Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bastille Day massacre: what more is needed?

           Yet, once again, the world is shocked by terrorist atrocity. An alarm is sounding in the night, why does no one answer?

            For the third time in eighteen months, France has fallen victim to a terrorist massacre. Security forces are overworked and reserves have been called up for relief. Are the jihadists winning?

           Nice, France, July 14, 2016, Bastille Day (the national holiday):  a French citizen of Tunisian ancestry with a history of mental illness and familial violence drove a heavy truck into a  crowd returning from a fireworks display. 84 people were killed outright and others maimed (not to mention the psychological scars). Such attacks are evidently becoming more common recently. But why? Where do we break the pattern? What are the causes? How do we address them?

          Perhaps most disquieting: if, indeed, terrorists seek to provoke overreaction, they may be winning.


           The US Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, calls for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the States till the American "government figures out what the hell is going on". But this was back in December, 2015, before the recent spate of terrorist attacks (and some copy cat massacres carried out by the mentally imbalanced).
            The contemporary phenomenon of jihadist terrorism is, on the surface, bizarre. Young people, especially young men, strap themselves to bombs, blow themselves up, taking as many victims with them as they can.

            The perpetrators profess fanatical faith in radical fundamentalist versions of Islam, believing they will go to an eternal reward in Paradise for their bloody self destruction and mass murder. At the beginning of the "scientific", "technically advanced" and "rationalist" 21st century such acts appear mad or absurd to many.

            Who, then, are these "madmen"? (Are they, in fact, really mad?) Studies of psycho-social profiles reveal that only a minority actually have severe mental health problems. (Psychologically, they are often of a "narcissistic" and "paranoid"character - but then so are many people who are classified as sane..)

            Many of the jihadists sympathizers (Canada, USA, Norway, UK..) are native born citizens of the countries they attack. Some of these are of Middle Eastern or African ancestry and appear to have been converted to radical Muslim and jihadist views from sympathy for Muslims suffering from the West's unending wars in the Middle East (note 1). Many of the Western jihadists (and sympathizers), however, are not of Middle-Eastern or African origin. These "native sons and daughters" were radicalized through Internet jihadist groups, once again, on the basis of perceived injustices toward Muslim populations on the part of Western countries. In many cases (France), jihadists of Middle-Eastern / African origin (whether native born or immigrants) suffer from racial / ethnic" religious discrimination, bigotry and poverty (multigenerational poverty in some cases). Yet, interestingly, there seems to be no - or few - "typical" jihadists (even in Western countries). For example, some sympathizers are, contrary to expectations, well educated and of upper middle class origin.

             Consider: the Fort Hood (Texas) massacre of 13 persons by Nidal Hasan, a US army major and professional psychiatrist in 2009.

          To some degree, there are national variations in the types of people drawn into jihadist violence. Jihadist sympathizers in France often come from criminalized youth gangs. This is much less the case in North America, where the sympathizers are more often of the "idealist" variety. Of course, such variation in psycho-social profiles between countries makes it difficult to pin down and define who, exactly, is susceptible to jihadist radicalization.

             The case of France is particularly troubling. Arabo-african residents, immigrants and naturalized citizens - often their children and grandchildren - are herded into suburbs, often dilapidated and crime-ridden, where there is little chance for employment. Obviously, many will turn to the drug trade and petty crime. Integration of these groups appears to be much less successful than in North America. For example, recent polling data suggest that Canadian Muslims are "increasingly patriotic" and "well integrated" into Canadian society. However, even here, there is evidence of increasing polarization among the young. Younger Muslims are more likely to see themselves under scrutiny by the rest of society and to practice an Islamic lifestyle (mosque attendance..)


           As an informal anecdotal observation on the status of Muslim integration in France, I have begun to meet young French immigrants (non-Muslim) who are testing the waters here in Québec "for a few years" before deciding to set down roots. These are people just starting families. They were driven out of France by what they see as a rising tide of racism and extreme Right wing politics. They don't want their kids raised in such a social climate. Québec appears attractive: francophone, democratic, socially mobile, peaceful (note 2).

            OK, ethno-racial relations are bad and apparently getting worse. So what can be done?

How to get yourself labelled racist (without even trying)

            Inscrutable problems may have no solution. Or the solution may be obscure: we may have been searching for an answer in the wrong place. In this case we have to change our perspective: we have to re-contextualize / re-frame the problem and start asking new questions. Then we might find some new answers..

             One thing strikes me when I look at the evolution of societies since the end of World War II: we had an opportunity to launch Sustainable Development in the third world and we blew it. No one country or political system is indicted here: all seem roughly equally culpable: communist, capitalist, socialist, East, West, old industrialized countries like Britain or newly industrialized ones like Japan..

            At any rate, we have to begin asking questions like: who really has benefited from "development" programs since the end of WW II? 

