Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lessons from the Paris attacks continued

As I write, investigations into the Paris attacks continue. It is was clearly coordinated and apparently well organised.

The events in Paris have over-run some background work I was doing trying to pull together various current threads in Australian and European politics. Because this has morphed into a significant research piece that may never be completed given current pressures (!),  I thought that I would use this post to pull together a few related threads.

This is an example of one of the images that circulated very quickly as the Paris tragedy was unfolding. It is an example of a meme that combines fear of Islam as a threat with a call to action against Islam.It's not sensible,  how do you ban the Muslim faith?, but it reflects fear. It is also an example of things presently circulating within Australia intended to lead to political action.

I concluded my post Saturday Morning Musings - lessons from the Paris terrorist attacks with these words: "There has been a kind of moral funk in the West, an unwillingness to accept the costs that can follow from genuine adherence to liberal principles, that has begun to undermine the very principles on which liberal democratic societies are based.....I guess that's my real worry from Paris. What lesson or lessons are we all, governments included, going to draw? And what will it cost us?".

Some, it seems, fear that the battle is already lost. In a piece in the Guardian, Nick Cohen suggests that after Paris, Europe may never be as free again: "The horrific events in Paris sound the death knell for European liberalism." Mr Cohen is clearly concerned at what it all means, at the possible loss of the liberal dream.

"Close Our Borders Now......Dont Wait For A Tragedy Like This To Happen"
This is another example of the visual images that circulated. as the attacks unfolded, one that focuses on immigration but has the other subtexts built in. Comments on my feeds included "Close Our Borders Now......Dont Wait For A Tragedy Like This To Happen"; "Turnbulls a Muslim lover...he's always wanted to be prime minister.... And it will be at the county's expense......: and "Ban Islam world wide."

It would be easy to dismiss images and comment like this, but they reflect deeply held personal concerns in Australia and elsewhere. In Europe, President Hollande has vowed to destroy Islamic State, saying it cannot be contained. Whether he can do this and with what effect is presently unclear. Certainly, it has led to a remarkable rapprochement with Russian President Putin.

Former French Justice Minister Rachida Dati told the BBC's Newsnight programme that German Chancellor Angela Merkel made "an error of judgement" by allowing so many migrants into Europe. "She was generous, but that generosity backfired against European people," Ms Dati said. The former minister also said that 90% of radicalisation in France and the rest of western Europe happened not in mosques but on the internet and in prisons where there are numerous jihadist recruiters. In the US, more than half the nation's governors -- 27 states, all but one Republican -- are reported as saying they oppose letting Syrian refugees (at least Muslim refugees) into their states, a fear that is playing out in the presidential campaign.

In Australia, telecommunications carrier Optus came under sustained attack for the simple act of having a poster in Arabic. Optus has withdrawn three of the ads from Casula Mall following threats to staff.

The pessimism expressed by Mr Cohen referred to earlier is echoed from different perspectives by others including Niall Ferguson (Paris and the Fall of Rome) and  Robert Skidelsky (Is western civilisation in terminal decline?) The linked ideas of the decline in western civilisation and the fall of the Roman Empire (at least the Western Empire; the Eastern survived for much longer ) are much in vogue, just at present, as is the idea of Western values. Writing in the Financial Times, Simon Schama (A proclamation against Isis, the party of death) argued that what "what our fellow citizens need now is a clarifying, empowering and inspiring statement of just what it is we must defend, if necessary, to the end". In the US, Republican presidential candidate has released a video calling the fight against IS "a clash of civilizations. And either they win or we win."

Australian conversations I have had since the attacks reflect concerns about Muslim fundamentalism, about the rights of countries to close their borders,.of the need to and right to preserve cultural homogeneity, of the need to protect the Australian way of life against threat. These views came in part from people on the left, traditional Labor or even Green supporters. Others pointed out, with some justice, that people in the West only responded when atrocities affected them. Overall, it was clear that people were deeply conflicted.

With exceptions such as NSW State National Party MP, Andrew Fraser, Australian political leaders including Immigration Minister Dutton have resisted the close the border rhetoric, have said that the country will continue to admit Syrian refugees as announced regardless of religion (or the lack of it). At the same time, it is clear that security measures will be further tightened including, it seems, the FBI teaching NSW police to shoot to kill in certain circumstances, something that creates a certain degree of personal discomfort.   

In this post, I have tried to sketch some of the different threads in the debate that has occurred since the Paris attacks. Underlying those threads are many other debates. There are in fact too many debates and associated threads, many not helpful, for people to easily manage. Further, too many are based on broad generalisations that act to conceal difference such as differences between countries or religious groups. What, for example, do you do with an argument about the decline of civilization or, indeed, clash of civilisations? They don't provide guidance as to how to respond in the specific circumstances of the Paris attacks.

This has become a very long post. I will try to look at specific Australian issues in a later post.


Anonymous said...

No reason for our politicians to say "close the borders." By European (intra-Schengen) standards or indeed by any meaningful sense of the term (other than total closure of a border as occurs in the event of armed hostilities), our borders are already closed.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's certainly true at one level, marcellous, a fair point I had in mind, of course, that we are admitting refugees. But you are right.

Winton Bates said...

This article by Oliver Hartwick is also worth reading:

Winton Bates said...

Sorry, that should have been Hartwich.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Winton. Have skimmed and will read properly.

marcellous, thinking further , our exchange illustrates the need to be cautious in definition. Australia has closed its borders to certain classes of people coming by certain routes. However, borders are open to other groups including 24,000 Syrian refugees. Then are some in Australia who would close the borders to such groups.

In the UK, UKIP wants to close the UK borders to all refugees plus most of those pesky people from mainland Europe. By contrast, Scotland wants to keep its borders more open both to those pesky Europeans and refugees. Mr Cameron wants to partially close the UK borders.

That piece that Winton cited is worth a read, by the way, for it has built into it a whole set of biases beloved by certain groups on the right.

2 tanners said...

Close the Borders. Stop the boats. Ban all muslims.

Is this REALLY the best we can expect from public discourse, or is it just that the loud guy at the pub, who everyone wishes would just shut up, has gathered all his mates for a 24/7 assault on the media and the web?

I'm afraid that a lot of the people who say they wish the loud guy would shut up feel safe enough with the anonynimity of the web to repeat his words.

Oh, and while I have the chance to say this at least once, "Good on you, Optus".

Jim Belshaw said...

It's not really public discourse, 2t, simply the publication of the type of one line thoughts previously limited to the personal space. Publication gives them more impact, that can be a problem.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Winton. Have now read that piece properly and partially withdraw my passing comment!

Winton Bates said...

Hi Jim
In the light of my recent interest in attitudes toward non-European migration in Scandinavian countries I went looking for information on how the xenophobic parties in that part of the world were responding to the terrorism in Paris. The report I found suggested that they were not openly seeking to capitalise on the events. They presumably think that It might be contrary to their stir the pot.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Winton. Interesting. That might actually make sense politically at the moment.