Friday, 9 January 2015

Does this mean war?

Much of the commentary I have read about the Charlie Hebdo atrocity seems to present it in the context of a vast ideological war which is perceived to be brewing between the (variously) medieval, barbaric or fanatic Islamist jihadis and the liberal, democratic West. Even comment such as my previous post that criticizes some of the values or approaches adopted by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have taken it more or less as read that the actions of these two brothers have a crucial importance for the future of the world. Terrible as the killings were, there is a strong sense that they are merely a foretaste of what might come and that effectively war has been declared (though it is not clear by whom).

In the wake of an appalling and shocking tragedy such catastrophic thinking is hardly surprising, but it does behoove us I believe to stand back a little and seek some sort of objectivity. When Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School just over two years ago I don't remember the language of warfare being used. Yet his was by no means the first and will not be the last mass killing in a US school, and together such shootings have killed 111 and injured 123 since 2010 alone.

The thing is, that Adam Lanza and his like can only very rarely characterised as "other" in the way that Cherif ands Said Kouachi all too easily can. So school shooters can be contained with labels such as mad, disturbed, alienated and loner that somehow diminish the threat they pose to civil society in the US. Yet they are, objectively, more of a threat than those such as the brothers Kouachi. It is not just that school shooters and the like have killed far more people in the West than jihadi terrorists. They have also (to me bizarrely) fueled the US citizenry's desire for liberal gun possession laws, with all that that implies in terms of the breakdown of civilised values.

So in discussion of the appalling incident in Paris, please let us avoid the language of "us" and "them", unless "us" comprises the vast mass of law-abiding, tolerant citizens of whatever religious persuasion and "them" includes both the brothers Kouachi and Adam Lanza and his ilk.

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