I wrote this video about a month ago, but then got cold feet. I’m glad I did, because the Vienna attack occurred the day I was going to upload it. That attack was initially sold as a serious, organized, multi-person act of terror. It’s now clear that it was committed by just another lone psycho. This video’s central message, that what we are seeing now is nothing compared to five years ago, and that Islamist terrorism has largely run its course, seems pretty clearly true to me.
One interesting aspect, that I left out of the video because it was already too long, is the difference between the US and French attitudes towards counter-terror. Even under Trump there’s a serious effort to move away from worrying about Islam. A Saudi military officer, likely affiliated with Al Qaeda, shot up a US military base last fall, killing 3 US soldiers! It’s been forgotten completely. The French government, on the other hand, is eager to make the actions of lone psychos the centerpiece of its domestic political agenda. What explains this difference?
Well, it’s quite cynical. The US military industrial complex, from defense contractors to the military to the media that promotes them, it’s all moving on to China. We don’t need to freak out about Islam to justify our pentagon budgets anymore. But France’s military budgets depend on fighting “Terrorism” in Africa. So they remain very big on demonizing Islam. Grim. But hard to deny.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. France’s Muslim population has been abused for years, in very serious ways. And last month Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intervened in a way that actually helps France abuse that population. It is politically useful for both Erdogan and French president Macron to make this controversy about deeply held principles that no one wants to compromise on. When we let these clowns do that to us, we miss the real story.
For over 4 years now I’ve had a settled policy of not discussing individual crimes on this channel, I generally don’t think it’s helpful, but it’s impossible to tell this story without mentioning the foul murder of free speech martyr Samuel Paty.
Paty was a teacher of history and civics, something that I identify with strongly, obviously. He was known for being passionate and innovative in his efforts to serve his students. Outside of school he lived quietly, raising his young son as a single father. For a number of years he had incorporated cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a class on freedom of expression. This year it ignited a firestorm of criticism in his community, which is something that any advocate of free expression should celebrate. But on October 16th one sick individual took that controversy as an excuse to murder Paty on his walk home from school.
I believe anybody who attempts to explain away or excuse this horror in any way is barbaric. Full stop. I am a free speech fundamentalist. I am well aware that others think that this central belief of mine is barbaric. Depicting the Prophet Muhammad offends beliefs that are just as central to some of my audience as the belief in free speech is to me. This is an interesting problem. It’s one that will only be solved with time, possibly a great deal of time.
But when two heads of state decide to use one of modernity’s most difficult philosophical problems to score political points, it’s obvious they are hiding things. Erdogan is desperate to distract from Turkey’s economy and is trying to hold together his disintegrating political coalition by getting in as many fights abroad as possible. This is an old and obvious story. But what Macron is hiding is much more sinister. The martyrdom of Paty is being used to advance a program that is against the very principles of Liberty that Paty died for.
To be clear, I am not talking about the foibles of laicite or French universalism here. French attempts to screw with French Islam are none of my business. Those attempts are un-American, and make me a bit uncomfortable, but that’s just fine. France isn’t America. Honestly I almost see French attempts to screw around with Mosques the way they have always screwed around with Churches as a promising sign of acceptance and assimilation. What I want to talk about is the scourge of counter-terrorism. I want to talk about what France is doing to individual Muslims, not their religion.
For years now I’ve been talking about the way that Islamic terrorism is disappearing. Oil prices have been low for over five years and our Gulf Allies can no longer afford to spread their fundamentalism. Despite every strong man in sub-Saharan Africa’s attempt to profit from US and French Counter-terrorism, interest in the topic is fading away. When a particularly virulent Islamophobe shows up in my YouTube comments nowadays, I almost get nostalgic. Those Islamophobes love the Paty story. They are desperate to bring back the conversations and policies that were floating around in 2015.
National security freaks all over the world, like the headline writers at the New York Times, would like you to believe that things are as bad as they ever have been on this topic, which is absolutely ridiculous. Paty’s murderer was a lone psychopath. 5 years ago we had coordinated teams of transnational operators, affiliated with a territorial caliphate carrying out mass murders on Parisian streets. Not one mass murder, multiple mass murders. Now all the islamophobes have to work with is the actions of a few lone psychos. And even the lone psychos are fading away. This sentence from the Washington Post is pretty typical of recent coverage… “
Paty is the latest of more than 260 French killed in similar attacks since 2012.” This sentence is technically true. But it’s also true that almost all of those murders happened between 2012 and 2016, half a decade ago. Folks are trying really hard to portray Paty’s murder as the resurgence of a trend, when it’s probably one of the last gasps of something that’s already over.
The French government doesn’t want this to be over. In 2015, France introduced a state of emergency, which allowed a series of draconian actions to be taken against France’s muslim community. Hundreds of raids were carried out on private homes and mosques, and fundamental aspects of Human rights law were suspended. In the context of the horrors of 2015, I could be persuaded that all of that was justified.
But the state of emergency that was supposed to last for a few weeks or months lasted for years. lt continued after 2015, and after 2016 when the large scale attacks stopped. Finally, at the end of 2017, the state of emergency was technically lifted. But it wasn’t really lifted. A couple of sweeping pieces of legislation made the state of emergency permanent. We are familiar with this kind of chickenshit authoritarianism in the United States. The Patriot Act and the hyper-militarization of US security services in the aftermath of 9-11 is something I should talk about more. What the French people have done to themselves in service to the terrorists is much, much worse.
The US has a shameful extra-legal system we maintain in a legal limbo in Guantanamo bay. In 2017, the entire country of France became Guantanamo bay. Individuals who have committed no crime and are not even under formal investigation can have permanent restrictions placed on their movement and citizenship. Houses of worship and presumably other organizations can be shut down without judicial approval or review. All of this can be done on the basis of secret information, that it’s very hard for the targeted to even see, let alone challenge in court. These tactics are chiefly used against Muslims at the moment. But they apply to everyone in France. These Kafkaesque laws already explicitly include organized crime, which can mean anything really. Laws like this, that destroy the freedoms of Western countries, and build tension with Islam, are exactly what the terrorists wanted.
So if Erdogan or Pakistan’s Imran khan really wanted to speak up for Muslims in France, there is a lot they could say. But they don’t want to speak out against anything I just addressed, because they agree completely with Macron about what governments should be able to do to their people. So they bring up the prophet cartoons and they escalate the clown show.
Macron and Erdogan and others spent weeks arguing about fundamental principles in progressively louder and more embarrassing ways. This argument probably contributed to another two lone psychos lashing out in Nice and Vienna. As I said earlier, the controversy over Paty’s martyrdom is deeply important. But by letting these heads of government lead discussion on this currently insoluble problem, all we do is make everyone less free. Erdogan is using this controversy to prey upon Muslims in France and at home, and Macron is persecuting all French citizens and residents, of all religions. The two men may seem to be fighting, but really they are working together.
Let me close with some reasons for optimism. The last time depictions of the prophet became a major geopolitical issue, almost a decade ago, there were violent riots all over the world. The tumult provided cover for an organized attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, killing one of our ambassadors. The controversy contributed to horrific attacks in Europe, and the amount of support the Islamic State got from some European Muslims. What we have this year, a handful of lone wolf attacks, Cheese boycotts and embarrassing tweet threads from former heads of state are not exactly on the same level.
Most hearteningly, the once powerful Islamophobia industry in the United States seems to be nowhere on this. The military industrial complex that used to delight in elevating these religious tensions has moved on to China. The hateful cranks are still out there, but many fewer people are listening. I am sure we will have controversies over the depiction of the prophet for decades to come. But the controversies should continue to get more civilized and less lethal.
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