Postmodern capitalism and fundamental terrorism

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Postmodern capitalism and fundamental terrorism or the death drive in over-drive: a Lacanian Interpretation

The Desert of the Real
“What a terrible era in which idiots govern the blind.” (William Shakespeare).
It is very difficult to stay clear-headed in a very complicated world which seems to have lost its balance (a state called koyaanisqatsi by Hopi wisdom), especially when confronted by a constant environment of violence of all sorts, (named naqoyqatsi according to the same wisdom), and its spectacular rendition in which the Media blurs all differences and confuses issues.
In the more specific case which concerns us here, the violence of postmodern terrorism is nothing new. It inscribes itself within the long succession of wars and crises, conquests and massacres, revolts and revolutions which characterize mankind’s history as one unfolding continuum—if one can envision such a thing. An exhaustive list would be impossible to draft and leave an extremely bitter taste in the mouth. This may be why utopias were imagined.
After the fall of Rome, the Western World fell into a period of unrest, uncertainty and general insecurity. The Early Middle-Ages were characterized by widespread war, poverty and brutality accompanied by a general loss of high-culture and education. A relative stability was only precariously achieved with the invention of the feudal socio-political contract—but not for long, since the inner contradictions of feudal society threatened its relative cohesion.  An ideological and aggressive appeal to the populist, negative fear of “contamination” (abjection) and threatening “otherness”, present in any society, and especially in the European Medieval world, was therefore deemed necessary by the hierarchical, clerical order of Middle-Ages. Obviously, the role of the “Jew” as scapegoat and Christian society’s “ultimate other” was not sufficient. In order to project societal dissatisfaction and anxiety towards the outside of Christian society, control heresy and dissent, and unite a social body threatened by centrifugal tensions, an outer, powerful and dangerous common enemy had to be found. The Church found in the “Muslim other”, who had just occupied the Medieval world’s Holy City (Jerusalem), the new ready-made enemy who could play the scapegoat-role adequately, distract attention, and procure to the doubting or wavering faithful the “sublimity” needed for a renewed sense of transcendence. The Church made sure that the danger was real and pressing by turning “the Muslim other” into the common enemy poised for conquest at the Gate of Christendom. By cleverly and artistically creating a populist and high-brow “nationalistic memory” (hence the famous early French epic poems called Chansons de Geste), the Church fabricated a credible figure (or “bogey man”) upon which all the fears and frustrations of Medieval wo/man could be channeled. Via what we would today call state propaganda (Althussser’s “Ideological State Apparatuses”), the propped-up ideological fantasy unleashed a fascinating energy-flux which revealed itself catastrophic. The “spontaneous” 1096 People’s or Peasants’ Crusade (prelude to the following Crusades) ended up in disaster. Better organized by Medieval states, financed and directed by business interests, kings, feudal lords and prelates, the eight successive Crusades created havoc by violently imposing feudal kingdoms, massacring and persecuting populations, causing havoc across the land of the Near-East (Levant or Orient). The Crusades did not even spare Europe itself (Crusade against the Cathars in Occitania). The dystopian dimension climaxed during the 14th Century which was a period of turmoil, diminished expectations, loss of confidence in institutions, and feelings of helplessness when confronted by forces beyond human control (the Black Plague, the Hundred Years’ War, famines…). Historian Barbara Tuchman entitled her book on this period A Distant Mirror because many of our modern problems seem to have had counterparts in the 14th Century. Even the possible eradication of the human race (something we ponder when dealing with the possibility of nuclear war) was directly faced by Medieval Europeans. Later, the conquest of the Americas by the Spaniards, the Thirty Years’ War in Eastern and Central Europe, the Westward expansion of the United States, as well as European colonialism caused irreparable damage, suffering and loss of life to entire populations (from genocide to the cultural obliteration of peasantry and native peoples). Needless to say, the West has a bad track record in the area of human rights and its correlative, i.e. the quantification of violence.
The European 20th century can pride itself on having produced two World Wars at immense human and economic cost. Maybe then our times, because of genocides and the Holocaust and the invention of nuclear weaponry represents the apogee of horror. In spite of countless treaties and conventions, human rights declarations and conventions, women’s liberation movements, the United Nations and international cooperation treaties…, modernity does not win the medal for benevolent, rational humanism, and a more humane treatment of our fellow-beings. As Freud explains Civilization and its Discontents, humanity’s negative dimension is inherent to any societal configurations; or as E. M. Cioran wrote,
“We kill only in the name of a god or of his counterfeits: the excesses provoked by the goddess Reason, by the concept of nation, class, or race are akin to those of the Inquisition or of the Reformation. The ages of fervor abound in bloody exploits: a Saint Teresa could only be the contemporary of the auto-da-fé, a Luther of the repression of the Peasant’s Revolt. In every mystic outburst, the moans of victims parallel the moans of ecstasy… Scaffolds, dungeons, jails, flourish only in the shadow of a faith…”
“In itself, every idea is neutral, or should be; but man animates ideas, projects his flames and flaws into them; impure, transformed into beliefs, ideas take their place in time, take shape as events: the trajectory is complete, from logic to epilepsy… whence the birth of ideologies, doctrines, deadly games.
Idolaters by instinct, we convert the objects of our dreams and our interests into the Unconditional. History is nothing but a procession of false Absolutes, a series of temples raised to pretexts, a degradation of the mind before the Improbable.”
History itself seems to be in decline… It is no longer the defining aspects of actions.
But what is special about our times and makes the discontentment worse and more far-reaching in its consequences, are:
1) the close association between dystopia and utopia;
2) the quasi-instantaneous globalization of all events, affects and effects (from the economical to the cultural) obeying the rules, laws and regulations of a “market-consumer-consumptive” society.
3) the replacement of reality by a hyper-real or hyper-virtual reality severed from traditional representation and reality (Baudrillard): “we no longer perceive the same things as real, and coincident with our vanishing sense of a common reality we are losing our common medium for expressing and communicating our experiences. The world has been splintered into countless, fragments of atomized individuals and groups. The disruption in the wholeness of individual experience corresponds to the disintegration in culture and group solidarity. When the bases of unified collective action begin to weaken, the social structure tends to break and to produce a condition which Emile Durkheim has termed anomie, by which he means a situation which might be described as a sort of social emptiness or void. Under such conditions suicide, crime, and disorders are phenomena to be expected because individual existence no longer is rooted in a stable and integrated social milieu and much of life’s activity loses its sense and meaning.”