            At the end of WW II the communist and capitalist powers entered into the "Cold War" for world domination. In a sense, the decolonizing third world countries were pawns in this struggle. The Korean War was fought on Korean, not American or Soviet, soil. This allowed the super-powers to avoid mass destruction (perhaps mutual destruction) as a result of modern warfare conducted on their own territories. Third world countries also provide the "developed" world with raw materials like minerals and cash crop commodities like palm oil (regardless of negative ecological, social and economic impacts on the host society). In short, the superpowers of the Cold War era were interested in world domination within the context of "business-as-usual" economics and technology (a system that I call "plundernomics": the imperialistic exploitation - plunder - of the earth, its biosphere, peoples and cultures).

             Yet, there were "prophets" who saw the looming ecological disaster ahead. Aldous Huxley, 46 years before the publication of the Club of Rome Report: The limits to growth (1972), wrote a science fiction novel, Brave New World, describing a future world in which humanity (or post-humanity) lived in ecological balance with nature. Hundreds of years in the future a globalized, centrally controlled technocracy ruled through rational management. Population was rigorously controlled. Non-renewable resources were scrupulously recycled. Nothing was wasted. Famine and endemic disease were eliminated (most people died of boredom..) An ecological utopia! - except that no one was "free" (the question of freedom was never even posed..)

              In retrospect, Huxley's novel demonstrates - by default - an alternative approach to our current demographic / ecological crisis: small scale ("modular"), decentralized, locally governed, locally initiated economic development. Today, Transition Initiatives is a global movement which attempt to embody these values in the transition to carbon free, green technology.


           Transition Initiatives' principles:


             Such small scale, decentralized, participatory development would actually foster the things we in the West say we care about: democracy, empowerment of the little people (recall "the American Dream"), the flourishing of small scale enterprise and entrepreneurial skill. Oddly, though, neither the Soviets ("communists") nor the USA ("capitalists") embraced such small scale, participatory, ecologically friendly development. The reason for the Western powers, at least, to eschew such development are pretty obvious after a little study and reflection. Such development doesn't fit well with multinational corporation style: centralized, mass market oriented, driven by profit ( and / or market share control) and not by local "common goods" (consisting of numerous, often conflicting, interests). In the obsessive and monomaniacal drive for profit (or market share control) if local ecologies and civil rights have to be trampled and hard done by, So Be It! God's name is, after all, The Almighty Buck. Thus Western powers, like their Communist counterparts, promoted heavy industry (above all, extractive industries like mining and cash crop agrobusiness). Local dictators were supported - if not installed - by both sides to assure their control over essential resource flows (the "developed" countries had already, to a large degree, depleted their own non-renewable resource bases so now they had to prey on the "undeveloped" countries). The net result over the seven decades since the end of WW II have been disastrous, of course. Rather than pursue ecologically sound development, both West and East programmed the (pseudo-)"development" of the third world along the same abortive pathway they themselves had followed. And now we are suffering, Karmic payback for our evil acts - the jihadists, for example..

              My argument is simple, though it will get me labelled as anti-immigrant, racist and reactiony. So Be It - FTW!

              Millions of years of primate and hominid evolution have programmed people to love the cultures, peoples and climates they were born into. (True, there are those who are born with a wander lust, people who naturally aren't comfortable in one place, but these are a statistical minority and don't affect my thesis.) Normally, people - though they may enjoy a bit of travel now and then - want to remain close to what they grew up with as children. They emigrate only if they are forced to, because of famine, war or poverty.

              I contend that we are facing refugee crises today - and the culture shocks they produce - because we have collectively botched the development of the third world in the seven decades following WW II. People are now struggling to leave overcrowded, ecologically devastated, chronically underveloped societies which cant provide the Good Life they were promised by Western peddlers of "development" and "progress". We simply have not delivered on the promises of the Enlightment and its dogma of "Infinite Perfectability". On this point, the Communist world was even less successful than the capitalist West. They could not even meet the needs and expectations of their own (internal) populations. That is why they are no longer among the living..

              Increasingly, of course, as climate continues to degrade due to anthropogenic climate change and global warming, all the above crises - overpopulation, chronic underdevelopment, thwarted dreams.. - will be amplified in their local impacts. And since we live in an interconnected - globalized - world, these local negative impacts of failed development will rebound on to the geopolitical scene. As the recent tragedy of Bastille Day, 2016, amply attests..    


1- To muddy the waters even more: "radical Muslim" and "jihadist" are not synonyms - despite the ravings of rabble-rousing populists like Donald Trump. A person may adhere to a faith in a "radical", "extreme" or "assiduous" fashion without advocating the suppression of other faiths and their adherents."Christian fundamentalism", for example, does not equate with anti-semitism.

2- Québec is, generally, a tolerant society but it is not paradise. A couple of years ago the "social democrat" Parti Québécois attempt to bolster its failing popularity by appealing to populist (ethno-racist) sentiments. A "charter of Quebec values" was proposed - but never enacted - which would, among other measures, prohibit the "ostentatious exhibition of religious symbols" in public institutions like schools, hospitals, government offices.. The target was Muslim women wearing the hijab. Fortunately, an election intervened, the Parti Québécois was thrown out and we have not heard of the infamous charter of values since. Good riddance!



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