January 8, 2015

Paris: Beyond the anger

Sam Smith - When something like the atrocious killings in Paris or recent slayings by police in America occur, the media is filled with voices of anger, outrage and revenge. There is nothing surprising in this; it is a normal, human reaction.

But it is only the first step. Ideally the fury might transform itself into inquiry, reflection and consideration of new ways of doing things. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen often. The evil of violence includes the tendency to make innocent witnesses more violent as well.  In Paris, in the name of Allah, three young men have caused perhaps millions to dislike Islam more.

That the killers were counterproductive is certain. But what about those appalled by their actions?  Some of us will simply unload our distress on others but some in high places may, for example, plan bombing raids in the name of revenge. 

They’ve been trying the latter course for some time. And recently. As the Israeli paper  Haaretz reported, “The Islamic State jihadist organization has recruited more than 6,000 new fighters since America began targeting the group with air strikes last month, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 1,300 of the new recruits are said to be foreigners, who have joined IS from outside the swathes of Syria and Iraq that it controls. The United States has launched some 165 air strikes on IS targets since early August.”

A number of innocent civilians, albeit not popular cartoonists, have died as a result. According to one estimate more than four times as many have been killed in Syria in the past month as died in that Paris magazine office. Step back a bit further, and estimates of civilian deaths due to American warfare in Afghanistan run from 18,000 to 20,000. For Iraq it’s 110,000 to 151,000

Richard Brenneman notes that 

Cherif Kouachi, one of the two older men [involved in the killings] had been charged with attempting to go to Iraq in 2005 to fight with insurgents against the American-led coalition. Before his departure, Kouachi told the court, he had been a dope-smoking rap devotee. What had driven him to sign up for the insurgence? As Bloomberg reported at the conclusion of the trial three years later, “Kouachi said on the stand that he was inspired by detainee abuse by U.S. troops at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.” Imagine that! A young man roused from idleness by righteous moral outrage over a war waged on false pretenses, a war that was, under the ethos of most of the world’s religions, fundamentally unjust.

None of this excuses what happened in Paris, but as time passes, considering such usually ignored facts permits us to move from the horror of the moment to its underlying context. 

Such as how vulnerable we have made young Islamic men to vicious strategies. We might even want to consider matters such as our failure to do a single thing of significance since 9/11 that might have strengthened Mid East voices of reason against suicidal strategies.
For example, during this time, among the things we didn’t do was to stand up against Israeli apartheid and support a real, fair and independent Palestinian state. How much misery has that failure caused us and the rest of the world? How many dead bodies have been left in its wake? 

Or what if we had used the $4 trillion that we spent on the Afghan and Iraq war in another way. 

Robert Mason and Aida M.Yehia wrote recently:

Following the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, there have been calls by Saudi Arabia and others for a Middle East Marshall Plan to address the unrest, instability and insecurity spreading across the region… In Egypt alone, 25% of the population was at the poverty line in 2011, so out of 87 million people, 21 million are directly affected. According to Daily News Egypt, that poverty figure may have crept up to 26.3% in 2014, with many more people hovering just above the poverty line, and unemployment stubbornly remaining around 13% over the last couple of years (6.6 million people). 

Majid Jafar and Erik Berglof expanded on the idea:

The Marshall Plan was an instrument to transfer large amounts of finance to economies ruined by the Second World War but with essentially healthy institutions and a skilled workforce.

However, what the post-Arab Spring nations also need is transformational finance that targets fundamental reform of the institutional environment and helps raise the skill levels of the population…

Infrastructure investment is critical. The World Bank estimates that the region requires $100bn annually, in sectors such as transport, telecoms and energy.
Direct investment into critical infrastructure projects and partnering with the private sector would limit the bureaucracy often associated with large government projects and enable quicker and tangible economic improvements in countries such as Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and across North Africa. Each $1bn invested in infrastructure could create up to 100,000 new jobs according to World Bank figures.

And writing in Al Jazeera last October, Judith Barnett said:

A Marshall Plan for the Middle East is key to stifling the seeds of extremism and bringing hope to millions of people in the region. The answer to the poverty and hatred and the violence they breed is economic opportunity through careful planning and long-term development.

As with postwar Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the international community have a huge vested interest in stability across the Middle East. U.S. policies in the region, however, have not kept pace with the rise of poverty, anti-American sentiment and militancy….

The Marshall Plan helped European nations develop and implement best practices in building strong institutions to support economic reconstruction. It established an integrated public-private partnership that, in consultation with national governments, reorganized a devastated Europe into healthy peacetime economies. The U.S. shipped fuel, raw materials and tons of food. American-made machinery was sent to get factories up and rolling. Skilled engineers rebuilt transportation systems and devastated infrastructures. Loans were made, repaid and issued to others. By 1952, each participating European nation’s economy had surpassed prewar levels by at least 35 percent.

Yet this is precisely the sort of approach that we have spent more than a decade ignoring in favor of endless and pointless war. It has not only not worked militarily, it has left us so disliked that, in just one small example, three young men risked their own lives to do the rotten thing they did in Paris. 

They were reacting irrationally to the west’s irrational policy towards the Mid East. And the rational response is not more retribution or revenge but recovery from our own decade of gross error.

1 comment:

rgd said...

Using the Marshall plan for Europe is not necessarily a wonderful event. Remember the cold war perhaps you might include that the US supported all those capitalist countries to prevent the influence or at least stem the influence of communists in those countries. Like destroying the Greek CP and favoring the fascists.
What US Congress would consider supporting those in need around the world? What IMF and World Bank projects do you know of that help those in need rather then those who are already elites in control of resources. Weak suggestion too light headed.