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A Message From the Dispossessed Chris Hedges on Roots of Terrorism and Free Speech Hypocrisy

Broken pens were placed in a pool of simulated blood Friday outside the French Consulate in Istanbul in memory of the victims of the shooting at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. AP/Emrah Gurel

A Message From the Dispossessed

The terrorist attack in France that took place at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was not about free speech. It was not about radical Islam. It did not illustrate the fictitious clash of civilizations. It was a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury.

We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it.

If you spend time as I have in Gaza, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan, as well as the depressing, segregated housing projects known as banlieues that ring French cities such as Paris and Lyon, warehousing impoverished North African immigrants, you begin to understand the brothers Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, who were killed Friday in a gun battle with French police. There is little employment in these pockets of squalor. Racism is overt. Despair is rampant, especially for the men, who feel they have no purpose. Harassment of immigrants, usually done by police during identity checks, is almost constant. Police once pulled a North African immigrant, for no apparent reason, off a Paris Metro subway car I was riding in and mercilessly beat him on the platform. French Muslims make up 60 to 70 percent of the prison population in France. Drugs and alcohol beckon like sirens to blunt the pain of poor Muslim communities.

The 5 million North Africans in France are not considered French by the French. And when they go back to Algiers, Tangier or Tunis, where perhaps they were born and briefly lived, they are treated as alien outcasts. Caught between two worlds, they drift, as the two brothers did, into aimlessness, petty crime and drugs.Becoming a holy warrior, a jihadist, a champion of an absolute and pure ideal, is an intoxicating conversion, a kind of rebirth that brings a sense of power and importance. It is as familiar to an Islamic jihadist as it was to a member of the Red Brigades or the old fascist and communist parties. Converts to any absolute ideal that promises to usher in a utopia adopt a Manichaean view of history rife with bizarre conspiracy theories. Opposing and even benign forces are endowed with hidden malevolence. The converts believe they live in a binary universe divided between good and evil, the pure and the impure. As champions of the good and the pure they sanctify their own victimhood and demonize all nonbelievers. They believe they are anointed to change history. And they embrace a hypermasculine violence that is viewed as a cleansing agent for the world’s contaminants, including those people who belong to other belief systems, races and cultures. This is why France’s far right, organized around Marine Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigrant Front National, has so much in common with the jihadists whom Le Pen says she wants to annihilate.

When you sink to despair, when you live trapped in Gaza, Israel’s vast open-air prison, sleeping 10 to a floor in a concrete hovel, walking every morning through the muddy streets of your refugee camp to get a bottle of water because the water that flows from your tap is toxic, lining up at a U.N. office to get a little food because there is no work and your family is hungry, suffering the periodic aerial bombardments by Israel that leaves hundreds of dead, your religion is all you have left. Muslim prayer, held five times a day, gives you your only sense of structure and meaning, and, most importantly, self-worth. And when the privileged of the world ridicule the one thing that provides you with dignity, you react with inchoate fury. This fury is exacerbated when you and nearly everyone around you feel powerless to respond.

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror.

Continue reading …

Here is Chris Hedges on Breaking The Set, Hedges makes some excellent points on over blaming fundamentalism for terrorism.

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  • The greenmantle

    More sence in one page than in Fox news over one year
    Sir David

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Aha; but it’s unfortunate when some of thgese sites want to charge you for it. Sure, quality reporting can’t always be for free, but then I don’t want to spend, say, $100 per month just on the news. I’m not exactly rolling in it…

  • Laurent Weppe

    The “crazy” natality comes from 2006 estimates: before Israel started systematically pounding the strip every time its prime minister wants to boost up his ratings. In fact, recents estimates show that its birth rate already fell by 20% since the recurrent attacks began and is likely to keep falling as the healthcare and housing systems keeps degrading under constant assault and pressure: now compare the Israeli bombing campaigns, which killed around 4.000 people out of 1,8 million people and the war of algerian independence where 4-5 percents of the algerian civilian population was killed: Algeria had it much worse.

  • George Carty

    If people procreate less when they’re living in a war zone, how do you explain the Gaza Strip’s crazily high birth rate?

  • Mehdi

    Very sharp points Laurent, totally in agreements with everything you wrote. Thanks!

  • Trimmercastle42

    George Orwell must be rolling in his grave right about now; the French authorities who ordered this law must be sent to ICC for human rights abuses.

