So I had been intending to publish a thoughtful reflection on the events of 2014 at the end of the year; however, once I started looking back at what had happened in the world last year, I found it so dispiriting that I couldn’t be bothered (instead I reverted to my comfort-blanket and wrote my top-ten comics pick as a guest-blogger on the excellent dejarevue site; you can check it out here).
That aside, it has been a thoroughly grim couple of weeks to start the new year; which is in keeping pretty much with most of what 2014 was like – a year that saw, among other things, war, massacres, Robin Thicke, Islamic State, Boko Haram, mounting civilian casualties, the destruction of old-world Christianity in its birth-places, Ebola, Ukraine, the War on Gaza, and the continuing polarisation of societies and communities. And Robin Williams died.
On the other hand, it was a fabulous year for arms-dealers, weapons manufacturers, insidious ideologies and complex international conspiracies. It was a glorious year for armed extremist rebels and terrorists, such as ISIS/ISIL, who were given all the technical, logistical, even medical, support they could’ve possibly wished for by various governments and intelligence agencies and allowed to simply waltz en-masse across the Syrian border into Iraq where they spent the rest of the year having an absolute field day, taking over entire cities and towns virtually unopposed, committing mass genocide, taking scores of slaves and generally living out the hyper-jihadists’ dream and Call-of-Duty-style video-game fantasy world all in one.
It was also a fantastic year for hate-mongers and propagandists – in all creeds – who received enough toxic fuel for their collective fires to last for years to come. Not such a great year for the rest of us or for common humanity though.
Certainly not a great year for Syria’s beleaguered people or its children, half of whom have had to watch their cities and their society being torn apart by endless and brutal war and the other half of whom are huddled in refugee camps in various locations, desperate for food and warmth as winter hits its harshest spell and most of all desperate to have a home and a culture back. Nor for the people of Iraq – particularly the Christians, Yazidi’s and other minority cultures – all of whom were abandoned by the US-led occupation just in time for them to be wiped from the map by the emergent Islamic State militants. Simply collateral damage, I guess, to be added to the millions who’d already been killed in the Iraq War in the preceding decade.
Wasn’t a great year for Palestinians in Gaza either, particularly the 2,000-plus who were bombed out of existence by the Israeli Defense Forces. Nor for the thousands of Nigerians, and more in other African countries, who were (and still are being) brutalised by Boko Haram. According to Amnesty International, it wasn’t a good year for human rights across the globe in general. Nor a great year for countless ordinary people even in sophisticated, modern societies, being deeply effected by wage drops, unemployment, poverty and growing marginalisation; this being to the extent that up to a million people in the UK (repeat: in *the UK*) have had to rely on food banks to maintain basic sustenance for themselves or their families. That’s in the UK.
Though of course it was probably a fabulous year for the super-rich, the banking elites and the global 1% in general; but then most years are probably good years for those guys. People protested in great numbers, of course, across the free world; Anonymous, Occupy, other activists. It changed nothing. They’ll do the same this year; it’ll change nothing.
For those who like consistency (and don’t like change), they’ll be relieved to know nothing looks like it’s going to get any better any time soon; particularly as the Paris attack seems to be awakening a social unrest and tension in Western societies that could, if the better parts of our nature don’t prevail, see the Western world going down a darker path.
So welcome to 2015: a year that isn’t even three-weeks old yet, but has already witnessed a major, thoroughly dispiriting terror attack, several far-right rallies in Europe, genocide in Africa, the raising of the ‘terror alert’ status across the board and the beginnings of Martial Law in European cities.
Last weekend an estimated 3.7 million people rallied across France in response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings and ensuing attacks that killed 17 people. More than a million people marched in Paris alone, making it the largest demonstration in French history. The peace marches of that Sunday, centered in the absorbing, emotive public gathering in Paris and made further into a huge global rolling-news event by the media evokes mixed feelings for a number of reasons. The harrowing atrocity in Paris was being framed as an issue of freedom of speech and an attack on the principles of a free society. That free speech is vital for us to defend as societies and that murdering the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is an absolutely unforgivable atrocity goes without saying, but that emotionally-charged issue is serving to engulf the masses in the fog of a trauma-based emotional reaction (further amplified by the experience and imagery of Sunday’s marches in Paris and elsewhere) and is preventing people from looking beyond that fog.
Looking beyond that fog would be to notice that all of the new, enhanced surveillance proposals being pushed now by governments including France, the UK and the US were not formulated *in response* to the Paris attack but were on the table beforehand. And it would also be to notice that armed soldiers being deployed in large numbers into public places in a free society is a remarkably troubling state of affairs, with all its NWO, police-state connotations. The fact that Belgium has now followed France’s example and sent the army out into the streets only adds to that concern and forces one to wonder if this militarisation is going to expand into more countries and whether it really is just about fighting terrorism or whether there’s something more going on.
While everyone was focused on that Paris march (which in combination with similar solidarity gatherings going on in numerous locations as well as the mass TV audience, became something of a shared world event), which in some obvious regards had a poignancy to it, mosques were being attacked in twelve locations in France (including reports of petrol bombs).
Marches going on in parts of Germany and elsewhere may have been framed in the narrative of the current ‘Je Suis Charlie’ theme, but in fact ‘anti-Islam’ rallies had been gaining momentum prior to the Paris attacks, symptomatic of a growing movement of anti-Muslim feeling in European societies. The fact that in Germany there were strong counter rallies in defense of both Islam and immigrants reminds us, however, of the strong liberal voice that also still exists in German cities.
