Chris Hedges says the mass self-exaltation of European leaders is dangerous because with it comes a blindness towards our own culpability
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The Paris attacks against Charlie Hebdo are being compared to the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. Our next guest, Chris Hedges, was in Paris for The New York Times after the 9/11 attacks and observed the response of the city’s Muslim immigrant quarters. Now joining us is Chris Hedges. He is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and a senior fellow at the Nation Institute and a regular columnist for Truthdig. Thank you so much for joining us, Chris. CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND SENIOR FELLOW AT THE NATION INSTITUTE: Thank you. PERIES: So, Chris, you were working for The New York Times during the 9/11 attacks. Take us back. Describe Paris at the time. HEDGES: I was based in Paris right after the attacks, covering al-Qaeda in Europe and the Middle East. And I spent time in the banlieues. These are the large, kind of depressing housing projects that ring French cities Lyon, Marseille, Paris itself and are home to the North African immigrants, about 5 million North African immigrants in France. And the French treatment of the North African immigrants has always been appalling and racist. They are not considered by the French to be French. And then, of course, when they go back to Tunisia or Algeria, Morocco, or perhaps they were born and spent a brief amount of time, they’re kind of alien outcasts there. That creates this kind of horrible loss of identity that radical groups traditionally play upon. Unemployment is very high. Sixty to 70 percent of the prison system in France holds Muslims, although they only constitute, I think, about 6 percent of the population. When they talk, for instance, about the Charlie Hebdo attacks being attacks against everyone, that’s completely disingenuous, because France has some very strict laws. For instance, if you are a Holocaust denier, you can spend a year in prison and pay a $60,000 fine; the Holocaust is taught in French high schools; while the war of liberation in Algeria, which took place in the late ’50s and early ’60s, in which an estimated 1.5 million Algerians were killed, horrible atrocities, torture, is not taught at all. The Nakab, which is the headscarf with a kind of gauze or the burqa or–or the niqab (excuse me) is the headscarf with just the slit through the eyes, where the burqa, which has a kind of gauze over the face or band. You cannot wear the hijab or the headscarf into hospitals, schools, or government offices. So what we see is a kind of message that is sent not only in France, but I think throughout much of Europe that as a Muslim your identity, your tradition, your religion, your history don’t matter. And given the desperation of many impoverished Muslims, not only in these slums, outside of these cities, but in refugee camps across the Middle East, such as in Gaza, where young men are sleeping ten to a floor and the water that comes out of their tap is undrinkable because it’s toxic, they have to walk blocks to get a bottle of water, they depend on UN handouts for food, there’s no work, they can’t get married, they of course can’t travel, they’re hemmed in in Israel’s open-air prison, that ritual or rhythm of the five prayers a day is the only thing that gives any kind of structure or meaning to their life, that sense of being a Muslim is the only thing that gives them self-worth and dignity. And when you have the privilege, those who live in the kind of indolence and splendor of the industrialized north taunting what is the kind of final readout for those who are in despair and struggling in poverty and desperate, you can’t use an expression like free speech. Or what you’re really doing is ripping or tempting to ridicule and destroy that last sense of personal self-worth and identity that is holding these people together. So when we look at the attacks that took place–and these guys kind of fit the profile–orphaned, aimless, unemployed, petty drug use, petty theft–they undergo this kind of conversion, which is familiar to anybody who joins these messianic movements, whether it’s the old Communist Party, the old fascist party, the Red Brigades, or anything else, they are in essence kind of born again as holy warriors. And the rage that we have engineered, we in the West have engineered–and we haven’t even spoke about the kind of atrocities that are committed throughout the Middle East by the U.S. military–is sacrilized, and you attack [incompr.] create this kind of Manichaean or binary vision of the world, of the pure and the impure, the good and evil, as all these kind of messianic groups do, and you end up committing the horrible atrocity that was committed in Paris. PERIES: Now, Chris, yesterday we saw The New York Times and The Washington Post plastered a photo of world leaders joining the rallies in Paris with solidarity for people of France and the atrocity against Charlie Hebdo that was committed. Now, how does this picture kind of translate into the Arab world now? How are they seeing this? HEDGES: Well, this reminds me very much of 9/11. What this really is about is the celebration of our kind of nonexistent virtue, the inability to understand our own culpability for creating the kind of rage of the dispossessed and holding up our supposed civilization as preeminent, and at the same time demeaning Muslims, demeaning the other worldviews. And it’s really at its core about self-exultation. And in that sense it reminded me very much of 9/11 [incompr.] that kind of mass self-exaltation is very dangerous, because with it comes a kind of blindness. Of course we have to understand and confront acts of terror, but if we don’t begin to explore their origins, if we believe that the use of violence, as we have seen throughout the Middle East, is going to stem this radical Islamist anger, then we don’t grasp how the very mechanism that we employ to attempt to control it is fueling it. And I think that the discussions have been very jingoistic, very cliché-ridden, and, finally, wrong. PERIES: Chris, the French lower house of parliament today approved the continuation of the airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS today. What impact do you think this is going to have? HEDGES: Well, we created ISIS in the same way that through the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan we created al-Qaeda. This isn’t going to stop until we stop occupying the Middle East. The anger of disenfranchised North Africans is not going to be ameliorated until they are integrated into the economies in a real way in the countries in which they live and that racism towards them is confronted. Unfortunately, we are seeing, through the growth of economic inequality, climate change, which of course is having an effect, this growing division between that tiny elite of those who live in the privileged enclaves of the industrialized West and the wretched of the earth, the rest of the population that is struggling on one or two dollars a day and attempting to survive. And that is the problem. It has nothing to do with the Quran or with Islam or backward societies or anything else. And the longer we fail to confront those inequalities, the more that we respond to those inequalities and the anger that that inequality triggers through militarized drones and airstrikes and the security and surveillance state, the more we create a kind of Hobbesian universe where the violence, the state kind of terror that we unleash, is answered in kind by terror. I mean, the message that the poor of the earth get from the industrialized world is we have everything, and if you try and take away from us we’ll kill you. And in many ways what we saw in Paris is an answer to that message. PERIES: Right. Chris, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. HEDGES: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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