4) the rule of what the French call the “pensée unique” (the resort to a total, or totalitarian form of capitalism or neo-capitalism—i.e. an all-encompassing economical approach to solving all social and political issues), the consumerist dimension of all social and individual life (called reification in Marxian theory);
5) the belief that High-Tech will save humanity from its contradictions and problems;
6) the commodification of the life world by which the world of economy changes the reality of the world into its own image, i.e. an economy-world.
This race to the finish, to stay ahead of the debilitating contradictions inherent to capitalism (staying one step ahead of “the revolution”), to a more and more generalized abstraction of all production and consumption, and of all lives, is, of course, threatening the world eco-system to a degree never achieved by any world societies or civilizations before. It mires human imagination in the mode of production itself.
In the world we “have” now, violence contends with hope for peaceful change; and the outcome is very uncertain; fueling all kinds of anxiety-filled narratives and Imaginary prognostics–from millennial, apocalyptic, and doomsday scenarios to science-fiction projections of existential catastrophes. Some make a lot of sense and have a quasi-premonitory dimension such as the speculations about the future of societies imagined by the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University.
In order to start understanding postmodern terrorism, one has to analyze it in its contemporary, proper historical frame in order to begin to comprehend its “mind-frame.” Postmodern terrorism did not come out of nowhere as if produced on a tabula rasa by a sudden violent outburst of a “génération spontanée” phenomenon, aroused by ill-boded feelings of resentment, jealousy, and spite, contrary to what many an American political pundit declared after the 2001 al-Qaeda 9/11 suicide attacks targeting symbolic US landmarks.
In the most recent case of fundamentalist terrorism targeting the West, the January 7 attack on the Paris office of the political magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket (which claimed 17 lives–plus the three perpetrators), issues are more muddled than ever, not only because Muslims were among the victims, or because a Muslim man helped saved hostages, but also because the terrorists invoked retaliatory vengeance against the repetitive Islamic iconoclasm of the satirical magazine, as a slogan carried by a French Muslim during the January 9 Paris Union Nationale march recalls: “I am Ahmed, who died for the right of Charlie to ridicule my faith.” This should have come as no surprise. Already in 1988, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses generated a controversy as conservative Muslims accused him of blasphemy and mocking their faith. The outrage among many Muslims resulted in a fatw? calling for Rushdie’s death issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, on February 14, 1989. The result was several failed assassination attacks on Rushdie, who was placed under police protection, and attacks on several connected individuals such as one of his translators, Hitoshi Igarashi, who was assassinated. In November 2004, the Dutch film-director, Theodoor Van Gogh was murdered by the Dutch-Moroccan citizen Mohammed Bouyeri for having made the film Submission (2004), criticizing women’s condition in Islamic countries. His collaborator, the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, (a woman who became a member of the Dutch parliament) had to hire a body-guard (as did Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief). The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publishing of Muhammad cartoons inflamed the Muslim world in October 2005, and in 2011 the Paris Office of Charlie Hebdo was firebombed. This shows clearly that for many Muslims, any satiric caricatures targeting Islam and Mohammad are considered Satanic, aniconistic and iconoclastic.
Since it is a postmodern phenomenon (at least in the Occident), to understand fundamentalist terrorism one needs new conceptual tools; the ones provided by literary critical theory, for instance. By the same token, the questioning by fundamentalist terrorism of the impact of the logic of European secular reason and policy (separation of Church and State) on multiculturalism in Western societies (be they communitarian as in England or integrationist as in France) is something relatively new. It is an especially important question for France since it is part of her political and historical identity (concept of laïcité). This questioning needs to be addressed if for no other reason than the fact that this secularist politics does not seem to work as it used to. The post-sixties immigration has changed the socio-political reality of the nation to such an extent that a new strategy of thought and reason for the body-politic has to be invented, especially in view of the frustration of many immigrants in Europe, and especially the French of Maghrebin origin.
At the interpersonal level, in order to try to understand the causal explanations and roots of fundamentalist terrorism, the theoretical approach of this essay will attach a fundamental importance to the role played by the socio-economic sphere and conditions, by politics and history, putting aside what Fukuyama, for instance, has called the clash of civilizations. Although there is a clear intention of a forceful re-Islamization of Sub-Saharan, North African and Levantine countries by the different trends of fundamentalist Islamist sects, religious postmodern terrorism of Islamist obedience does not enter the dynamic of “civilization clash” as Fukuyama predicted. Islam is not at war with Christendom or even against the West. What is interesting to note, and we will come back to it later, is the spread of Western materialist, atheistic influences (via consumerist capitalism) all over the world and especially the Muslim world. This is an indication that Islamist fundamentalist terrorism is a desperate, ultimate, absolute reaction against this “invasion” perceived to be de-humanizing and de-essentializing by fundamentalists (called “intégristes” in French). The same could be said about “Christian fundamentalist” reactions—except that they have not yet resorted to the systemic use of terroristic violence (at least in Europe). The Norwegian case of the massacre of young Norwegian leftists seems to point to the contrary–except that Brevik (the assassin) was not a Christian fundamentalist. He acted more along Fukuyamist-lines—fearing what he perceived as the Islamization of Scandinavia via the complicity of what the American Right would call “liberals.” Extreme-right parties in Europe fuel Islamophobia and hatred for immigrants and in many cases are in/directly responsible for anti-immigrant crime and desecrations of Mosques; but they have not yet crossed the line and declared an all-out terroristic war against Islam.
At the intrapersonal level (the “terrorist psyche” so to speak), this essay will also minimize the appeal to cognitivist positivism, something Anglo-Saxons tend to privilege (especially the use of “problematic brain mapping”–dysfunctional or abnormal electro-chemical brain functioning, as revealed by MRI, or CT scanning, supposed to produce criminal or pathological/anti-social behavior for instance), and the explanation via heredity (genes).
The underpinning belief of this essay is that human perversity, pathological, or even psychotic behavior are fathomable and can be more or less understood–especially through the use of Sigmund Freud’s theories (made more relevant to the postmodern world by post-structuralist work—especially the “return to Freud” done by Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis, and his cultural followers, such as Slavoj Zizek…). Although irrational (meaning that it is not the result of a direct cause-effect logic), postmodern, fundamentalist terrorism is amenable to rational explanations.
Our premise is that Islamist terrorism is more a symptom of the West, of globalization and the hyper-virtuality (hyper-realism) dimension of neo-capitalism, in so far as the Occident/West spearheaded and still imposes globalization with its logic of disintegration, of atomized individuals and groups (third wave of colonialism— as the book Empire by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt explains) than a symptom of Islam itself.
