As you might expect, the very secular “Angry Arab, As’ad AbuKhahlil, has some pertitent observations on the Charlie Hebdo attack. You should read the whole piece, but here are some excerpts from his “Notes on the shooting in Paris“:
I feel strongly about the right to offend and to mock as an artist (and as a human being). That right should be absolute. .. Muslims do need to lighten up, and should feel secure enough to stomach mockery and satire against their religion. And they should not allow their enemies (even the bigots among them) to provoke them so easily….
… Yes, one should vehemently condemn the crimes against the cartoonist and writers and journalists but should in the same vein condemn the on-going French and US bombing raids that are taking place from Mali to Afghanistan, passing through Yemen and Syria. And those bombs are real and they are killing real people. Those are terrorist actions as much as the shooting in Paris was a terrorist action.
Western policies in Syria have produced, and will continue to produce, terrorist organizations the likes of which we have not seen since the creation of Al-Qa`idah. The enthusiastic policies of arming and sponsoring “rebel groups in Syria” are responsible for the proliferation of fanatical terrorist groups which will terrorize those countries that had sponsored them.
The source of all those terrorist groups is known: Gulf regimes and their Western sponsors. They have been indulging those regimes form the days of the Cold War. I was on the side of the left and progressive forces during the Cold War, while you–in the West–were on the side of those speaking the language of Jihad and…oil.
The direct roots — and bitter fruits — of actions like the attack in Paris and the depredations of ISIS in the ruins of American-raped Iraq go back 100 years, to the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, then forward through decades of fateful, and fatal, decisions by Western elites to support, advance — and arm — the most retrograde forms of Islam in order to prevent the rise of any alternatives to the authortiarian client states they favored in the region. At every turn, the West has exacerbated the century-long crisis within Islam, producing — as AbuKhalil notes above — a relentless series of extremist groups, each seemingly more virulent than the last, who, as he rightly says, “terrorize those countries that had sponsored them.”
(For example, the latest news reports indicate that the Paris attackers probably had some kind of formal military training; they could well have fought in the Syrian “jihad” which the West and its extremist allies in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, have been fuelling for years with arms and aid. And who can forget — except for 99 percent of the American political-media establishment, of course — the original joint American-Saudi creation of the global jihadi movement in the late 70s and early 80s, designed as a “Great Game” ploy to goad the Soviets in Afghanistan?)
William Pfaff tells this long and sordid history in a powerful piece in The American Conservative, which appeared on line shortly before the Paris killings. It too is very much worth reading in full, but here is just one excerpt on the modern period of the tragic saga:
The “New Middle East,” officially proclaimed by NATO at the end of 2003, has conspicuously failed to appear, but it remains a goal of the expansionist neoconservative visionaries among the makers of American policy. In Bush’s government, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2008, “Democratic state-building is now an urgent component in our national interest” reflecting a “uniquely American realism” teaching that it is America’s job “to change the world,” and in its own image. On September 11, 2014 the eminent dean of the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, Vali R. Nasr, wrote in the New York Times that America “must rally the whole region to support power-sharing—and nation building. This is a tall order. But the crises facing America demand a grand strategy…” A decade of failures has passed, but the grand design has not changed.
President Obama has declared that the jihadism of the new “Islamic State” is itself an incarnation of evil that must be deterred and destroyed. The two sides in this renewal of George W. Bush’s War Against Global Terror—Jews and Christians in the West and their Arab enemies—both consider themselves “people of the Book” and descendants of the Prophet Abraham. They have now become in their own minds actors in the apocalyptic destiny described in the Book of Revelation. Many American Evangelical Protestants have convinced themselves that contemporary American foreign policy can only be understood in such a context.
… Washington’s conduct since the 2001 attack by Islamic radicals on New York and the Pentagon has undermined or deliberately subverted institutions of international order to which, in the past, the United States was a leading contributor. The codes of international justice and morality, developed in the Western community of nations since the 17th century, have when expedient been disregarded or rejected, with demands that the United States be exempted from the jurisdiction of international law and even from what until recently were accepted norms of international morality concerning human rights and national sovereignty.
Thus the foreign policies of the United States have been stripped of a vital part of their assumed original moral content. An assimilation of modern totalitarian influences, values, and practices occurred in the United States after 2001, with state assassinations, selective drone killings, disregard of due process, torture, and permanent incarceration without trial justified by American leaders in their conduct of what has amounted to a war, not really of religions, as such, but between absolutisms, the one religious, and the other, ours, a political culture of extreme and solipsistic millenarian nationalism.
That is indeed an apt description of modern America. What we have seen played out in Paris is yet another manifestation of this insane and asymmetrical war between two absolutisms. The inevitable bellicose, repressive reaction to the crime of the individuals in Paris will be inflicted on the bodies of countless innocent people around the world — and will, inevitably, blow back on the West itself. For a hundred years, at every turning we have taken the wrong road, leading us deeper and deeper into chaos and blood. No doubt we are about plung down yet another wrong turn.