Even though we don’t know the full story, we know its contours. Last night’s attacks in Paris feel familiar, though some of the proper nouns are different. Whereas two of the murderers behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January met through opposition to the invasion of Iraq, shouts about Syria boomed during last night’s killings and one of the attackers is reported to have been in possession of a Syrian passport.
Carnage on your screen and the worst noises humans can make, of suffering and terror and helplessness, hit your ears. You feel incredibly sad, deflated. Meanwhile your cousin is sharing memes that say we have to keep out the refugees (featuring pictures of Sikhs).
In addition to sympathy with last night’s victims, the horror in Paris will register with many anti-war activists and advocates for refugees as a gift to the imperialists and jingoists. But we shouldn’t cede the moment to those reactionaries. This is precisely the time to argue forcefully for an increase in the number of refugees accepted into Western countries and for a change to the foreign policy of the United States and its allies. Here are a few of the arguments we should be making.
War is not a strategy for ending terrorism; it is among its forms and causes. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, the United States and its allies have unleashed untold carnage in recent times. Only a moron (or perhaps a zealous Christopher Hitchens devotee) would deny that one consequence of this carnage is terrorist attacks on Western targets. Tell your racist cousin that even if he has no objection to sharing in responsibility for the slaughters our governments continuously carry out, the inevitable response through attacks like yesterday’s is reason enough for them to oppose these wars.
The United States and its allies have deliberately backed jihadists for decades, first as a Cold War tactic against leftists in the Middle East and North Africa who allied with Moscow or might have done so had they gained power, and more recently as a strategy of countering the barriers to U.S. control of the region presented by governments like Iran and non-state actors like Hezbollah or the Palestinian resistance movements. Backing such forces has been a major contribution to the Syrian tragedy and to the empowerment of extreme reactionaries in that country.
To the same end, our states have backed tyrannical regimes, notably in the Gulf, that repress their populations and foment sectarianism. In the case of Saudi Arabia in particular, these U.S. allies have exported the Wahhabism that seems likely to have been at play on the Parisian streets. To put an end to jihadist attacks at home, it’s necessary to stop supporting jihadism aboard and to quit backing governments who asphyxiate their populations.
Accepting more refugees is a key, immediate term first step toward reparations for the millions our states have killed. This can be part of a longer-term process of the badly needed reinvention of how Western states engage with the people of Asia and North Africa, the effects of which include the massacres we’ve just seen in Paris.
Full-throated declarations of civilizational superiority abound in the wake of the Paris attacks, practically begging for military intervention somewhere — anywhere. “France will be merciless towards these barbarians,” French President Francois Hollande said last night.
If we cede too much in this discussion, we will allow for random, senseless bloodletting of more innocent people — more Afghanistans, Iraqs, Libyas, Syrias, Yemens. And the only possible result of such actions would be more Parises.