A growing anti-semitism in various pockets of society also provides cause for concern. What’s highly dispiriting is that every part of the world seems to be polarising at a vastly accelerated rate; the spiraling of anti-Muslim hatred in large parts of Western societies, the anti-Jewish attitudes resurfacing and provoking an even more strident reaction from the Zionist element (which is seen by some to strengthen Israel’s agendas and weaken the cause of the beleaguered Palestinians), and for that matter the harrowing rise of extremist Islamist militancy in the Middle East and beyond which has seen the likes of Islamic State utterly drive the traditional Christian communities from Iraq, persecute Syrian Christians and other minorities and even prohibit and persecute other versions and interpretations of Islam.
Even in those Middle-Eastern societies where until recently there had been *no* sectarian problems or attacks on Christians, the social fabric has been completely torn undone; in Iraq it was due to the US-led invasion and its aftermath, in Syria it was due to the Civil War, in Libya due to the murder of Gaddafi and fall of his order, while even in Egypt hostility towards Egyptian and Coptic Christians has been a major after-effect of the ‘Arab Spring’.
If that kind of breakdown in community relations and social order is allowed to occur in Europe or the West over time, what is going to happen to the modern, civilised world and its principles? Even in Africa, this sectarian nightmare is unfolding, with Boko Haram not only engulfing Nigeria in bloody chaos, but also spreading into Cameroon and other nations. Boko Haram is a group seen by some as being even more ruthless than ISIL and it is running violently amok in that part of Africa the same way ISIL was allowed to do (and I deliberately say *allowed* to do) in Syria and Iraq last year.
Meanwhile terror attacks, we’re told, are going to continue to increase, along with cyber attacks; some of those attacks (of both types) on the horizon will almost certainly be staged events, just as some of those that have already happened were.
They’ll be used, as they already have, to make people in general more amenable to things they might otherwise not be: increased surveillance on private activity and information, even soldiers on the streets and Martial Law (though not by name), and in general a bigger and bigger push towards militarisation of modern societies and more complete surveillance of our words, thoughts and activities. They will also, of course, create more fear, paranoia and mistrust and tension between communities and contribute to ill feeling and destabilisaiton in society. Radicalisation, meanwhile, is on the increase and will spiral further; Islamic, Christian and Jewish alike. Those who cite the evils of extreme political Islamism are wholly right to do so, of course; but they shouldn’t forget the evils of Jewish and especially Christian Zionism either, nor the overwrought and intolerant spirit of right-wing, so-called ‘Christian’ evangelical rhetoric in the US and its toxic effect on popular thinking.
I don’t mean, however, to be a spreader of miserable commentary and bad vibes; and there are, even amid grim and dispiriting events and atmospheres, positive elements and encouraging human stories that speak of the better nature of human beings irrespective of race, religion or culture.
Such as the actions of Mali-born Muslim shop-worker Lassana Bathily who acted to save the lives of a number of Jewish people in the kosher store attack in Paris. Or the thousands in Dresden, Germany, who marched *against* the Pegida anti-Islam rallies and spoke for Germany’s modern liberal, multi-cultural principles. Or the Australian woman who made it her business to make it clear to a scared and self-conscious Muslim girl on a public transport that she had nothing to fear following the Sydney Siege. Or the highly under-reported story from San Fransico, where Bay Area Muslims (picture below) – contradicting the oft-repeated claim that ‘Muslims never speak out’ against terrorism – came together in the city’s Union Square to show sympathy and solidarity for the people of Paris and the shooting victims. Those more positive stories are usually under-reported, probably because they don’t fit the preferred narrative of the news agenda in many instances.
What most people don’t seem to realise is that their focus is being misdirected on purpose; so that instead of all sections of society collectively turning its attention towards the arms trade, the corporate war industry, the corrupt operations of secret agencies, the morally-bankrupt operations of the oil industry, global poverty, the covert operation of death and destabilization being conducted in the Middle East and now Africa, among other enormous ills of our age, they are instead being made to turn *on each other*; right-wing Christians propagandizing against Islam, fundamentalist Muslims inciting hate against the West, the Jewish community even in Europe feeling threatened, moderate Muslims feeling persecuted and ostracized by everyone, Christians and minorities being driven out of the Middle East and now Africa by the sword and so on and so forth.
While everyone in the middle or at the bottom is expending all their energy fighting or fearing each other, the real, bigger problems of our societies and this world remain unaddressed and unchallenged for that much more time. And while the whole world focuses on the crimes of allegedly three radicalised individuals in Paris, far bigger, far more long-term crimes by far bigger entities go unpunished and in many regards unnoticed too. And in every country, every society, those at the top of the equation – those benefiting the most from everything – remain insulated and secure.
In the meantime there’s no improvement in the generally bleak, apocalyptic situation in the Middle East; there’s no light at the end of the tunnel in sight yet for the millions of displaced Syrian refugees who’ve had their homes, their cites and their society ripped apart by the viscous, foreign-funded war that will soon be going into its fifth year. The situation in once-so-stable Libya isn’t much better; the post-Gaddafi Libya now a lawless, war-torn wilderness ruled by rival factions and warlords including Al-Qaeda. This is the legacy of the French-led NATO ‘intervention’ in the country.
The destabilisation also in Yemen, as well as obviously Iraq, meanwhile means a vastly increased likelihood of renewed and renewable terrorism against the likes of the US, France, the UK and other Western nations. More terrorism, thus more counter-terrorism (including more militarisation and war), more social and cultural fall-out in various societies, thus more division within those societies and… well, you know the rest of the story, it’s very familiar to all of us by now.
Happy new year. Hey cheer up: there’s a new Star Wars movie out soon.