Deeper than terror: a look at the socio-economic factors behind the Paris shooting


By Eoin Molloy

We all know the facts by now. Three armed assailants gained entry into the HQ of satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris where they proceeded to massacre 12 staff members and one policeman who got in their way.

The magazine’s willingness to publish cartoons mocking both the prophet Muhammad and ISIS leader, Al-Baghdadi, was widely-accepted as the primary motivation for the attack.

Some form of the word ‘terror’ featured on most newspaper front pages around the world. Sky News ran a 24 hour live-feed. We all tuned in, soaking up the rampant Islamaphobia and fear-mongering that was on offer.

However, whenever you find yourself agreeing with Sky News, it’s a good idea to take a step back and sceptically re-assess the situation.

Do we really believe that some people are crazy enough to wake up in the morning and slaughter others purely because of an offensive cartoon? Is the world really as black and white as that?

This is where we must apply empathy. We must try to understand what put these men in a position where they believed carrying out a massacre at the office of a satirical magazine was somehow justified.

Firstly, we must look at the backgrounds of the men. They were of Algerian descent. France and Algeria have a storied and bloody past. France first colonised the oil-rich nation in 1830 and immediately began a process of settling, assimilation and subjugation.

At the start of the 1960s, France and Algeria were effectively at war. Much like Ireland’s war of independence with Britain, gross atrocities were carried out by both sides as guerrilla warfare brought the North African nation to a standstill.

In October 1961, the immigrant Algerian population in France organised a demonstration of some 30,000 in Paris to voice their support for the Front Liberation Nationale (the Algerian nationalists).

The police attacked and massacred the protesters, killing between 70 and 200 Algerian-born protestors. The details are a little sketchy as the French government only formally acknowledged that this incident even occurred in 1998 Still, there were no newspaper headlines, no catchy ‘je suis’ hashtags. There was only denial.

In spite of this, Algerian immigration to France increased with the promise of work. The French government sought to bring in cheap labour from its colonies to help with post-WW2 reconstruction, and around 500,000 Algerians obliged them.

Jobs dried up in the 1980s, and tensions rose. Algerians were now competing with the French for jobs. This created racial strains because the Algerian workers were willing to work for less pay. This atmosphere of conflict led to the aptly-named ‘race wars’ in 1980s France.

Algerians were ghettoised into industrial areas. They were all but disenfranchised by successive French governments and abandoned by a police force that had long been suspected of institutional racism.

In short, Algerians were the most down-trodden and isolated group in French society.

Does any of this justify the recent Paris shooting? No. But it may go some of the way towards explaining the mind-set of young abandoned Algerians in France.

The Kourachi brothers and their accomplices were murderers, it’s as simple as that.

However, we must be careful how we refer to incidents like this so as to prevent hysteria. When the incomprehensible happens, we tend to try and rationalise it with very simple ideology.

Whenever black people murder, it is often passed off as ‘gangland activity’. Whenever white people murder, we tend to dismiss them as being clinically insane. Whenever a Muslim murders, we attribute the act to a vague notion called ‘terrorism’.

We do these things subconsciously as a means of trying to make sense of acts that seem too far removed from humanity. We attach catchy vague phrases to heinous acts so we do not have to think about the actual people involved and their motivations.

This is the safe and comfortable world of TV-news influenced euphemisms. It seems far too easy to pass off a murderous act like the Paris shooting as simple, mindless terrorism.

Muslims in general do not have an intrinsic hatred for freedom of speech. Anyone who believes something ridiculous like that probably thought it was a good idea to invade Iraq in 2003. We must strive to approach crimes like these with a lateral level of understanding so we may prevent them from re-occurring.

The sort of political and economic exclusion long suffered by Algerians in France creates vulnerable people, the sort of people who are easily manipulated by genuinely evil forces on this planet (Al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula also exploded a car bomb in Yemen on the same day as the Paris shooting, killing 38).

This entire recurring episode of lone-wolf attacks is deeper than terror. Recycling fear-inducing buzz-words is a sure way to create an atmosphere of xenophobia and animosity that is likely to guarantee that these attacks continue.

Don’t be a pawn of Sky News and Rupert Murdoch. And don’t just take my word for it either. Go out and read the facts for yourself before coming to an informed opinion.

Remember: a scared population is easy to control, so take your time before succumbing to fear.


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