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my two cents on the tragedy in paris

November 14, 2015

Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” To me, that saying reflects the reality that violence has a tendency beget more violence, a cycle with no obvious winner.

Within the sphere of geopolitics, for example, the imperialist policies and actions of nations (often over generations) both directly and indirectly sows the seeds for future violence. There’s the initial military and economic violence that’s imposed by one nation(s) onto another, and then there’s the obligatory resistance and violent retaliation on the part of those who become radicalized as a result. And violent retaliation, in turn, engenders a violent response, both as punishment and as a reassertion of power and dominance.

In essence, most violence doesn’t arise in a vacuum; and while one can feel horror at acts of terrorism and feel sympathy and compassion for the victims, one shouldn’t allow that to blind them to (1) the violence done to other communities in the name of national socio-economic interests and (2) the role of so-called legitimate violence (i.e., violence carried out by the state) in conditioning the material and ideological foundations/justifications for what’s then framed as the illegitimate use of violence (e.g., protests, uprisings, terrorists acts, etc.).

Everyone blaming ISIL will likely ignore the direct role that imperialist actions and policies of the US and Europe played in helping to give rise to ISIL in the first place; and the more we try to fight this ‘enemy’ by things like invading and bombing foreign nations, imposing harsh economic sanctions, and treating immigrants and refugees like criminals and second-class citizens, the more we radicalize those we’re trying to subdue/tame, sowing the seeds for future violence with no end in sight.

So while I feel for the people of Paris right now, I’m frightened by all the talk of waging a pitiless war on the group responsible, since that will only lead to more violence, more racial and religious tensions, and more civilian casualties (on all sides).

The obvious response to this will assuredly be, So how should France and the world respond to these constant attacks? I think we should start by ceasing all punitive economic and military actions and occupations in the Middle East. I think the West needs to admit that it’s been meddling the region for over a century for its own socio-economic interests and stop. I also think that people need to stop treating Muslims in general as terrorists, and places like France need to reevaluate how they treat their Muslim (and immigrant in general) populations, which is often as second-class citizens.

Then, I think we need to practice patience because this kind of violence and ideology won’t disappear overnight. We can’t just start invading and/or bombing other nations every time a small group commits an act of violence like this. Invading Iraq didn’t help; it actually made things much, much worse. Same with Afghanistan, Syria, etc. It took generations to produce these problems, and it’s going to take time to fix them because it means fixing people’s lives, or at least giving them the space and time to fix it themselves.

Ultimately, we need to face the fact that there’s no easy solution here, especially a military one.

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