Western governments have been quick to seize on the tragedy in Paris, using rhetoric about national unity to justify more anti-democratic counter-terrorism measures, more bombing in Syria and more Islamophobic rhetoric.
The world reacted with shock and horror to the horrendous terror attacks. But more war and more targeting of Muslim communities will only fuel more attacks.
The French government has declared a three month long state of emergency, allowing police to raid houses without a warrant and enforce house arrest without trial.
As French anti-racist activist Sellouma put it, this means, “There will be more racist stop and searches, more arbitrary arrests.”
In the ten days after the attack police went on a rampage, conducting 1072 searches, 139 interrogations, and placing 117 people in custody.
In their effort to capture the “mastermind” of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, police fired 5000 rounds of ammunition into a flat in a Paris suburb. They came under “heavy fire” from inside, they said, that “never stopped”. But inside they found just one pistol and no automatic weapons. The whole apartment building was destroyed, leaving 70 people homeless.
In Belgium, the entire city of Brussels was placed on lockdown for over a week, with schools, subway stations and shopping centres closed and people told to avoid large gatherings. Police carried out 20 raids over the first weekend, but arrested just 16 people, and released 15 of them straight afterwards.
The French government has also banned demonstrations, including those during the Paris climate summit in December, citing safety concerns. At least 24 climate activists have been put under house arrest for calling on people to defy the bans.
Nevertheless, up to 5000 defied the ban and tear gas to march for the climate.
European powers are now ramping up efforts to keep out Syrian refugees. Poland’s new government says it will refuse to take the 4500 refugees it had previously agreed to accept, and even Sweden has reneged on taking 1000 additional refugees. France says it has also reached its limit.
French President Francois Hollande has also promised to wage “a war which will be pitiless” against Islamic State.
Two days after the attacks France targeted Raqqa in its largest bombing raid in Syria to date. According to anti-IS activist group ‘Raqqa is being silently slaughtered’, places hit included “a stadium, a museum, clinics, a hospital, a chicken farm and a local governmental building.”
This response will only compound the violence in Syria and create more resentment against the West.
The fruits of war
The US and their allies killed over one million people in Iraq. Unable to keep control after the invasion, they employed a divide-and-rule tactic of sectarian division between Sunni and Shia that laid the basis for a sectarian Shia state and the Sunni reaction, IS.
France joined the war in Afghanistan, withdrawing only in 2012—leaving behind them a society devastated by war and bombing.
The US and its allies are now back in Iraq, with France a willing partner. France has been bombing Iraq for over a year. It has led 1200 bombing raids and killed at least 450 people, according to official estimates. In September, France began bombing Syria too.
This newest war is only helping to feed IS. According to one witness in the Bataclan, one of the attackers shouted, “It’s Hollande’s fault, it’s your President’s fault, he shouldn’t have intervened in Syria.”
But it’s not just the French government’s intervention in Syria or Iraq that fuels resentment and reaction. French imperialism has a long and bloody history of its own.
France currently has 20,000 troops deployed around the world. In 2013, France invaded Mali, its former colony, attempting to re-establish control after uprisings by the minority Tuareg and Islamist groups. It still has 1000 troops there, and military bases across Africa. It is also a key supporter of Israel.
French colonialism was a ruthless and brutal affair. When Hollande claimed the Paris attacks were the worst in the city since the Second World War, he conveniently failed to mention the 1961 Paris massacre, when French police murdered over 200 Algerian anti-colonial demonstrators, and threw them in the River Seine.
If French politicians were concerned for safety and peace, they would stop the bombings in the Middle East, withdraw the troops and welcome refugees who are fleeing those wars. And they would put a stop to the rampant Islamophobia in France itself.
Since the start of the “war on terror” in 2001, Islamophobia has become the dominant form of racism in the West. In France this has combined with the racism most Muslims suffer as the children of North African migrants, from places like Algeria, which was run as a French colony until independence in 1962.
Many of them live in housing estates in poor and marginalised suburbs known as the banlieues.
Muslims make up 70 per cent of France’s prison population, despite being only 7 per cent of the population.
The ban on wearing the hijab in schools and the ban on wearing the burqa symbolise the French state’s targeting of Muslims.
The far right National Front has campaigned relentlessly against Muslims. Leader Marine Le Pen is leading in some polls for the next presidential election, with around 30 per cent of the vote.
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, more than 220 anti-Muslim hate attacks were recorded in the first three months of this year, a six-fold increase.
Yasser Louati from the Collective against Islamophobia in France said the organisation had been inundated with reports of attacks, as well as with calls from Muslims asking if it was safe to send their children to school.
The government engineered a panic against those who supposedly did not share the “values” of the French Republic. Francois Hollande promised that every time a student was heard voicing anything “that calls into question a fundamental value of the school and the republic there will be a reaction”.
In the month after the Charlie Hedbo attacks over 200 were questioned by police and accused of “apology for terrorism”, including an eight-year-old boy who said “I’m with the terrorists” but admitted he didn’t know what it meant.
More war and more racism from our leaders will not end terrorism. Those of us who want to put an end to it must stand against their attempts to divide us.
We must oppose the bombing of Iraq and Syria, and the wider role of Western imperialism in the Middle East, and reject the Islamophobia and police harassment directed against the Muslim community. Only this can bring an end to the cycle of death and destruction.