In fact, we will directly jump into the fray/heart of the matter and argue, following the path traced by Slavoj Zizek, that the case and symptom of postmodern terrorism (and fundamentalist terrorism) is an answer to another type of “economic fundamentalism” (what the French call the pensée unique—“one-way-type-of-thinking” as we explained earlier). How so?
What Zizek says about the hurdle, paradox and complexity of Lacanian communication can easily apply to the message (if we can venture to use the word) sent by fundamentalist terrorism—but after all isn’t postmodernity defined by a state of ontologic equality?
According to Lacan’s definition of a successful communication, the messenger/sender/utterer gets back from the other his own message in its inverted form, which is to say with its “true” (hidden) meaning, i.e. the truth about him/herself that s/he had repressed. Lacan’s famous seminar on the Edgar Allan Poe story, The Purloined Letter, is the seminal illustration of this inversion. As we will see later, this structural, inverted logic explains the game of paradoxical inversion played between Islamist fundamentalism and the liberal West (American meaning).
Isn’t today’s Western capitalism getting back from the Islamist fundamentalists its own message but in its inverted—i.e. “true” form—since the unconscious doesn’t lie, although it is structured like a, or by language? In other words, isn’t Muslim fundamentalism the symptom of capitalist globalization and liberal tolerance? Isn’t the furious explosion against liberal/capitalist corruption the very arcane, painful/tragic metaphor/figure which enables the liberal/capitalist democracies to encounter the truth behind their own hypocrisy—caught, as many of its citizens are, in their identity-politics single-issue struggles? In the fatal Western/Oriental game of message-exchange, the Other (our own collective unconscious) distributes the cards on both sides after having shuffled the game in its own underhanded way, with lack of legerdemain. Are fundamentalist terrorists unconsciously playing the game of the irascible, punishing Other– i.e. acting out our own unconscious? In the Muslim world today, Western globalization is very often perceived (with its often obscene, by Islamic standards, demanding, over-fed tourists, all-powerful advertising, daring Media spectacle, crass materialism and quasi-atheist nihilism) as an affront to Muslim decency, an offense to values and rules, a terrible, disparaging invasion—a new form of total colonialism, more pernicious than the previous forms. Expanding on the 18th century Wahhabite religious ideology, this total Western cultural and economic domination would explain the resurgence in the 1990 of a reactionary form of these values and rules in many Muslim nations, functioning as a desperate, last minute anti-dote; and as we know, anti-dotes are often as potently deadly as what they claim to fight off.
Consequently, trying to focus on the essential, one has to approach the phenomenon of postmodern terrorism from a phenomenological point of view based in the belief of the total/holistic interdependence of every socio-political phenomenon. That is to say that terrorism has to be understood as the result of the convergence of three main counter-currents/forces, themselves reactive phenomena to a more general, over-arching, all-encompassing flux. We have to start with these three counter-forces.
A) Opposition to the Master-Discourse of the neo-liberal pensée unique (here liberal is taken in its European acceptation).
Contemporary capitalism has concentrated power to such a magnitude that it has created its own (new) reality, displacing the reality of traditional peoples, cultures, and economies, and is pushing all over the world (globalism/the global village) a hegemonic power which is spreading rhizome-like and with a viral prolixity. This automatically generates its own anti-bodies:
“We are at war. Human cultures are divided into two basic types, two antagonistic forces, one based on symbolic exchange, which is dual and reciprocal, and one based on money and sign exchange, which is totalizing…The Western world-system, based on a logic of empire, is designed to create an integrated and sealed reality, to snap tight around the world and its image.”
This new systematic way of being/thinking also preempts any other form of serious social alternatives other than velléités (vague desires) of change. By monopolizing and condensing everything into a technocratic and hyper-technological/informational nexus (institutions/ machinery/ network), the global economy has, de facto, created the objective conditions for systemic violence and brutal retaliation. As Jean Baudrillard reiterated postmodernism generates an all-absorbing culture and ideology that turn citizens into consumers. However uneasy citizens/consumers may feel about their “tidings of comfort and joy” and the malaise this total culture induces in them, they still cannot seriously imagine or even trust any other alternative. And if, by chance, so to speak, they start significantly/seriously opposing the “global system,” they quickly discover that their resistance has been neutralized by hyper-virtualization, or that it is quasi-impossible because of the “System” and its defense apparatus, vast and totalizing systems of human control, such as the NSA (postmodern version of Jeremy Bentham’s panoptikum or panopticon) are too powerful. Today, everything people do leaves a digital trace that is easily accessed, recorded digitally, analyzed and stored, forming a “cloud of unknowing” looming over people’s heads, like Jack Kirby’s algorithms, astutely and ironically called the “anti-life equation.” In this situation, digitizing is synonymous with de-humanizing. The imperial triumph of a Western way of thinking which reduces and transforms all lives and everything material and immaterial (even time) into objects/signs to be bought, sold, or financially speculated upon, and force-feeds this transmutation to the whole world, automatically generates a violent counter-push. Albeit irrational, postmodern terrorism is the (bleak) expression of the reactive-movement to globalization, fueled by a capitalist economy which wants to be total, all-inclusive, tolerating no exception, leaving no stone unturned, which makes it, may we like it or not, a new form of totalitarianism.
B) Nihilism brought about by Poverty/Marginalization/Oppression.
Western civilization’s global reach, its hyper-technological power, its imperial world domination, its particular way of objectifiying everything via the economy, its self-righteousness and all-absorbing ideology have become unbearable for many because its benefits are selective and separatist. Its basic social inequalities force/maintain an increasing percentile of the population in a state of poverty (something experienced more acutely when amidst a sphere of relative affluence), but also arouses a deep sense of injustice, of inferiority and inadequacy (which translates into a feeling of deep rejection). It also generates in individuals a spiritual void (which can lead to ontological despair). All this provokes a deep-seated sense of anger. In some, this can turn into rage (especially if pre-determined by a personal loss or trauma). The sense of rejection and marginalization can then metamorphize into a radical counter-rejection. This where intégrisme (Islamic fundamentalism), as its name indicates, factors everything in; it integers everything and plays a determinant role. The transformation of this radicalism/absolutism of this refusal into radical rejection depends on the ways individuals or small groups internalize the marginalization/rejection/oppression. Many individuals internalize these factors in a very traumatic way for different reasons; because of a personal trauma and/or a historically based trauma; for instance the Boston Marathon bombers who went through the terrible ethnic and repressive war in Chechnya. But alienation is not enough. Rootlessness and cosmopolitanism, identity fluctuations, opposed or contrasting cultural heritages are not enough to make a terrorist. For many, cosmopolitanism (with its problems of cultural friction and religious antagonisms) is not so much an identity problem as a normal condition of life. Hybridity is the positive by-product of the postmodern mixing of races, cultures and religions, as the life in Sarajevo, Tangiers, Salonica, Istanbul, Odessa, Alexandria, Trieste, Hong-Kong, New Orleans, Marseilles, even London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, or New York used to attest–or still attests, to a certain extent. Something else is often at stake. Identity politics are not enough to explain/account for the terrorist temptation. Ideology can go only so far in explaining behavior. Social causes matter. This is where one has to bring back the politics of class as the fundamental causal, determining factor. Poverty exacerbates sectarian antagonism pushing it over the edge into sectarian hatred, especially if ever-morphing associate fundamentalist forces are on the lurk for candidates, disciples, followers and militants.
