For anyone who participated in Paris‘ „Marche Republicaine“ on 11 January, four days after the terrorist attacks there started, whether physically or „by heart“, this article might well disturb the collective feelings of self-righteousness and celebration of French and European “values“ that underlied the March. But I have to tell you what I am about to tell you, not only for the sake to truth but also for your own security.
But let me start by expressing how, since days now, my mind has pretty much totally been taken up by the shock of the tragedy that has manifested in France. The terrorist attacks that shook that country have deeply impacted me and touched me to the heart. Partly, this feeling of profound sadness and grief, much stronger than I observe it in my Austrian friends and family, may have been amplified by the fact that I spent three years of my life in Paris, studying social and cultural anthropology and international law. Yet,I also discern that my affection for this city only amplified that feeling of profound sadness that has been sucking me in these past days. The root reason for my deep distress is another.
Just as most people in France and the rest of Europe, I find it most abject how journalists, caricaturists (whether I appreciate the content of their output, which in this case I do not), police officers and civil hostages were killed in such an horrible way. Yet, joining into the grief about this loss of lives, my most profound sadness comes from the fact that the reaction to the drama, from “left“ to “right“ of the political spectrum, is foaming with self-righteousness, when self-righteousness is really the least we need in this situation, as it leaves us with little hope that the future could look any brighter. On the contrary, right now state terrorists (otherwise called heads of state) of France, Britain, Gabon, Jordan, Israel, (all of whom should arguably find themselves standing trial before the International Criminal Court) and others are parading and presenting themselves as defenders of liberty and “values“ against all odds.
I am deeply saddened also over the fact that these three young people who became terrorists were marginalized by French and European society to the extent that they ended up how they did. I am most deeply saddened and alarmed by the knowledge that their backgrounds and experiences in this society seemingly do not substantially differ from those of hundreds of thousands of other young people in French low income neighborhoods and banlieues.
Some time not even so long ago, many such young people found a certain support and comfort in the hip-hop and reggae movements, such as also Cherif Kouachi who a few years ago was still rapping. Yet, today it seems that after decades of commerzialisation and water-down-infiltration, those once powerful and revolutionary movements hold little emancipatory and empowering potential for young and marginalized people. Thus, some of them turn to more banging movements that they see on TV and the internet, that they see actually doing something with the might of kalashnikovs and AKs against those whom the young people experience as their alienators and exploiters. Having witnessed how “their“ French state destroyed liberation movements in order to continue to enrich itself economically and geopolitically, more of them now turn to violent islamist movements to escape their feeling of powerlessness that has been systematically produced by the dominant society by means of police and military violence and by commerzialisation of everything and everybody.
So, what grieves me most these past couple days, besides the sadness about the violent death of so many people in a city I hold dear in my heart, is that in what is depicted by the media no one seems to grasp the obvious connection between France’s age-old history as colonizer and oppressor, extending ever-strong to this day, and the violence that has now reached and hit the “ mother country“ itself – by the hands of children of those same nations that France has systematically and continously oppressed and exploited.
The fact that the violence of the terrorists now does not hit back in an analytically sound and reflective manner, but comes coated in ideological madness directed at the wrong targets, is in no way dismissive of such a connection. On the contrary, history has demonstrated often enough that violence by the oppressed engendered by systematic violence is often not directed against the actual source of the problem, but finds expression in contradictory terms that will not necessarily have any emancipatory or progressive potential, as brilliantly analyzed by Frantz Fanon.
