Are you Charlie?

Our increasingly globalized world isn’t a happy place for everyone. The elites of the old West, Europe and the United States, are still in control. China, India, Brazil, and others are growing, but by and large global power relations are more or less the same as they have been since world war two. There is a pecking order. A division of labor. A hierarchy if you will. It is under pressure, but holding.

  • Thierry Ehrmann (CC BY 2.0) Portret van cartoonist Charb, één van de mensen die om het leven kwam. Thierry Ehrmann (CC BY 2.0)

On the one hand you have the financial and economical power centers: London, Washington, Paris, Brussels, Berlin. You have the industrializing Far East; China and other countries the West has exported its demeaning and polluting hard industries to, aching to become part of the decider club. And then there is the periphery: Africa and the Middle East. Otherwise known as the places where the West, and increasingly also China, get their resources and energy from.

It is essential for people and the states in the periphery not to become too strong. A united block of Arab states would have too much negotiating power. Not just over the price of oil, but who they sell it too. They could decide to sell only to China for example. Regardless of whether or not the West switches to renewables, we still wouldn’t want others to control a vast amount of easily extractable oil reserves. Hence a permanent state of carefully managed instability is called for. An excuse to maintain a military presence in and around these oil fields.

Certain Arab leaders are cultivated, armed, financed, until they become a nuisance.

Certain Arab leaders are cultivated, armed, financed, until they become a nuisance. Others are reviled, demonized, occasionally attacked, either by European and/or American armies, or local proxy groups or states. Israel fights Egypt. Iraq fights Iran. Hezbollah fights Israel. Morocco fights Algeria. Algeria fights Algeria. Israel fights the Palestinians. Palestinians fight Palestinians and Israel. Syria fights Palestinian refugees. Turkey fights Kurds. Yemen fights Yemen. And so on and so forth. I offer only a snippet for the details would bore/abhor you. The only constant is the flow of Western arms. Oil money flows back to the West in exchange for machines that kill people. Just enough petrodollars stay there to keep a few of the natives entertained with Rolls Royces and fancy watches.

Of course there are hiccups. With OPEC the poor bastards managed to scare us for a couple of years. And every now and then one of ‘our’ boys gets the wrong idea. Saddam for instance figured, if they let me gas Iranians and Kurds, they won’t mind if I take a little down payment. Who’s gonna miss Kuwait? Sometimes our proxies can’t handle our other proxies. So we send our own troops, fighting for freedom, democracy, Christianity… Whatever quivers your liver.

But times they are a-changing. The age of the Internet (here we go) and modern transport (better!) has increasingly narrowed the geographical and mental divide between us, and the inherently unstable periphery. The meaning of ‘here’ and ‘there’ itself is dissolving. Policy makers can no longer fight wars ‘over there’ and expect the negative consequences, knowledge of the atrocities inherent to any war, to remain confined to what used to be far away realms.

We do not instruct our armed forces in geo and petro-economics, let alone political philosophy. They fight on a need to know basis. They fight for God and motherland. For freedom. For democracy. For our right to say whatever we damn well please.

When the victims of our wars fight to reclaim a sense of dignity, a sense of not being relegated to the unstable, managed periphery, they do not lecture their armed forces on Klausowitz or Chomsky. Their footfolk fight for Allah and motherland. For honor. For dignity and freedom from perpetual managed instability, otherwise known as war. While American tank battalions play Slayer and shout ‘Hells yeah’ every time they zap a sandnigger, their opponent yells ‘Allahu Akbar’. Whatever floats your boat.

This isn’t about glorifying the noble savage. Muslims are people. They are fuckups like you and me. They are victims of this Great Game, just like the cartoonists at Charlie, the receptionist, the policeman executed at point blank who just happened to be a Muslim too. Freedom of expression is a great achievement of Western democracy. We ought to protect it. The Great Game however is not about democracy, freedom of speech or Islam. It is about choices made by Western policy makers on how to maximize their wealth and, secondarily, that of their citizens: you. Are you willing to exercise your freedom of speech to question the powerful?

Are you truly Charlie?

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Over de auteur

  • Schrijver, publicist & vertaler

    Tom Kenis heeft een achtergrond in Islamstudies en Internationale Betrekkingen. Hij woonde en werkte vier jaar in het Midden-Oosten en in Berlijn.