Poverty, unemployment, racial profiling, and police harassment, conjugate their effects, re-enforcing a sense of total alienation, planting seeds of despair and hate. Even the mundane, petty humiliations of daily life can blow out of proportion (which explains the nervousness, edginess and volubility of the banlieues’ youth and the excellence of its RAP music and culture). As Toni Judt writes in the Edge People, “We are entering, I suspect, upon a time of troubles. “Identities” will grow mean and tight, as the indigent and the uprooted beat upon the ever-rising walls of gated communities from Delhi to Dallas.”
But what is interesting and specific to postmodernism is the fact that this sense of popular despair and frustration which, decades ago, used to express itself politically via a counter ideology, a critical thinking politics and policy of rational analysis (Marxist praxis for instance), and a critique of the power and exploitative forces in society (Via socialism/ communism/trade-unionism/anarchism), cannot do it any longer. Popular revolt and resentment, inclined to lean to the left, have transformed themselves into a populism of the extreme right; religious or economical. This world phenomenon is caused by globalization.
If one looks closely at the terrorist events of January 2015 in Paris, one cannot but realize that they are largely about France and what it means to be shut out of Frenchness, by living in the bleak reality of the concrete, limited world of the banlieues of French cities (the Paris ex “red-belt” for instance). Although “not that bad” by Third/Developing World standards, or even by American ghetto standards, their immiserized immigrant populations (or sons/daughters of immigrants) still live with endemic unemployment. 40% of its unemployed youth is stuck in “the projects” with no place to go, to escape from, which explains why the use of drugs is rampant and why, every night, youths set cars (symbols of mobility) ablaze. This situation is paradoxical in a society, valorizing (and valorized for) its great democratic tradition, but which, nevertheless, harbors deep racism. Paris’ banlieues such as Bobigny, Villepinte, La Courneuve, and Clichy-sous-Bois are violent places to live, with dismal housing projects where spontaneous rioting often occurs, and are a disgrace to such a democratic nation as France. One can buy good pâté, fromage, and vins fins (cheese and fine wines) at Carrefour (the name of a multinational chain of hypermarchés–symbol of national and international consumption,) if there ever was one—since rioting and arsons have chased off most businesses. But everyday life in the banlieues degraded and abandoned public spaces is simply awful.
The Paris terrorists were French born and bred, and were ignorant about mostly everything, until they became converts to a religion they did not know, and whose Koranic Arab they could not read. While killing Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, they proclaimed in perfect French, that they were killing a symbol of a self-proclaimed liberal (European meaning) France which ridiculed them, adding insult to injury. They retaliated against a culture which, de facto, for most, excludes them from birth and was incapable of accepting them into its fold. Like the acts committed by others before them, their target was pathetic and repellent for most—meaning it did not represent the power of the state itself as such, but rather the symbolic dimension of its culture.
The West has a large number of totally dejected and effectively disenfranchised people of all varieties, including poor white males. Political and social extreme-rightist activism and rightist political parties, from the Neo-Nazi, and White Power groups, to the Tea Party, Ukip, Pegida, and Le Front National of Marine Le Pen, etc., are providing a “voice” for the dejected white males. Radical Jihadism is providing somewhat of a voice for some youth. The rest are still basically rudderless. Who knows what the next individual will personify if and when s/he “passe à l’acte?” (acts out).
The Kourachi brothers were products of the West – and of the traumatic collision between Western power and an Islamic world that has been torn apart by both internal conflict and Western military intervention. They were, above all, beurs, French citizens from the banlieues, Parisians of North African descent. It is unlikely they could have recited more than the few hadith they learned from the ex-janitor-turned-imam who presided over their indoctrination, or that they learned in jail. They came from a broken family and started out as petty criminals, much like Mohamed Merah, who murdered a few soldiers in Montauban, and a group of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse in 2012. Their main preoccupations before their conversion to radical Islam, seem to have been football, chasing girls, listening to Hip-Hop music and smoking marijuana. Radical Islam gave them a sense of purpose that they could not otherwise find in France. It allowed them to translate their sense of powerlessness into total power, their aimlessness into heroism on the Mediatic stage of history. They were no longer criminals but holy warriors. But the analogy has to respect some logical limits. As the British-Pakistani intellectual Tariq Ali writes, to consider their crimes as a religious expression is like treating the crimes of the Baader-Meinhof gang as a Marxist expression of historical materialism.
C) The Global War against Islam and Terrorism
Christendom and the West have accumulated a debt towards Islam. Since the 11th century they have waged war, one way or the other, on Islam. From the Medieval crusades to the 19th century colonization of the Maghreb, and later, the Near-East and Middle-East, from the post WWI Sikes-Picot agreement partitioning the Levant and the Middle-East between English and French interests, to the political coups against Arab regimes organized underhandedly by Western powers, and the new “crusade” conducted against Iraq by most of the West under the leadership of President George Bush, the Orient has been the target of Western desire ranging from manipulations, aggressions and occupations, to “democratic-nation-building wars.” The especially violent decolonization of Algeria has left dolorous sequels which still haunt the French body-politic. Although basically uneducated and ignorant for the most part (because of a school system which fails to address their socio-political and cultural specificities), for many a banlieues youth this relatively recent history has not passed into oblivion, and often its sequels are lived in a highly emotional register, or take on an Imaginary dimension.
