Cultural Misunderstanding as a most Dangerous Pandemic
… globalization, the most thoroughgoing socioeconomic upheaval since the Industrial Revolution, which has set off a pandemic of retrogressive nationalism, regional separatism, and religious extremism. —Martin Filler
The world of humans and the individuals in it, run their lives upon a narrative. Individually we could call it our beliefs, whether expressed or unconscious. Collectively that narrative is the motivation for our collective actions, and the explanation for our past acts, along with their justification, a spin and a possible cover-up. It’s the intentional distortion of history. We refer to that narrative as the truth, or the lack of truth, depending on whether we are the dominant power or the marginalised group.
In order to run any organisation or any country or government an ideal narrative must be constructed. We can acknowledge that it is impossible to follow any narrative to the letter, and that those ideals should still be set high. All action is interpreted through beliefs, so that people may sincerely believe what they see and as they interpret it. We also know that many people distort the narrative to gain personal or national advantage, and to keep on doing what they are now illicitly doing. When the narrative and the perceived acts don’t align, we call it hypocrisy.
Satire is based on exposing hypocrisy, or counterproductive behaviour, and it is especially effective when we haven’t thought of it in that way before. In other words, we had believed in the twisted narrative, but now we see that it’s not true. Other satire is less effective, in that it only offers a release from confusion. If we don’t understand something we want to feel more at ease, so we laugh at it.
The French magazine Charlie Hebdo clearly engaged in both these kinds of satire. I have not done an extensive review of this publication. I have only seen a few of their works. Personally I don’t see that much understanding is exhibited. The Magazine had been under attack before and the offices were burned in 2011. The editor was under constant body guard protection in the ensuing years.
Just stating the raw facts in the recent French terrorism without surmising reasons, 3 men wished to give their lives in order to kill as many of the magazine employees as possible. They allowed nobody to stand in their way in achieving those results. I believe the total body count was 17 to 3, in the exchange of death. The fourth perpetrator, perhaps a girl friend of one of them, escaped to Syria.
1. This type of action is completely beyond the reach of the law, because our whole system of crime, law and punishment is based on the assumption that the perpetrator wants to remain alive. If you are not going to live through this ordeal, then who cares about the possible consequences? All of Western law collapses into a pile of useless verbiage and blustering with this type of act. That is frightening for the terrorised countries.
2. The strongman very often believes in the use of force for obvious reasons, and the west has a super power which does not hesitate to project their power. They also project economic control and submission to their monitory system. Their own narrative has convinced them that high military technology can roll over any obstacle. For many years that force was posed as the threat of annihilation to any nation that would dare to challenge it. We called that stalemate “deterrence”.
Once it took a nation to challenge another nation, but that is no longer the case. Now in the age of globalization the very same super power has battered down foreign trade barriers. We have enabled private fortunes and personal wealth that is greater than many small nations’ assets. That wealth has no inherent borders. Financing for covert actions can be accumulated and passed through the rich man’s laundering system, and turn up on who knows what kind of project. There is no longer an obvious geography on which to focus a reprisal. So the use of brute force as a deterrence has also fallen flat on its face.
Without an effective law and punishment, and without an effective deterrence the west is left groping for some conceivable way to resurrect their tool of brute force in world order. They have a vast array of armaments that they have spent trillions of their dollars to develop and stockpile. The collapse and failure of these two institutions is a highly destabilising milestone in the collective insanity that we have called peace throughout the cold war.
What we are left with is to create a police state in our own land, where every individual will have a “record”. Like the common criminal of the past, each of us will be spied upon and our every move and every communication and every expenditure will be monitored and retained. How this mountain of data will be interpreted if someone comes under suspicion, and by how much injustice will be multiplied by it will be anybodies guess.
In the terrorist’s eyes this must be seen as a resounding success, which likely convinces many others to dedicate themselves to this short term “life work”. Depending on the success of their present social circumstances, the project might have to be big to get them to enlist, like another 9-11.
Because these violent episodes are often claimed by radical Muslim groups and because so often sharia law is quoted on these occasions, it is thought that a fuller understanding of this religious code and the Qur’an will bring about a way to deal with terrorism. Certainly the sharia “amputation of your hand for stealing” is extreme and inconceivable in the west. One hand was indeed severed in Saudi Arabia in December of 2013, a country of 29 million, on a Yemeni man, repeat offender. There was only one such punishment in 2013. It is said that stealing because of hunger will not receive such harsh punishment.
I believe that even complete knowledge of Muslim law would not change terrorism. This is because these laws are possibly used as a diversion for other grave injustices that are routinely shrugged off by the west. I would like to propose another analysis to try to explain why some men would give their life to kill another, either after finding fault with the victim, or just as often any random target with no known connections. The oft heard comment is that terrorists are brainwashed by radical clerics, and they are deranged and crazy.
The world has suffered many injustices, and innocent people have been pushed aside for millennia, and killed through the agendas of the powerful. The western world with its industrial revolution has also mechanised this killing and suppression for hundreds of years through their colonial empires. Two world wars have left them as the surviving experts in the projection of power. One can point to Hitler, Stalin and Mao as the true experts in killing, and perhaps their influence is still active. The armies in every war have unintentionally killed many non-combatants. And it is also true that civilians were directly targeted on a massive scale by all sides, as soft targets that “break the moral of the enemy”.
It is not my intention to say who is the worst among the bad, and thereby infer that the lesser are doing alright. I do want to say that killing an unarmed non-combatant, including women and children, has long been against international law, and something that you can measure by your own moral standards. It can either be rogue terrorism or industrialised terrorism, which the west does all the time under the title of collateral damage. Rogue terrorists do it with a more honest rhetoric. They just say we kill your people.
I suggest that terrorists want to counterpose the unjust (sanitised) killing of our military might, that so often hits the Muslim world, with their unjust (random) killing. Both are equally repugnant. The former is denied or ignored, the latter has taken the international spotlight. With the desire to demonstrate injustice, the terrorists don’t even have to focus the violence in any particular direction. That would be a “just” injustice. Even their own populations are perfectly good targets for creating an unjust injustice.
It is best to incite the superpower to do more innocent killing with their reprisals. And of course Western targets are a special prize. I don’t see how terrorists will back off of their agenda, unless the west begins to reduce its own killing rampage. The wholesale use of force (shock and awe) has to be demobilised to stabilise the world. Yet the conventional wisdom is the opposite, that we must strengthen. Misunderstanding and the ongoing narrative of the “clash of cultures” is a dooms day scenario.
The most distasteful part of American rhetoric is that the US has never had armed conflict on their soil, since their own civil war. Therefore they do not know first hand what tragedy they create when they sanction to go get the bad guy, or when an occupation force decapitates all institutions and then departs in frustration. These are merely armchair soldiers, playing with the lives of others.