatorship of the Shah; the Iranians and Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war; the Kurds of Halabja under Western-backed Saddam; Iraqis with horrible deformities because of the depleted uranium the US Army used in the Gulf War; the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi children caused by Western UN sanctions; thousands dead in Sudan after the Americans bombed a pharmaceutical factory in 1998; the men, women and children in Afghanistan since 2001 or the one million Iraqi’s that have been killed since the 2003 invasion of that country. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the worst crime of the 21st century, wasn’t even mentioned in mainstream media reporting.

Since nobody was doing so, the famous journalist Robert Fisk asked the question Why? immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He was vilified by mainstream media and so-called intellectuals for ‘siding with the enemy’. It wasn’t because those Muslims hated American freedoms. It wasn’t because they hate Western capitalism. The reasons were the same as they were back in the 1950s, they rightfully felt that Western powers blocked economic and political development, and the last few decades they often killed many thousands of innocent people in doing so.

And yet we continue down this path of perpetual violence, war, torture and destruction. We send more fighter-bombers to the region to fight Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Or to fight ISIS. Or to fight the Taliban. And tomorrow we will send even more bombs and drones and warships and tanks and boots on the ground to fight the next bogeyman, with France more often than not as a loyal ally in fighting these wars. We – NATO and its allies – do all this in the name of ‘democracy’. But you cannot build a democracy with bombs and fighter jets. We build democracy by supporting and enforcing the most basic human rights for everyone everywhere.

The only way to stop this cycle of violence is to stop committing it. Imagine all those countries bombed to smithereens, all those valuable communities utterly destroyed, or all those innocent men, women and children who get their heads blown off by Western cruise missiles. This is a daily reality for many people, people just minding their own business in some other part of the world.

Take a look at history. Should we really be surprised by the fact that some extremists decide to stand on the other side of the barrel of a gun and attack these Western powers, including France, which have waged a perpetual war in many Muslim countries all over the globe? Western actions were bound to cause a reaction from desperate Muslims who have lost everything they have and now feel they have nothing left to lose. Violence creates violence and our never-ending wars generate a never-ending stream of terrorists.

We can condemn these acts as much as we want. And we should. But as rational human beings we should first of all be allowed to ask the most important question of all, Why? And we should ask ourselves the question if more violence is the right response to this atrocity. In my opinion, it is not.

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