The terrorist attacks in Paris at the beginning of this year, like the one on the Jewish Museum in Brussels a year ago, have rightly aroused a unanimous wave of empathy for the victims and indignation at the acts of hateful fanatics. Enhanced security measures and surveillance of jihadist circles were taken immediately to reassure a worried population. On the waves of the legitimate emotion that embraced us all, the proposals aimed at preventing the repetition of these criminal attacks were jostled.
How can we prevent the departure of young people tempted by armed involvement in conflict zones? How can we control the religious teaching given in our country by radical imams who are imbued with a warlike reading of the Koran? How can we improve the integration of young people from immigrant backgrounds so that they share our values and reject hate speech?
All these questions are legitimate and relevant. But are they enough to face today’s reality? I am personally convinced of the contrary. It is not a question here of finding the slightest excuse for odious acts, but it is certainly useful to question the deep causes of the inclination of young people to hate the society in which they live. Perhaps we should admit, we who proudly proclaim our values of justice, freedom and equality, that it is not obvious for a young person of Arab origin to believe in our sincerity. The attitudes and decisions of the politicians we have elected appear more often to be dictated by economic and strategic interests than by respect for democratic values and ideals.
The enthusiastic comments during the popular uprisings against authoritarian and repressive regimes in the Arab countries, in the name of these same democratic values, have given way, in the course of events, at best to an embarrassed fatalism, at worst to a cynical realism. In Egypt, the return to power of former dignitaries of the deposed regime has been welcomed by European governments, which were embarrassed by the election of a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood as president. The bloody repression and the iniquitous judgments against the leaders of this movement do not seem to move the Westerners.
In Libya, chaos has set in for the benefit of armed factions and there is no real sign of a breakthrough on the horizon. It should be remembered that the situation is the result of a European military intervention launched with a lot of humanitarian considerations as if the oil wealth of the country did not count for anything.
As for Syria, we still hear, it was in 2013, the words of several Belgian politicians welcoming the departure and commitment of young people of Arab origin against the government troops of Bashar El Assad, Ms. Laurette Onckelinx not hesitating to compare them to young people enlisted in the international brigades alongside the Republicans during the Spanish war.
But, beyond the flagrant contradictions between words and actions, there is another observation that must inevitably shock and revolt any young person in search of reference points. It is easy for him to see that, in the eyes of Western politicians and the commentators of the self-righteous press, the life of a European or an American is, in fact, more valuable than that of an Arab. The death of European or American soldiers killed in an ambush in Afghanistan or Iraq makes the news. The death of hundreds of innocent civilians killed by American drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, countries that are not at war with the United States, is passed over in silence or even ignored. Do we know that targeted drone assassinations have killed at least as many innocent civilians as the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States? Drones have killed children, elderly people, rescue workers and funeral procession participants on numerous occasions(1).
The official discourse that drone attacks are surgical strikes of unparalleled precision and efficiency is nothing but a sinister fable to ease one’s conscience. The only humanitarian advantage of drones is the absence of risk for those who initiate and direct the operations. It is war with zero deaths on the side of the attackers, who are thousands of kilometers away from their victims. When the « operators » (drone pilots) based in Nevada (Creech military base) fire against territories located on the other side of the world, they do not know that they are killing. On the other hand, the women and children of Yemen and Somalia living day and night in terror of US drone strikes know very well who is terrorizing them.
Both in the United States and in Europe, the press rarely mentions this secret drone war conducted by the U.S. government. It took Barack Obama’s acknowledgement last April of the death of two Western hostages in January for the criticism of the US strike program to be heard. As for the European press, it has barely emerged from its torpor to relay the publication by the site The Intercept of a confidential document attesting that the American base of Ramstein in southwestern Germany is home to one of the nerve centers of the US drone program(2). The Ramstein site hosts a satellite relay station that allows US operators to communicate remotely with their aircraft operating in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other target countries. Another site is planned in Italy, at the US base in Sigonella, to serve as a substitute for the Ramstein complex and thus avoid a single point of potential failure.
The denials of the German government and the embarrassed silence of European officials cannot fool for very long those observers who are even slightly critical of the anti-terrorist policy in force since 2001, and certainly not those who, whether of Arab origin or not, have an emotional bond or simply a little empathy with the innocent victims of the state terrorism implemented by the United States with the technical assistance of the Europeans.
As Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson Law School and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, concludes: « As long as we invade countries with Muslim populations, occupy their territories, torture their citizens and assassinate them with drones, we will not be free of terrorism.
President of the Grappe asbl
- Rapport du CFR (US Council of Foreign Relations), cité par Marjorie Cohn dans un ouvrage récent: «Drones andtargeted killing: legal, moral and geopolitical issues», Olive Brauch Press, décembre 2014. Voir également «Le drone, arme d’intrusion massive», Kairos avril-mai 2015.
- Dans la presse francophone, seuls Le Monde et le Courrier international, qui lui a consacré son dossier hebdomadaire (n° 1279 du 7 au 12 mai 2015), ont relayé l’information.