Over decades, France has brutally suppressed liberation movements in both North and Southern African countries, eliminating by means of state terrorism all leaders who would show any sign of persuing emancipatory politics for their people; politics that were not soaked in ideological and religious madness, but were reflective and sensible, such as in Burkina Faso, Algeria, Mali, Ivory Coast, Camerun, and so many other countries. So no one, but really no one should have to wonder when young people today go looking for salvation with radical and violent islamism. That does not mean at all that such young people would be “right“ in this, but these developments are just not surprising, and it is indeed criminal and irresponsible of leading French and international politicians to negate this elementary connection and to portray the terrorists against Charlie Hebdo and the hostage taker in the grocery store as simply mad and evil individuals. This becomes even more evident when one considers the statements by schoolers aged 12-17 from Saint Denis, reported by Le Monde the day after the abatement of the terrorists. Saint Denis is a notorious banlieue north of Paris that brought forth some legendary and foundational hip hop groups in France, such as Supreme NTM. The youths interviewed by the renowed French newspaper expressed utterances such as “for me, I did not really want to partake in the minute of silence, I don’t find it right to honor them because they insulted islam, and also the other religions“, “I partook for those who were killed, but not for Charlie, the guy who drew. I have no pity for him. He had zero respect for us muslims. But it’s not worth killing 12 people. They could have killed only him“, or “they killed Charlie because he did not respect the religion. They attacked islam, at there, they got to see another aspect of islam, the rage. If Charlie continues, the youth here will move!“. Saint Denis is two metro stations from where I used to live during my last two years in Paris, with a similar population composition, and with all the obvious and less obvious problems there, I really loved my neighborhood.
The refusal by the political class and mainstream society to take the views of these youths seriously and to look for causes of terrorism within their own responsibility in both international and domestic European/French politics, will not make the problem disperse into vapor, just as it will not be possible to get rid of it with military or police strategies.
The fact that the hostage taker Amedy Coulibaly committed horrible acts does not take away some truth that he expressed in his conversation with the hostages, recorded through a badly hooked telephone. Amedy Coulibaly said among other things, “it is you who vote in your governments and your governments have never hidden from you that they will go to war in Mali or elsewhere. (…) It is you who finance them. You pay taxes and things and you agree (with them)“. One hostage responded, “when I pay taxes, it is for streets, schools (…). We pay our taxes, but we don’t hurt anybody“ . Which, I am sorry, is not true (though arguably, the recent intervention in Mali might have had more positives than negatives, as islamists were not only slaughtering people but also destroying world heritage sites and ancient libraries). In fact, the taxes that French, European and US tax payers pay do finance all those neocolonial wars that hurt and kill a great many people from Libya to Ivory Coast while fattening the pockets of the “Western“ ruling classes.
Without endorsing Coulibaly’s actions, his reasoning on this point is objectively more accurate than that of the hostage, which conforms to the collective self-deception of the majority of people in Europe. In fact, it is the tax money of French people that finance the military expeditions of that nation that hurt many people in other parts of the world very much and cost many lives.
I am deeply grieved for the lives lost in these recent terrorist attacks, and I am also deeply saddened for the millions of people of Algeria and Mali, that France colonized and brutalized over centuries, a history without which the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly would not have come to live at the low end of the social stratum in France, just as I feel deeply sad for the people of Guadeloupe, Guiana and Martinique, where the national liberation movements were brutally crushed by France, after centuries of genocidal enslavement, without which the young Martiniquan police woman who was killed by one of the terrorists would not have been at the wrong place at the wrong moment. And those are facts.
So, the only way that France and other European and “Western“ nations will be able to prevent more terrorist violence being perpetrated on their own soil in the future, is that they finally proceed to reparations for their age-long genocides and crimes against humanity, such as is their clear obligation by international law. One such form of reparation owed by European countries by international law, but by far not the only one, is cessation – meaning in practice desisting from continuing to rob African countries from Algeria to Mali, countries of origin of the authors of the recent acts of terrorism, of their natural ressources and from continuing to sabotage their sovereignty.
The only reason why France and “Western“ powers today can play world police, with the motivation of protecting and expanding ever further their own economic power and geopolitical interests, is that they acquired the power to do so through centuries of state terrorism, continuing to the present, even if camouflaged in this era more often than not as “humanitarian interventions“.
It might be late, too late to expect that reparations now would solve all the world’s ills and rid islamist terrorists of their ideologies in the blink of an eye, but I guarantee you that there is no other way to a peaceful solution and to a human future on this planet.
Global African and Indigenous Peoples‘ Reparations Now or Perish!
– by Dr. Nora Kamala Wittmann
Dr. Wittmann is an international lawyer and social anthropologist and author of „Slavery Reparations Time Is Now. Exposing Lies, Claiming Justice for Global Survival – An International Legal Assessment“ and co-author of the children’s book „Little Afeni and the Cause for Reparations“.