Challenging war and racism after Paris

November 19, 2015

A statement by the International Socialist Organization on the Paris terror attacks.

THE CRIMINAL slaughter of innocent people in Paris by gunmen and suicide bombers acting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is being seized upon by the forces of militarism, empire and the anti-immigrant right. They want to exploit the outpouring of horror and shock over the ISIS attacks to widen the ongoing wars in the Middle East, block the tide of desperate refugees to Europe and elsewhere, and strengthen the national security state at the expense of civil liberties and democratic rights.

The International Socialist Organization expresses its utmost opposition to the cruel violence and reactionary politics of ISIS, and to the drive by the U.S. government and its European allies to inflict more suffering through stepped-up wars and repression--the very policies that created the conditions for ISIS's rise.

THE ATTACKS in Paris were the work of ultra-reactionaries. ISIS has nothing to do with the anti-colonialist and national liberation movements that historically challenged the world powers that have dominated the Middle East for the past century. On the contrary, it aspires to be an even cruder and more violent version of the Saudi kingdom, where a U.S.-backed dynasty uses Islam to justify violent state repression, including the public beheadings that ISIS emulates.

Muslims pay tribute to those lost in the deadly Paris attacks

By indiscriminately killing ordinary people in Paris, particularly youth, ISIS gave the European powers and the U.S. a tremendous opportunity to escalate their wars, at home and abroad.

It is a familiar pattern. The U.S. government turned the September 11, 2001, attacks into a pretext for wars and occupations, starting with the invasion of Afghanistan. The aim of this war wasn't to capture Osama bin Laden, but to create a massive U.S. military presence in the heart of Asia. Some 14 years later, that war drags on. Now, President François Hollande is calling for national unity behind France's own "merciless war"--partly to outflank critics on his right, partly to bolster France's waning imperial power, and partly to make a bid for leadership in the European Union.

Also like the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda, the Paris attacks will be used to justify a wave of repression and restrictions on civil liberties--from crackdowns directed specifically at Arabs and Muslims, to the curtailment of freedom of expression and an increase in surveillance generally. The Patriot Act-style legislation being pushed through in France today will be used against the right to protest on any issue. Already, government officials have declared that mass demonstrations planned for the upcoming UN summit on climate change in Paris will be barred.

The ISIS attacks play directly into the hands of ruling classes determined to repress genuinely progressive and democratic forces that have emerged in the Middle East, from the pro-democracy movement in Iran in 2009, to the revolutionary Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, to the mass protest movement in Turkey in 2014. It is important to note what ISIS, al-Qaeda and their ilk share with the regimes and states they are challenging: a common hatred of popular, revolutionary and democratic movements.

ISIS has at times postured as defenders of Islam in Europe, as when operatives targeted Charlie Hebdo in January, purportedly because of the satirical magazine's anti-Muslim cartoons and writings. But ISIS's agenda is not to protect Muslims in Europe from Islamophobia. ISIS's choice of targets in Paris was telling: For example, its suicide bombers struck a Germany-France soccer game, even though it was certain to attract many youths of North African and Middle Eastern descent.

By perpetrating its horrendous attacks in Paris, ISIS is trying polarize European society, making it impossible to build solidarity among Muslim and non-Muslim working people in France and Europe--and between them and refugees from the Middle East, chiefly fleeing the war in Syria. That suits the European anti-immigrant right, which is building support by scapegoating immigrants for the hard times that have lingered since the Great Recession. Predictably, nearly two dozen conservative U.S. governors have gotten in on the act with racist and Islamophobic bans on Syrian refugees coming to their states.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Marine Le Pen of the National Front have a shared interest in creating a Europe where Muslims are an increasingly isolated and oppressed minority. The actions of President Hollande have only added to this dynamic, legitimizing the racism of Le Pen and of other far-right parties.

ISIS's claims to be anti-imperialist are also counterfeit. It challenges repressive Western-backed military regimes and monarchs in the Middle East not to liberate the oppressed majority, but to establish ISIS's own brutal, anti-woman and sectarian regime, where Shiites and non-Muslim minorities face repression, enslavement and death.

IN DENOUNCING the Paris attacks, we at the same time reject and denounce Hollande's call for a "merciless war." We oppose French air strikes in Syria, as well as the bombs dropped by U.S. and Russian warplanes. We reject restrictions on civil liberties.

In so doing, we insist that that the so-called "war on terror" that began after 9/11 has made the world a far more dangerous and violent place, especially in the Middle East. Some 14 years after the U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan, that country is locked in a civil war, and thousands of U.S. troops are set to remain there indefinitely--even though al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lies dead at the bottom of the sea after being assassinated.

If ISIS has gained a foothold in Iraq, it is a direct result of the million-plus deaths caused by the U.S. war and occupation. By backing the rise of a sectarian Shia elite to rule occupied Iraq, the U.S. employed a divide-and-rule tactic that fueled a Shiite-Sunni civil war. Sunni areas of Iraq were shut out of political power and economic development, and the Shia-dominated Iraqi security forces came to be seen as an occupying army. ISIS became the dominant opposition to the Iraqi government's violence and repression in large parts of western and northern Iraq.