The fundamentalist movements which train, arm, finance and manipulate these terrorist groups are not simply religious.  They are funded by wealthy Gulf businessmen, by Saudi groups, by governments such as Yemen, and Turkey, while the US government looks the other way since they serve an important geopolitical function. The American government favored them during the cold war when the unabashed aim was to build an “Internationale of Muslim fundamentalism” of some sort, to violently oppose the “Socialist/Communist Internationale.”  The “evil” Osama bin Laden was first a C.I.A. funded and trained operative used against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan which was upholding the local Marxist regime bent on secularizing, modernizing and reforming Afghan society. Until very recently, Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism – least of all because of its support for Ikhwan in Egypt. The result of Occidental campaigns has been to “mess up” the Arab world, putting a knife into Pan Arabism (though not really needed since the US made sure that it became a moot point by sabotaging Nasser’s nationalist experiment—The United Arab Republic with Egypt and Syria), and, after 9/11, certainly destroying any regional solidarity under the pretext of removing “evil dictators from the Axis of Evil,” (Saddam Hussein) or later, by riding the “Arab Spring” movements and purging its undesirables (by Western standards–Colonel Khadafi); and, most important, in the last few years, it started to destabilize and threaten Russia’s allies, Syria and Iran.
Although the terrorists’ actions and the manipulative strategy of their leaders do not represent Islam as such, Jihadists still speaks in its name. Let us remember here Shelley‘s definition of an “ism”: “a consideration of thoughts not in their integral unity, but as the algebraical representations which conduct to certain general results.” The al-Azhar Seminary (Cairo in Egypt), seat of Sunni Muslim learning and fatwas, condemned the Paris terrorist attack, as did the Arab League (twenty-two Muslim-majority states). The only effective response to the terrorist manipulative strategy (as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions of a few, and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals. This is why the editorial policy of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons may have been misdirected. They not only fold these terrorist groups in with disgruntled French citizens of North African and African descent in the grab-bag “Muslims,” but, also, in recent years they seem to have focused their satire on Islam exclusively. Again, did “the chicken come home to roost”? Did the fatal message knocked home tragically?
This Western mode of conduct literally helped put the Muslim world upside down. Provocation, covert interventions, economic pressures, business interests, manipulations and direct interventions aggravated tensions and contradictions. Polarization, the sharpening of contradictions, provocations, scapegoating…, are, although Machiavellian, “good politics.” Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, led, a decade ago, by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, deployed this sort of polarization strategy successfully in Iraq, constantly attacking Shiites and their holy symbols, and provoking the ethnic cleansing of a million Sunnis from Baghdad. The polarization proceeded, with the help of various incarnations of Daesh (Arabic for ISIL or ISIS, which descends from Al Qaeda in what was known as Mesopotamia in ancient European colonial maps). And in the end, the brutal and genocidal strategy worked, such that Daesh was able to encompass all of Sunni Arab Iraq, which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals that they sought the protection of the very group that had deliberately and systematically provoked the Shiites.
To these three main oppositional forces, one must add another deep-seated, albeit psychologically complex component. To explain it, one will make again appeal to Lacanian theory, and especially the notion of “drive.”
The drive of capital and the death drive
Ironically, the logic of this global system of generalized exchange which wants to make sure that everything/everybody can be bought or sold promotes itself as a “radical” positivity bent on the improvement/extension/embitterment of human life via the virtues of the free market economy. This grand circulation of signs, objects and affects, commodities and consumer goods can be summarized/illustrated by the great arcs of circulation/traffic which circumscribe and crisscross the Pacific Ocean. The drive of capital is inscribed onto the very body of the earth, as well as onto the body of individuals and nations. But who speaks about drives cannot ignore the death-drive.
Conveniently forgetting the death it has imparted on traditional societies, cultures and family structures, animal species and entire eco-systems, the linear optimism of postmodern, consumerist capitalism ignores the death that it cannot stand—excluding it from its generalized, circular permutation of exchange and its symbolic system, as Jean Baudrillard explains throughout his work. But can one forget, deny, or repress death? The repressed generally returns from the negative side of things as the critic and playwright Antonin Artaud wrote.
Tragically but interestingly enough, postmodern fundamentalist terrorism re-introduces the forgotten remainder of the equation; that which algorithms, algebraic and digitalized formulas gloss over; that which has been forgotten by the positivist logic of exchangeability—death. It does so via a brutal re-emergence, a sudden, illogical, mad and maddening avenging response from the irrational dimension of things–the Real in Lacanian theory). Fundamentalist terrorism focuses on a singular exchange with death. Pre-empting/hyper-virtualizing history, politics and ideology, postmodernist capitalism transforms the world by force; for terrorism, as Jean Baudrillard puts it, “the aim is no longer even to transform the world, but (as the heresies did in their day) to radicalize the world by sacrifice”—which means death. Globalization’s logic unwittingly has brought about a new reign of terror.
New forms of terroristic violence.
In mimetic response to the trickle-down theory supposed to financially invigorate the “entrepeneurship” of people according to laissez-faire capitalism, the new radicalized form of violence not only trickles down along the same lines but also diffuses itself along the horizontal lines, which like a rhizome, distributes power and responsibility throughout society. Since in postmodern societies there is no longer any center, as such, to address one’s claims or punitive anger, no central power to take over and eradicate, terrorism also follows the postmodern trend of de-hierarchizing and de-centralizing power. 9/11 belongs to the past. It still bears the marks of a modernist attack since, in more ways than one, it targeted the financial/legislative/military/executive centers of power. As Baudrillard (again) asserted, al Qaeda attack against America was an ideological war where the enemy compensates for its technological/military inferiority by hijacking the First World’s vectors of power and transportation, turning them into missiles.
With the Boston Marathon attack we are confronted with something already different, where violence diffuses itself through the pores of the social body-politic targeting the daily life of the people practicing the “Aristotelian good life” (enjoying “the care of the body” as Michel Foucault would have said). It was an act of particular individuals, lost in the crowd, using the multitude (Michael Hardt’s concept) against itself—which is the ultimate act of terror (Public Enemy Number One). The new terroristic configuration incarnates the logic of the new neo-tribal dimension of postmodern societies described by the postmodern sociologist Michel Maffesoli, where the democratization of responsibility and the relative autonomy of small groups is agglutinized by common interests and modes of self-validation.
From the limits of the Empire (Michael Hard and Toni Negri), from a “barbarian” zone whose name is hard to pronounce, forgotten after having been barely noticed for a short while, relocated to the dustbin of history, and to the “crypt of evil,” somewhere South of the half-Asiatic, ex-“evil” Empire of Russia, now controlled by Mafia executives and ex-apparatchiks (Chechnia), came two young men, Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, (lost brothers, like the two perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre) whom neighbors personified as innocent… Together they killed three Marathoners and maimed 264 in Boston in 2013.
