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Monday, 16 November 2015

Liberty Under Threat

My read on the reaction to the Paris attacks is that most of the outrage centres on the events as an attack on liberty. This explains the fads of adopting peace symbols, tricouleur filters, and of course all the messages of solidarity that I've written about before. Westerners can sympathise with France as victim with readiness; we fail to extend that to those who live in societies that don't epitomise that liberty.

This has, of course, gotten me thinking. How does liberty fit into the narrative of combatting terrorism? Largely, contemporary extremism is viewed as an attempt to lash out at the decadence of the West - to oppose the liberty and democracy of societies such as France or the United States. These ''progressive'' places welcome difference and promote equality of opportunity, so the narrative goes.

But this is a convenient way to conceptualise the conflict: as a struggle between progressive, liberal societies and the extremist other. This so perfectly fits into the process of othering (us versus them). It also positions the West as defenders of liberty.

Moreover, it discounts our collective responsibility in creating an environment where extremism fluorishes, negating the role of imperialism. As I have continued to repeat, there are clear historical reasons for this conflict. Just in the past century, France conspired with the other allied powers to create zones of influence in the Middle East, violently resisted movements to decolonise North Africa and the Middle East, steadfastedly supported Israel, created a domenstic situation which led to the disaffection of six million of its immigrant citizens, and continually opposed refugee resettlement during the Syrian crisis.

This allows us to not even consider that France isn't the victim.

France, like the United States, is a society whose history is lauded as the manifestation of liberty. It's easy for us to rally around that image (think liberté, égalité, fraternité). But we must go beyond the façade and see that France does not embody these values in practice.

Let's change this narrative. Have we not learned that, in the fourteen years since 9/11, that this message of liberty under threat serves as the main thrust for increased militarism?

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