Western policies also created the conditions for the rise of ISIS in Syria. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry both tried to make deals with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, even as his regime set out to crush the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The U.S. broke with Assad, but didn't back the mass movement against him, lest the revolutionary wave spread further. Assad's willingness to use the most extreme violence against his own population--from barrel bombs to poison gas attacks--opened the way for ISIS to establish itself in Syria. Now, Russia's intervention in support of Assad--and the U.S.'s acceptance of it--has left the revolutionary democratic movement to face two savage enemies, while millions of refugees flee their homes.

The roots of the Paris terror attacks lie not only in the Middle East, but in the heart of Europe itself. Recruits to ISIS's reactionary politics are disaffected Muslim youths faced with a bleak future of joblessness and racism, even if they had previously shown no interest in religion. The institutional racism against Arabs and Muslims, as well as constant police harassment, bigotry and violence, is used by ISIS as evidence to claim that the West can never be home to Muslims--and so there is no choice for Sunnis but to accept ISIS.

MAINSTREAM POLITICIANS across the spectrum are demanding dramatic action in response to the Paris terror attacks. They claim that the failure to escalate air strikes or commit to a wider, prolonged war on ISIS would mean surrendering to still more terrorism.

But more bombs and missiles--even the deployment of forces on the ground, which the Western powers have been reluctant to order--will only make the misery and bloodshed worse.

America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been abysmal failures for their imperialist goals. The U.S. was forced to withdraw its combat troops from Iraq even as the government came more under the Iranian sphere of influence--and the corrupt regime in Afghanistan, still dependent on the U.S. military, is utterly incapable of defeating the Taliban. Meanwhile, the Obama administration's drone wars have only spread the bloodshed to many more countries in the region, costing hundreds of innocent lives.

Yet France and the U.S. plan to respond to Paris by raining down more and bigger bombs on Syria and Iraq. They will also try to work through local political forces, including the Syrian Kurds and the remnants of the Iraqi military, among others--all with their own tangled interests in the conflict.

Stepped-up military intervention by France, the U.S., Russia and other countries will only result in more horrors. Bombs from the air and a few thousand Special Forces on the ground may inflict damage on ISIS, but they will not change the conditions that give rise to such forces. Escalating the war will make Syria even more unlivable, leading many more people to flee. And there will be more terrorist attacks by ISIS, in various forms--similar to the bomb that apparently took down a Russian jetliner over Europe, the suicide bombing of a Shiite neighborhood in Beirut, and the bloody attacks on the streets of Paris.

But even if Western governments fail to decisively defeat ISIS, the "merciless war" promised by Hollande will be a tremendous opportunity for the forces of empire, militarism and state repression. The neoconservative cheerleaders of the Iraq invasion, once discredited, are back in circulation. Defense contractors' stock prices are rising. Police and spy agencies are demanding new powers of surveillance, claiming vindication after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed their indiscriminate spying. For these people, a renewed "war on terror" means greater media exposure, fatter paychecks and a path to political power.

DRAMATIC ACTION is needed in response to the atrocities in Paris--but the policies must be aimed at ending the dynamics that produce terrorism.

The first step is to end U.S. and Western military intervention in the Middle East, which has caused unspeakable carnage. It was President George W. Bush--backed by hawkish Democrats like Hillary Clinton--who launched the war that ravaged Iraqi society and brought sectarian violence to the forefront. It is no coincidence that ISIS leader al-Baghdadi was once held in a U.S. prison in occupied Iraq--a prison system where U.S. personnel carried out routine torture.

The second step is to welcome the refugees fleeing wars set in motion by the U.S. and its allies. This would provide a positive example of solidarity across national, cultural and religious lines and provide a counterweight to right-wing European forces. The potential for such an approach to win mass support can be seen in France among at least some memorial vigils after the ISIS attacks, where National Front members who showed up to spout their hatred were chased off by youths chanting anti-racist slogans.

The third step is to cut off support for the reactionary regimes of the Middle East--starting with Israel, where a rabidly right-wing government is waging continuous war on Palestinians in Gaza while consolidating an apartheid system. The U.S. also props up the Egyptian military, which rules behind a thin civilian façade; the reactionary elite of the Gulf states; and, of course, the Saudi monarchy that denies minimal democratic rights.

A fourth, urgently needed initiative is to the end of scapegoating of Arabs and Muslims in Europe and the U.S. That means not only stopping racial profiling by police, but improving education and job opportunities for communities that are disproportionately poor. Those measures would deprive ISIS of their argument that Western countries will always regard Arabs and Muslims as alien, hostile forces.

Of course, rather than undertake such steps, European politicians and their allies in the U.S. are widening the war in Syria and Iraq, while intensifying the crackdown at home. If allowed to continue, these will only contribute to a vicious circle, where ISIS falsely claims to be the protector of Muslims, while France, the U.S., Russia and other big powers justify violence and draconian repression as necessary to destroy ISIS.

The task of left-wing and antiwar forces is to point the way out of the trap. We must reject and expose the claims of ISIS and similar forces to be upholding the interests of Muslims, while standing against the efforts of political leaders to convert horror, outrage and pain into nationalism and militarism. Protests and other forms of opposition, even if they are small, will be important first steps. We must use every opportunity to build up the forces that can provide an alternative to violence, tyranny and injustice.

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