Therefore fundamentalist terrorisms, such as the one obedient to Daesh (ISIL/ISIS), should not come as a surprise, as the Pakistani social commentator Tarik Ali once said while commenting about Middle-East terrorism and Al-Qaeda: “the chickens are coming home to roost.” In the suburbs of Paris and London, fed by the leftovers of Orientalism, the emotional debris of Arab nation-states and frustrated nationalism, the rage spilling over from the conflictual zones of the Zionist/Palestinian polarity, and an insurgent extremist Islam, terrorism metastatizes itself like a cancer, influencing other lost youths or “jeunes en rupture de ban.” The Occidental smooth and smug “Master discourse,” speaking from its imperium, tends to ignore its own unconscious and that of others’. It either forgets others’ responses/ominous silence, or dismisses/diminishes their threat, provoking what Baudrillard calls a “terroristic situational transfer.”
Since marginalization and destitution are not enough, in themselves, to turn dis-enfranchised young people into assassins, are fundamentalist terrorists “machines célibataires” beyond politics, ethics, or aesthetics? Is something going far beyond “the wretched of the earth’s” hatred for the dominant ideology and economy—in the psyche of “those who… ended up on the wrong side of the global order?” Something else is at work to motivate the capacity of young people (mostly young men) to identify with, and obey the demand of fundamentalist terrorism.
The legacy and contradictions of France’s actions in Algeria—colonization, mass killing, torture, and racism–are not so easily resolved, much like America’s legacy of slavery, or South Africa’s apartheid inheritance. These young Parisian terrorists, and others like them, certainly do not know not what they do. But there is something in their psyches still surviving as a nightmare, hidden, as in a cache…, like unwitting messengers, they become the conduit of the return of what French society has repressed.
Psychological fundamentals of fundamentalism
“Adolescent nihilism makes it abruptly apparent that from now on the religious treatment of revolt finds itself discredited, ineffective, and unfit to ensure the paradisiacal aspiration of this paradoxical believer, this necessary nihilistic believer, this shattered, desocialized adolescent afloat in the pitiless ghetto of global immigration. Indignant, we reject him, until he threatens us from inside.”
Even if the doings of a tiny minority, the Islamist terrorism in France is indicative of a deep malaise, of a serious decomposition of the social body created by a policy (or lack of politics) which engenders despair and nihilism and barbarism. But this irrational, blind violence does not come out of nowhere. It is understood by its practitioners to be a justified counter-violence. It is the response by a noteworthy fraction of France’s suburban youth to the social and moral violence, due to racism or xenophobia, discrimination or exploitation, they encounter on a daily basis.
The “terroristic subject” is a subject who painfully “feels” (experiences) his/her split in a different way than most of us. We do know that according to Lacanian praxis, the subject is fundamentally constituted around a gap/void; it is a split subject ($). In the case of ghetto/banlieues youth, the gap is not adequately (re)covered/covered up and circumscribed by the Symbolic buffered by a functional name-of-the-father. In their case, the gap is more gaping and yawning, making them vulnerable to intense Imaginary narratives of quick compensation. It is not so much that “terrorists of all stripes are steeped in a victim mentality” in which they wallow, as if enjoying their symptoms of suffering, deprivation and helplessness), but it has to do with the fact that these young men (and also women) cannot escape victimization/victimhood. They cannot transcend it since something is awry/missing in their symbolic structure—and this “something” directly connects with the socio-economic dimension. The “nom-du-père” is missing (doubly missing since the familial, paternal dimension and the super-egoic ideological dimension of the state are lacking, or are negatively barred). This is a youth greatly at risk, since on the edge of the Real without guard-rails (garde-fous as the French say). For instance, as a French beur rap says, for immigrants living in what was called Paris red-belt, France is not synonymous with the beautiful, monumental, museum-like city of Paris, but a “banlieue merdique” (a bunch of shitty suburban projects). The spirit of postmodern terrorism does not directly infiltrate itself as such into the body-politic through or thanks to the contradictions of capital (aka Marxism) within the fractures of the social body (the fracture sociale as the French call it generically) as it used to be the case, but through the fractures, the molar (or molecular) lines as Gilles Deleuze writes, or the pores of society as Walter Benjamin writes. This is why terrorism is so able at using the social Media to spread their messages, since these Media come directly to incarnate the new nerves or molar lines of the body-politic, where public opinion and individual opinion (the notion of multitude—après Michael Hardt) obey the same logic, at once product of, and producing, a new collective of individuals/consumers. This new form of “being-together” (être ensemble— après Maffesoli) has nothing to do with the (proletariat) masses of the 20th century where class-belongingness and national or international citizenry/citizenship played a major role.
This is why some young people more and more leave/abandon realism and the political fight against discrimination, and the struggle against the vicissitudes of society (constituted by the Symbolic–with its limits and expectations), and jump into the Real, into a dangerous territory where the Sirens sing louder, where the death-drive of an intégriste version of Islam (or integral—in mathematics an integer is a whole number that can be positive, negative or zero) unconsciously tries at all costs to counter the global death-drive of capital, threatening its dominion (as during the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center). It is a fight to the death by an international of the Real and the Imaginary against the externalization of the death-drive of Capital.
The terrorists’ recourse to this extreme variant of Islam is explained by the fact that it mobilizes ideas of masculinity denied by the de facto symbolic impotence into which the host society has put these mostly male youth. The revival of a lost communal belonging (of brothers) which, in postmodern secular society has broken, revenge, lost existential meaning, the need for transcendence (which can induce martyrdom), all are compensating for the moral and spiritual vacuum of an ultra-materialist postmodern society (a materialist enjoyment from which, by the way, they are excluded). This return of a fantasized Islam (complete and replete with an ummah and a sharia displacing a Sha’b blemished by capitalist materialism), although naïve and pathetic in its Imaginary reach and Medievalist target (to recreate the Caliphate of yore) does speak to young people, especially young men, around the world, in spite, and because of, their alienated and oppressed particularities.  Formerly they might have joined the Communist party and formed unions. But since any socialist alternatives were destroyed by the West in the Maghreb, Near- and Middle-East, and, of course, in the West, they had no place to turn but to “their” God.  In Lebanon the young men of Tripoli (a largely Sunni city in the north, near Syria) join the Nusra Front, ISIL or the local Bab-al-Tabbaneh militias for simple reasons. They are poor and unemployed (Tripoli is a very poor city); they feel that their communal bonds of sect and family are threatened, and that their “masters”–sheikhs and others working for big Lebanese boojies and warlords, pay them well enough to kill others.
