Was the Charlie Hebdo/Hyper Cacher Massacre ‘Blowback’ for the Sins of the West?

It’s been more than week since the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher Paris kosher market in Paris, and the usually outspoken voices of the U.S. left have yet to issue an unqualified condemnation of radical Islamic terror. Already the discussion has shifted from the murders to the grievances of the killers and their sponsors.

This reluctance to criticize radical Islam when directed against western and Jewish soft targets – unless couched in exonerating false equivalencies – exemplifies a predictable and somewhat cowardly absence of empathy for or solidarity with Jews as a people among many committed American leftists, including some with Jewish heritage.

You’d have no trouble over the past year or so finding coverage in leftist periodicals and websites focusing on the suffering of Muslims at the hands of America, Europe and Israel, but you’d search in vain for concern and mention of the intimidation, kidnapping, torture, firebombing and murder of Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe and elsewhere.

There are many plausible reasons for the useful idiocy of many U.S. leftists with regard to Islamic terror and abandonment of solidarity with the Jewish people – the legacy of the Ocean Hill/Brownsville teachers’ strike of the 1960’s, internalization of the shopkeeper/landlord/community exploitation narrative among certain voices in the Black Power movement, the targeting of Israel as a proxy for getting back at supposed U.S. imperialism – but there are no morally justifiable excuses.

In what may be a preview of the eventual party line among U.S. leftists, the international leaders of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel lost no time in blaming Mossad for a crafty ‘false flag’ operation in Paris.

Still, more than a week following the Paris massacres, the websites of the otherwise outspoken American Studies Assn, Students for Justice in Palestine, Berkeley campus BDS promoters UAW 2865, Code Pink, and prominent leftist journal In These Times (for whom I’ve written on occasion) remain entirely Judenrein in their absence of solidarity with or concern for the security and safety of European Jewry. who have endured violent attacks by radical Islamist immigrants and their skin-head soul mates since before last year’s Gaza war.

Illustrative of much of the left’s head-in-the-sand treatment of radical Islam’s human rights atrocities is a column by defense attorney Leonard C. Goodman published less than a week before the Paris murders.

“The truth is that nearly every terror attack or threat to America by an Islamic extremist can be directly linked to “blowback” from our ventures in the Middle East.” That’s the crux of his argument, reflecting what has become an immutable tenet of US. Leftist orthodoxy.

The fact is, radical Islam has never needed provocation from capitalism or the west for committing xenophobic violence against non-believers, let alone fellow Muslims who often are the first to be beaten, lashed, mutilated, raped, stoned to death and slaughtered en masse for perceived offenses against the Prophet.

To frame radical Islamic terror solely or even predominantly as the response to corporate money-grubbing and military interventionism by the west is to ignore the 1,400 year continuing civil war among the various factions of Islam, and the byzantine agreements between ruling despots and radical clerics for consolidating hegemony in their respective realms.

Add to these volatile demographic and tribal dynamics the power of uncompromising fundamentalist fervor and you get the ‘honor’ murders of teenage girls for perceived sexual indecency, the chopping off of limbs for theft, and the tossing from rooftops of suspected homosexuals, not to mention the crashing of jets into office towers, the issuance of death warrants against blaspheming novelists, the forced conversion of infidels, the beheading of journalists and aid workers, and the gunning down of French editorial cartoonists armed only with sketch pens and ink.

What you also get is theological justification for the murderous targeting of kosher markets, the firebombing of synagogues and Jewish centers in Argentina and Mumbai, and the aspiration to commit genocide, as in this Koran-inspired article of the Hamas charter:

The Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! (Article Seven)

As “sacred” texts go, The Koran holds no exclusive monopoly on savagery. The Old Testament is replete with sins calling for the ritual killing of offenders (see the Book of Leviticus, for example). Yet in the Judeo-Christian west of the 21st century, no one loses life or limb to governmental or religious authorities for mixing threads, planting different kinds of seeds in the same field, eating bacon, shaving the sides of your head, loving whom you love, worshipping as you choose, or choosing not to worship at all.

Still, knee-jerk responses die hard among many on the U.S. left, who seem to conflate recognition of nuance and complexity with ideological flaccidity and class treason. Faced with the cognitive dissonance of morally repugnant behavior committed by third world underdogs, many otherwise smart and well-meaning domestic warriors for social justice find themselves reduced to excuse — or even worse, ignore — the genocidal crimes and aspirations of radical Islam while wasting no opportunity to blame every act of bloodshed and retribution originating in the Muslim world exclusively on the policies and actions of the United States government and its allies.

Yes, the United States has contributed to instability and worsening violence in the Islamic world, and therefore must assume some responsibility – with the concurrence of the parties directly involved — for fixing what’s broke. That’s also true of various Israeli governments, Palestinian leadership, Islamic fundamentalists, the United Nations, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

That all parties share some measure of responsibility for the instability and bloodshed in the region is not to say that each party shares an equal measure of blame or an equal commitment to achieving a just, peaceful and enduring solution.

Given their fundamentalist absolutism, it’s unlikely that Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Queda or ISIS will be coming to the table as good faith partners for reconciliation and peace any time soon. This will not change no matter what the United States government does going forward.

That said, the most helpful thing to be done now is to identify and encourage those actors who have the will and political legitimacy to strike a deal, then help them get there. For the United States, this is likely to require the patience to suggest possibilities without dictating terms. It may mean standing ready to help ease the pain, disappointments, and losses that are likely to inform the inevitable compromises necessary for ending the standoff, establishing a sovereign independent Palestinian state, and assuring the security of Israel. In that regard, the United States and key international partners must be prepared to help the Israelis and Palestinians defend any eventual agreements aimed at achieving a just and secure peace, even if that means the promise of U.S. and western military as well as economic and diplomatic aid.

What we call the Middle East is a complicated place with a complicated history that needs to be respected and acknowledged. Manichean assertions of blame may provide some U.S. progressives with ideologically comforting public expiations for class, gender, and racial privilege but ultimately get in the way of achieving realistic, just and enduring solutions to the tough problems that continue to vex a very troubled and difficult region of our world.

About the Author
Louis Nayman, a labor union organizer for more than 30 years, has conducted education and training programs for trade unionists in Poland, Russia, Romania, Palestine and Lebanon. His writing has appeared in Tablet Magazine and In These Times.