.. and there’s not much love to go around.
It’s a lyric from the Land of Confusion written by Genesis.
The mass-murders in Paris last weekend left all of us in horror. It didn’t quite feel like a terrorist attack and more like a declaration of war. A show of might and violence by the newly founded Islamic Caliphate.
They say the prime goal of terrorists is to inflict terror. The strategies employed leave few dead and lots watching. However, the number of casualties per terrorist attack has increased dramatically in the last decades. Extremists in the 19th and 20th century (left-wing radicals, for example) used assassination as a means to scare people and achieve their political ends. Nowadays, the suicide bombs and attacks kill indiscriminately.
As horrific as these mass-murders are, indiscriminate violence is problematic for the terrorists. The inclusion-moderation thesis, widely used in political science and terrorism studies, argues that the more violent a group is, the less likely they are to achieve their political goals. Violence tends to alienate people and it shuts off avenues one can use to achieve political ends. Radicalisation leads to polarisation which disables compromise, which in turn is usually how people in politics get what they want.
The percentage of terrorist organisations that actually managed to achieve their declared goals is approximately 7%. We really shouldn’t be afraid that the ‘terrorists are going to win’. Statistically, the numbers are very much on our side.
Unless the attack wasn’t meant to scare us per se. Maybe it was meant as an advertisement: see what we can do. We can attack the unbeatable Western powers and we can defeat them. We’re not just talk.
They know what’ll follow: anger, xenophobia, anxiety, and insecurity, and the accompanying reactions.
A couple of weeks ago I had a discussion about the difference between vengeance and justice. The gentleman I was talking to remarked that, within the context of this particular discussion, he had no issues with statng that if his [hypothetical] daughter got raped, he’d kill her rapist in a very colourful manner.
I, in turn, remarked that it was a good thing that he’d not be in charge of the trial or conviction of the rapist of this hypothetical daugther, lest he’d merely execute his own revenge fantasy instead of justice.
Yet when a country gets attacked, this is precisely what happens.
Global politics forgot about their little disagreements and the anti-ISIS coalition got a few new brethren. Before we know it, yet more bombs will fall someplace and maybe we’ll even invade. That sounds rather bad, so let’s say we’ll have “boots on the ground”. Teach those uncivilised beasts a lesson.
Meanwhile, all of us “are French”. Je Suis Charlie, remember? My Facebook newsfeed is littered with French flags and #PrayforParis-posts.
Then there’s the few moral crusaders who post long, long posts on the Beirut bombing 2 days ago that left more than 40 people dead. It’s eurocentric, they say, to ignore the suffering far away and then change your profile picture to feature the French national flag.
The media, they say, does not report on those tragedies. To be honest, I didn’t know about the Beirut bombing either, but just because I didn’t read about it does not mean the media didn’t report on it. You should not confuse your own disinterest with the disability of the media to report the news.
On the other hand, Facebook didn’t give me the option to change my profile picture featuring any other flag, neither has Facebook enabled that “I am safe”-status update for any other country on the planet like they did for people checking into Facebook in and around Paris.
However, in a few weeks, people will change their picture back, and the moral crusaders will stop talking about Beirut. We’ll add this tragedy to the long list that only the mourning or conscientious remember, and we’ll move on. For us Europeans, it’ll be one place above the MH17 flight, unless I’m forgetting something.
Parisians will feel unsafe for quite a bit longer. The zealous #JeSuisTerrasse will lose its traction and all that’ll be left is that vaguely alienating feeling of anxiety and fear of public space and people in turbands.
And what of IS? What’ll happen to the Islamic Caliphate now that they have shown their might to the world? Their might will be crushed, I imagine. Which in no way will solve the problems of polarisation in global politics or ideological radicalisation [in religion, mostly], but perhaps it’ll put some people at ease. For a while.
While we’re having discussions on revenge, radicalisation, or the merit of changing one’s profile picture on a website, 136 people, including 7 perpetrators, are dead. Maybe Phil Collins was right when he sang:
there’s too many men, there’s too many people, making too many problems, and there’s not much love to go around.