Modernity is an idea whose time has come. It is based on the ideas of an historical project, (industrial, political, or technological) revolutions, humanity, science, and linearity progress. These paradigms constitute the ideological reason that can only reproduce the political and economic status quo. The reduction of the world to a world of economy as we analyzed earlier (trans-national globalism with its pensée unique) brought about trans-national terrorism using the very tools of globalization and its communication network. The status quo is the real, actual state of the situation. Why not admit and confront it as such? A malaise of capitalist culture which it wants to appease (political correctness’ symptom of guilt and denied impotence), multiculturalism doesn’t even preserve individuals from the hell of the same, from the ideology of mono-thought, of the economical world/world of economy with its loss of utopias, with its avant-garde social ideologies replaced by rearguard ideologies, with its lack of objects of belief or unbelief since everything has been reduced to the same level of exchangeability. There is no democracy of the (material) object.
Revolutionary movements and terrorism share one thing in common. They both exemplify (albeit differently since they must not be equated as such) the link between what post-Freudians call sublimation and the death-drive, i.e. the extraction of the sublime (pure untainted object—the Freudian Das Ding) from the corrupted body-politic. In the case of Islamist radicals, they want to extract the new Islamist Body (the Caliphate) from the old corrupt one (be it Sunni, Shiite, Christian…), or the body of capital (with its Westernization mode) seen as corrupt, decadent, effeminate. Through provocation, direct provocation, al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram—each in their own way, but with an overarching similarity of goals and methods, are trying to jump-start a new form of Islam, to force a radical Islamization of societies not yet totally under the yoke of Western, capitalist/materialist globalization.
The Prophet, God (Allah) represents the super-egoic voice charging the radical Imam to give birth (by force if necessary) to the new God’s society based on the Sharia (Slavoj Zizek). The super-egoic dimension represents, as he writes, “the Master-Signifier in the name of which we fight out battles… designate an identification not with a clearly defined positive content but with the very gesture of identification… When we say “I believe in …x,” the ultimate meaning of it is pure intersubjectivity: it means that I believe that I am not alone, that I believe that there are also others who believe in x.”

The sublime object of terrorism.
As Baudrillard writes, postmodern terror is the ecstasy of violence (The Vital Illusion). The repressed is coming back to haunt us, but in an inverted form and smacks right in the middle of the “Empire of Signs.” Inverted because it has no way out, no access to the Symbolic function, except under the form of the unacceptable and unthinkable formless stain, das Ding, the horror, re-ified by Hollywood scenarios, since as usual, they precede the reality they caricaturize (Baudrillard’s precession of the simulacrum)– except that here the real thing precedes its simulacrum. All this means that things are accelerating and reaching a point which Baudrillard calls “integral reality.” Slavoj Zizek would simply state (Lacanian interpretation), that the Real and the Imaginary have bypassed the Symbolic and are fusing their effects together.
This bypass is the result of the rejection of modernity by fundamentalist terrorists as we have shown earlier. This, among other things, makes them opt for a more terrible/exacting master, who asks for cleansing and purifying by death, than the consumerist/ capitalist Western society. They reject the secularist French other and adopt a divine one. While postmodern globalism pushes all limits (“we are the world” sings Bruce Springsteen et al.), fundamentalist terrorism also pushes all limits.
Which explains the fatal irreversibility between Western values and fundamentalist values.

Paradoxical Inversions/Reversals
Terrorism and the West are caught in a Moebius loop inverting each other categories/paradigms as Jean Baudrillard writes: “The transgression of the code is the reversion of opposite terms, and therefore of the calculated differences through which the dominance of one term over the other is established.”
The Occident and the Orient (or, at least, its most tragically affected regions) now exchange missiles and missives of radical ideas (letters of hatred); terrifyingly exhibitionist images, i.e. a generalized rhetoric of escalating violent behavior which vies for the control of minds and bodies of whole populations. The “weird game” of this fatal logic played by the terrorists not only works “tit for tat,” but also inverts the “benevolently utilitarian” and “pacifying” image the West wants to project to the world. Why this paradoxical and peculiar inversion? Because the Western mode of total development and its only existing challenge, i.e. the terrorist, fundamentalist, total rejection, both pursue immortality and the negation of time, but from opposite directions.
Secular, Western rationality (under its hard or soft forms—atheism, or “temperate” religiosity) is answered with religious Medieval fanaticism;progressive and liberal tolerance with transgressive and “barbarian” provocations; Western Humanism (“human rights,” “normality,” quality of life,” (or what Jean Baudrillard calls “the vissicitudes of profitability”) with inhuman acts; the capitalist privatization of all space with a nomadic-type of communal, neo-tribal space; the Media hyper-virtual manipulation/simulation of reality (from reality TV to survivor shows) with “live” videos of raw, bloody, “real” public executions.
Commercial advertising is countered by religious propaganda; the West’s drones and smart bombs by cleverly hidden explosives smuggled on board jet-planes; the US-led coalition of neo-crusaders by a new “Internationale” of radicalized, Muslim jihadists; American nation-building by the Caliphate; the Founding Fathers’ model legacy by the Prophet’s voice; Political Correctness and Western-cloned democracies by a literal and reactionary interpretation of the Koran; the subordination of egotism to the self-reproduction of Capital by the subordination of individualism to the Sharia, etc.
The Western exhibitionist, ubiquitous gaze which wants to make everything visible and transparent is opposed by black veils and djellabas which cloak faces and bodies, blocking the introspecting gaze; to Western pornography, prurient nakedness, and promiscuous bodies (especially women’s) the response is a veiled female dimension and a de-eroticized male presence (bushy beards and hair, unkempt appearance, loose thobes…). Crass Western materialism is answered by the crass ideology of mentally/morally desperate people–sons and daughters of failed nation-states, war-ravaged countries, or neo-colonized states. To the nothingness and vacuity of Western individualism and reification responds the fullness of a hypostatized and hystericized Islam. To the rhizome-like proliferation of capital answers the viral-like propagation of terrorism. The fundamentalist, ideological propaganda even reaches into the heart of the West, addressing its inner contradictions through the pores of its social skin, i.e. the ethnically and culturally alienated youth (the hybrid, impoverished, and marginalized “suburbanites” of large European cities, the poor and marginalized of American “ghettos”…) and, something new, the “estranged/alienated” youth of the relatively affluent Western middle-class (now “courted” by ISIL). Is postmodern society a breeding-ground for new forms of terrorism?

