On the 13th of November, Paris was struck by terrorist attacks. For many people this seemed like a random act of evil. Certainly, those who carried out these attacks have nothing but cynical goals. But leaving it at that does not account for why the attacks happened. For all of the focus on ISIS, the attackers were for the most part born and raised in France and neighboring Belgium. To understand the rage felt by these people, we need to understand the life they lead, and we need to account for the terrorism waged by the French state alongside the U.S. in the Middle East and across Africa.
Making a Killing
The French State has been militarily involved in the Middle East and North Africa for decades. Algeria was a French colony from 1839 until 1962. For more than a century, thousands of Algerians were murdered by the French military. The brutality was pushed back only when the Algerian people fought a war of national liberation to expel the French. And for decades, France was the main supporter of the Tunisian government whose dictator, Ben Ali, was finally overthrown in 2011. Today French corporations invest in Morocco, supporting the harsh rule of King Mohammad VI, and in nearby Mali and Niger, the French military has used force to protect French uranium mines. France aided the U.S. as part of NATO airstrikes against the government of Libya in 2011. Since 2014, France has carried out more than 200 airstrikes in Iraq and dozens in Syria.
While the French government has participated in the killing, French companies have been making a killing. This year alone, France has nearly doubled its arms sales to 15 billion euros. Half of these sales were to countries in the Middle East including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon. French weapons are killing and maiming people in some of the bloodiest times the Middle East has known in decades.
The Middle East Ripped Apart
The death toll in Syria has reached 250,000. This is like the Paris attacks happening every day for five years. While fighting rages on the ground, French forces have launched a bombing campaign with the U.S. in Iraq and Syria. While the world mourns the deaths of French civilians, thousands of Syrian civilians are being blown apart by French bombs. The war in Syria has displaced seven million people and led four million to become refugees. The same European states that helped to engineer this violence lock up millions of refugees in camps, starved and dehydrated while thousands die in the Mediterranean trying to flee. These refugees are just as much the victims of terror as those who died in the Paris attacks, though their death toll is thousands of times greater.
The fact remains that the terrorists were not from Syria or Iraq or any Middle Eastern country. The terrorists were French and Belgian, children of immigrants. These immigrant communities emerged during the 20th century. France and Belgium saw a huge economic growth after World War Two. French corporations such as Renault and Citroen demanded cheap labor, and the French Government created programs to bring workers into the country. Vast ghettos were created in the suburbs around French cities. Today, nearly 20% of the French population and 25% of the Belgian population are immigrants or children of immigrants. Around one third of these immigrants in both countries are North African, and many of them are Muslims. Since the 1970s, corporations began outsourcing jobs overseas. Immigrants have faced the worst of these changes. While official unemployment in France has reached nine percent, for North African immigrants it is 23% and for the youth, nearly 42%. After decades of making money for French corporations, immigrant workers and especially the youth are being thrown on the scrap heap.
A Homegrown Terror
Since the 1970s, racism against Muslims has been on the rise. French politicians have used immigrant communities and especially Muslims as scapegoats. The National Front, a party with roots in fascism, with a violently anti-immigrant rhetoric, has gone from the margins to the mainstream. In 2002 their leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, gained second place in the presidential election. While today the French President Hollande makes a political gesture of welcoming Syrian refugees, at the same time he maintains the stop and frisk police checkpoints in the poor immigrant communities.
The poor immigrant population of France feels under attack from economic exploitation and scapegoating. The terrorists who struck the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January were young, poor, and French. So were most of the terrorists who struck in Paris on November 13th. They identify with those who suffer at the hands of French imperialism. Some established links with ISIS and other terrorist groups, but the motivation for their terrorism is homegrown.
Who Are the Real Terrorists?
Those who slaughter innocents are terrorists. But what else can you call the French government which has killed thousands in the Middle East and North Africa? What do you call the French arms merchants who flood the Middle East with weapons? What do you call the French government that collaborates with the U.S., responsible for the deaths of over a million Iraqis since the invasion of Iraq in 2003?
Perhaps we can understand why poor young Muslims in France or Belgium would channel their anger into terrorist acts. And we can certainly say that if French people or Americans expect to remain at peace while the rest of the world is terrorized by the violence of imperialism – then we can say they are living in a dream world.
But terrorism of any sort is a dead end. The reality of this world for millions of people is one of nightmares, inflicted by the armies and governments employed by the big corporations to enforce their will. Today 67 wealthy families own the same amount of wealth as 3.5 billion people. The only solution for any of us, so that we can really live in peace, is to dismantle their system and replace their system of hatred and violence with international solidarity, harmony, and respect for every human being.