Here in France the official take on the Friday the Thirteenth attacks, from the politicians and the media, is that “our values”, “the values of the Republic”, have been attacked again. The narrative is the same one we heard after the Charlie Hebdo masssacre: We are a beacon of civilization and They are barbarians. Fundamentally, in this country where turning an elegant phrase and finding le mot juste is so highly valued, it’s no more sophisticated than Junior Bush’s “They hate us because we’re so free.”
No one can deny that this was a terrorist attack. But nobody mentions the fact that terrorism is simply a weapon of war used by peoples/states who face an overwhelmingly strong enemy. The nascent Israel used terrorism against the British and no one would dare criticize it today. But no – “terror” is an entity, like… “Islam” or, well, “freedom”. These are not people using terror as a weapon (never mind the fact that our “Western” states sytematically use terror against domestic and foreign populations), they’re just “terrorists” by nature, by birth, just as we are “free and democratic” by birth. And yet we’re told that this was an act of war, that France is at war, and that a state of emergency has been declared. A state of emergency is essentially martial law, though the term is studiously avoided. The executive can declare it for a period of twelve days, after which the legislature can prolong it by vote… a vote the “elected representatives of the people” would unhesitatingly take, just as the US Congress voted overwhelmingly to adopt the USAPATRIOT Act.
Indeed, France’s citizens, even though they may well be familiar with Franklin’s words, are probably willing to surrender a measure of freedom in order to have security. The discourse about “our values”, “the values of the Republic”, may be hard to swallow; but not only do we swallow it, we get on the bandwagon and organize huge demonstrations to show that we are free and unafraid. When it’s a question of us against Them, who will deny that we are we, and that he or she is not one of Them? We buy into the meme and help put flesh on its bones. And it becomes part of our culture, and as such that much easier to swallow the next time around… until we end up thinking that it really is in our nature to be free and fair and enlightened, and that They really are slaves to their beliefs, submissive, and benighted. And the result is that no one ever asks a simple question like:
“Since the ‘Socialist’ President of France learned to admire the role of Commander in Chief and realized that since the Charlie attacks he has a line of credit for extending the military, since France decided to make its modest contribution to the West’s civilizing program and help oust Assad and keep the money flowing to its own arms makers, and perhaps get back part of its former empire, how many people have been killed in Syria and Iraq due to France’s bombing? How many civilians?
In any event I haven’t heard it asked yet in the French media. Everyone is blinded by the light of our beloved Republic, that beacon of democracy and solidarity with the oppressed peoples. And, as a matter of fact, will the media really entertain the question of who it is we’re really at war with? Of who the killers actually were? Of who We really are?