    I would love to know how Islamophobic pigs are going to justify this?

  • moraka
  • HSkol the Redundant

    Please be glad that I did not post the original long entry that I had written here. I had analogized the downtrodden Charlie Hedbo shooters with/against the US’ own downtrodden whites (lynchers) of the South. I will not post my original thought – for, it didn’t sit perfectly well with me, nor did it seem to be an apples-to-apples analogy. “Dispossessed” is an incredibly strong concept – as it can apply to so many – quite often to those of a minority, less frequently to those of any given “majority”, but always to those that feel powerless within their own societies, regardless the reason.

    Although my original thought is not presented here and will not be replicated or spoken, I believe I have come to an important realization (just my own, perhaps or of course) that where minorities have become dispossessed versus the point at which members of the majority have become dispossessed cannot be considered equivalent. Honestly, privilege is the differential – all Muslims in the West are quite short of privilege, dispossessed whites of the West have not taken advantage of their own privilege (not that they should – but, they could if they were so inclined). I cannot justify the shooting of idiotic cartoonists. I cannot justify the lynching of innocent African-Americans. I can understand that both scenarios, though far different from one another, are indecent – and, perhaps counter-productive.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Why don’t you show the whole article? More often than not its impossible to open the link to it, or they want to charge me for it, or just nothing shows.

  • mindy1

    Interesting and necessary to point out hypocrisy, but that still does not justify what happend at that paper. Peaceful protests, petitions and educating people about the true nature of Islam would have been more productive.

  • Laurent Weppe

    It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust

    It is not criminal to mock it: it is a criminal act to pretend it didn’t happen. In fact, one could say that french law follows Pierre Desproges maxim: “il vaut mieux rire d’Auschwitz avec un juif que de jouer au scrabble avec Klaus Barbie.“: It’s better to tell a joke about Auschwitz to a Jew than to play scrabble with Klaus Barbie.


    these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France.

    That’s because the 1 million death toll was a lie invented by the FLN to solidify its legitimacy and rule by making its opponent look worse than it already was (well, technically, at first they claimed the war had caused 1,5 million death, then lowered their estimate when they realized how ridiculous the claim was).

    Algerian census show that the non-settler population grew from 7,8 to 8,6 million inhabitants between 1946 and 1954, which represents a natural growth of 12,3 per thousands over a period of eight years. Even if one were to assume that the natality during the war was the same as it was in the years which came before WWII and the war of independence (a dubious claim: wars tend to lower natality), there would have been 1,3 million births during that period, which would mean a difference between the potential (9,1 million) and actual (8,6 million) population of 500.000: still far below the One Million! claim.

    Basically, some people took the natality that Algeria experienced during the 60s, when it went through its own (delayed by the war of independence and its bloody prologue) babyboom, extrapolated it to the war period, and said that Algeria’s population “should” have been one million people higher than it was, which, once again, ignore the fact that people procreate less when their neighborhood is turned into a war zone

    Factor in the fact that Algeria’s demography did not went through any noticeable demographic dip in the years which followed its independence (which would doubtlessly happened if over one eight of its population had been killed), and available data suggest that France’s estimates -that the war of Algeria killed over 350.000 people (an already enormous number), a majority of them civilians- are most probably closer to the truth than Algeria’s Power That Be’s claims…

    Beside, french schools tend to have the algerian independence war and its seedy underbelly well covered: any frenchman worth his baccalauréat know that France was the oppressor and that slaughters and torture were committed with reckless abandon during the war. If there’s one chapter where school programs are lacking, it’s about what happened earlier: the violence of the “pacification” campaign, the disgusting abuses committed under the “regime du sabre” or the massive famine caused by the plunder of arable lands: these are barely mentioned in french history classes, which are focused on the back-and-forth between the Orleanist, Bonapartist and Republican political factions during this period.


    France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths

    France banned rallies because the associations which organized them had proven too inexperienced (and shorthanded) to stop a few dozens of extremists to infiltrate the cortèges and start looting or assaulting people (I should know: some of the people assaulted used to be my neighbors): when the CGT, the old french communist labor union offered to take charge of the rallies’ security, the french government allowed the rallies, and -surprise- with experienced people in charge of the security, the vandals who had derailed the previous rallies did not even try to pull the same shit again. So, no, the government decision to not allow rallies until people with shoulders broad enough to offer efficient security joined was nothing but wise statemanship.

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