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A Message From the Dispossessed
Posted on Jan 11, 2015
By Chris Hedges
“It is a sad state of affairs when Liberty means the freedom to insult, demean and mock people’s most sacred concepts,” the Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf, an American who lives in California, told me in an email. “In some Latin countries people are acquitted for murders where the defendant’s mother was slandered by the one he murdered. I saw this in Spain many years ago. It’s no excuse for murder, but it explains things in terms of honor, which no longer means anything in the West. Ireland is a western country that still retains some of that, and it was the Irish dueling laws that were used in Kentucky, the last State in the Union to make dueling outlawed. Dueling was once very prominent in the West when honor meant something deep in the soul of men. Now we are not allowed to feel insulted by anything other than a racial slur, which means less to a deeply religious person than an attack on his or her religion. Muslim countries are still governed, as you well know, by shame and honor codes. Religion is the big one. I was saddened by the ‘I’m Charlie’ tweets and posters, because while I’m definitely not in sympathy with those misguided fools [the gunmen who invaded the newspaper], I have no feeling of solidarity with mockers.”
Charlie Hebdo, despite its insistence that it targets all equally, fired an artist and writer in 2008 for an article it deemed to be anti-Semitic.
Shortly after the attacks of 9/11, while living in Paris and working as a reporter for The New York Times, I went to La Cité des 4,000, a gray housing project where North African immigrants lived in apartments with bricked-up windows. Trash littered the stairwells. Spray-painted slogans denounced the French government as fascist. Members of the three major gangs sold cocaine and hashish in the parking lots amid the burned-out hulks of several cars. A few young men threw stones at me. They chanted “Fuck the United States! Fuck the United States! Fuck the United States!” and “Osama bin Laden! Osama bin Laden! Osama bin Laden!” By the door of an elderly Jewish woman’s apartment someone had spray-painted “Death to the Jews,” which she had whitewashed out.
In the banlieues Osama bin Laden was a hero. When news of the 9/11 attacks reached La Cité des 4,000—so named because it had 4,000 public housing apartments at the time of its construction—young men poured out of their apartments to cheer and chant in Arabic, “God is great!” France a couple of weeks earlier had held the first soccer match between a French and an Algerian team since Algeria’s war of independence ended in 1962. The North Africans in the stadium hooted and whistled during the French national anthem. They chanted, “Bin Laden! Bin Laden! Bin Laden!” Two French ministers, both women, were pelted with bottles. As the French team neared victory, the Algerian fans, to stop the game, flooded onto the field.
“You want us to weep for the Americans when they bomb and kill Palestinians and Iraqis every day?” Mohaam Abak, a Moroccan immigrant sitting with two friends on a bench told me during my 2001 visit to La Cité des 4,000. “We want more Americans to die so they can begin to see what it feels like.”
“America declared war on Muslims a long time ago,” said Laala Teula, an Algerian immigrant who worked for many years as a railroad mechanic. “This is just the response.”
It is dangerous to ignore this rage. But it is even more dangerous to refuse to examine and understand its origins. It did not arise from the Quran or Islam. It arose from mass despair, from palpable conditions of poverty, along with the West’s imperial violence, capitalist exploitation and hubris. As the resources of the world diminish, especially with the onslaught of climate change, the message we send to the unfortunate of the earth is stark and unequivocal: We have everything and if you try to take anything away from us we will kill you. The message the dispossessed send back is also stark and unequivocal. It was delivered in Paris.
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