Reasons for the Terrorist Strike
As Juan Cole (director of the Center for Middle East and North African Studies at the University of Michigan) proposes in The Nation, the last terrorist act in Europe certainly obeys the logic of a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public and the Immigrant population of Arab descent or Muslim obedience. Since in France at least, a unified Muslim block and community do not exist as such, the best way to create one is to force a logic of escalating repression/oppression. Muslims in France have been secularized up to a certain point and the Muslim religion practiced by many is not radical (it does not “integer” and subsume all life and civil society under its umbrella, as the Shariah does in regions governed by the ISIS/ICEL or al-Qaeda.) Despite the bloodshed in the name of religion, billions of believers go about their lives, peacefully “doing unto others.” Al Qaeda’s recruitment pool targets European Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Many are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million are of Muslim heritage. But only a third, less than 2 million, express a strong interest in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims also have low rates of belief and observance pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai music forms). In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say profess loyalty to their country of immigration–France. Al Qaeda wants to artificially create new, radicalized French Muslims by:
a) targeting the unemployed, marginalized, ghettoized, largely uneducated youth of the banlieues via young, radicalized clerics who preach radical Islam. They provide ISIS/ICEL and Al Quaeda with volunteers, disciples and warriors.
b) violently forcing the French State Apparatus systems (Althusser ideological statist forms) into repressive violence against Muslim citizens (profiling, harassing, imprisonment…), and thus jump-starting the creation by default (via the defensive) of a common political identity formed/shaped around Islamic grievance, and resistance against discrimination.
Disenfranchised, unemployed, ghettoized youth identify themselves with their particular social situation/condition (impoverished suburbs) and not with an abstract universal quantifier such as “the French nation.” “Frenchness” has not become a “for-itself” (to use a Hegelian and Marxist notion) transcending all social situations or peculiarities. Although the escape from any peculiar social situation (an “out-of-jointness” so to speak) is the necessary mode for any individual to feel/be covered by (accept) a universal, or transcendental signifier, their “out-of-jointness” has not allowed them to accept the rule of the signifier “France.” They are stuck in their suburbs –hence the nighly ritual of burning cars–symbols of consumption and escape. The only way out is the “magic carpet” of fast (simplistic) ideology. The operatives who carried out this attack exhibit signs of professional training. Their speech was unaccented while their action was.

Secularism and Satire
The Liberal/Conservative dichotomy obscures and distracts from serious analysis of power. Conservatives are easy targets for Liberals.  Liberals are easy targets for conservatives.  But, as Andrew Long remarks, “both mindsets are about the loot…. and push their loot agendas at the expense of social justice.” Their spoofs and satires come right out of the register of the Imaginary—hence the easy laughs and entertaining playing-outs of political campaigns. It is true that Charlie Hebdo satirizes everybody. The satirical attacks on the Prophet and Muslims in general are easy since they form an easy target. Most of the Muslim populations or descendants of Muslims immigrants, or those culturally circumscribed by Muslim traditions in the West are in subaltern/weak position since their majority is part of the new proletariat which has replaced the traditional European working-class which has become petit-bourgeois and moved to better housing.
The terroristic execution is a pious protest against what is perceived as the ultimate blasphemy, i.e. the defamation of the face and figure of the Prophet. Al-Qaeda and ICEL had already “called the shots,” if one keeps in mind the fatwa placed against Salmon Rushdie. They had called for punitive revenge against sacrilegious defamation. Of course, fundamentalisms are the evil we know, and unfortunately, they are not the only enemies of subtlety, irony and nuance, let alone freedom of expression. It suffices to see the state of academic freedom in the US, for example; or the way radical, albeit intelligent, opinions are shunned by US Media. The world is up in arms about Charlie Hebdo, but could a magazine like Charlie Hebdo even exist in the US? Bill Maher’s satire functions like a comedic counterstatement to Fox News (in general).  Neo-cons, for example, want to be able to demean women, especially rape victims, and poor people in general, use disgraceful racial epithets, and caricature Muslims whenever possible, and then cite their “democratic rights” sententiously quoting the First amendment to the Constitution, when anyone criticizes them.  Bill Maher’s documentary “Religulous,” is exploitive of very easy targets. For a satirist, it is the moral and functional equivalent of dropping your pants onstage – a cheap laugh. For an enlightened alternative to Maher, we should look at the courageous work of the comedian Jon Stewart, especially his work with the jailed and tortured Iranian journalist, Maziar Bahari.
Concerning the threat against political cartoons and satirists, Charlie Hebdo’s attack is not only new, as we have examined earlier with the Danish and Dutch case. They have also involved other “actors” from other “persuasions” and political motivations. Here, we have to remember the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al Ali, who was murdered in London in 1987 by Mossad, using double agents within the PLO. Thatcher was so shocked that she shut down the nefarious Mossad London office. This terrorist event was quickly forgotten.  Al Ali’s cartoon character, Handala, a 10 year old Palestinian boy, still well-known in the Arab world today, was a close friend of Ghassan Kanafani, the famous  Palestinian novelist/writer who was also assassinated by the Mossad in Beirut in 1972, before the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon.
There is no equivalent in the US to Charlie Hebdo, with its multitalented editorial board of graphic artists, socio-political critics, radical journalists and essayists (Stéphane Charbonnier, Bernard Maris, and cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut, aka Cabu, Berbard Verlhac (Tignous)…, all of whom died in January 2015). As Charbonnier, known as Charb, said, “I prefer to die standing than to live on my knees.” Well, tragically, he was heard. The Colbert Report, the Onion, Mad Magazine, or the TV shows and cartoons such as Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, South Park, or the underground comics like Crumb’s (which are more remembered for being x-rated than political) do not correspond to the mind and spirit of Charlie Hebdo, which inscribes itself in a populist and intellectual Gallic tradition, going back to Medieval times (the fabliaux tradition and François Villon), followed by the Renaissance of Rabelais’ Gargantua, and the anarchism and surrealism of the 20th century. The reasons for that difference may lie in the neo-Puritanism of American culture, and the heavy doses of Political Correctness and litigiousness that are drugging her creativity. In American culture, comedy is generally not seen as a politico-intellectual pursuit. Our humor is usually more in the toilet as in the Jackass movies series. Has the West really free speech in the West? Does free speech means being free to say just anything, gratuitously?
We have a model for response to violent terrorist provocation and attempts at sharpening the contradictions. It is in Norway, where, after Anders Behring Breivik committed mass murder of Norwegian leftists for being soft on Islam, the Norwegian government tried Breivik in court as a common criminal.
Einstein once said that we will have the destiny that we will have deserved.