Ilargi: 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, 11/13; New York, Madrid, London, Paris

By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth

Osama Hajjaj Madeleine Pleure 2015

9/11, 3/11, 7/7, 11/13 = New York, Madrid, London, Paris

Better to wait a day before writing, after a night like that. What does one write after such a night anyway? And why write anything at all if you can be dead sure to always antagonize some one on some side of some spectrum, ideological or not, no matter what you write, unless you tag some safe official line, and even then, or especially then?

Better to soak in what the official media have to say, or so one might think. After all, they got all the resources and the reporters and the analysts and -access to- the politicians, and most of all the attention of the people.

Unfortunately, all that firepower -pun intended- is used only to tag official lines. To provide air space to ‘leaders’ who profess their utmost grief and sadness and anger and solidarity over barbarous criminal “acts of war” that they swear will be avenged with all the power they have. It’s so predictable it’s like all of their spin doctors have been sent on a Caribbean holiday at the same time, and together.

Still, it also doesn’t seem very appropriate to address the economic issues we usually talk about, at least not at first glance. Respect for victims and families must come first, that is a given. Then again, it does seem appropriate, out of that very same respect, to get to the bottom of what’s behind these attacks that will at final count leave perhaps 200 people dead on what started as a nice and balmy autumn evening in the city of lights. And the politicians’ truisms and platitudes don’t exactly help.

But how does one go about that truth finding? French President Hollande declared eerily early in the ‘game’ he was sure ISIS is behind the tragedy, and ISIS statements seem to confirm that conclusion. But what is ISIS? And where does it come from?

It’s no longer really credible to entirely ignore the role of the west, including France, in the origins of the ‘movement’, if it can be called that. From Al Queda to ISIS, and scores of groups and factions in between and beyond, there is at least some kind of link to western military action in the middle East. And that link goes back quite a few years, if not decades.

So if we really want to pay the kind of respect to the victims that comes with trying to figure out what’s behind these attacks, it would seem that we can’t get it done without a critical look at our own roles in what led up to this. Not to say that we’re the only guilty party, or that the perpetrators are not cuckoos, but to say we’re not credible if we completely ignore our own roles and don’t look in a mirror.

Hence, the first reaction we probably might want to have is that it’s enough alright with the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Even if, or exactly because, that reaction is, obviously, 180º removed from what the initial reactions to the attacks are, whether they’re provoked by media coverage or not. And they are. It cannot be only ‘us’ vs ‘them’. No black, no white. To understand this world you need a lot more than that.

If we try to phrase it that way, and we’re only halfway decent and honest about it, there’s no escaping that in the final analysis we indeed are them. We’re not like them, we are them. ‘We’ have spread terror, death and mayhem across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions for a long time (to a large extent because that’s where the oil is, but that’s a story for a different day).

And then ‘we’ took it up a notch with the removal of the likes of Saddam and Gaddafi, leaving rudderless societies in their wake.

We can’t pretend to be honest and still ignore the fact that for many people in the Middle East a day like this Friday 13th is their everyday routine. And that that’s what makes them refugees. Many Parisians -or New Yorkers, for that matter- would do the same, get out of Dodge, if this were a common event in their city. Not only because of the danger and the fear, but also because there would be no functioning society or economy left, and hence no future.

No matter how you look at it, there’s no denying it’s kind of ironic that attacks on Beirut that were similar in many regards to the ones in Paris, even took place at the same time, and similar attacks on several other places, receive no media coverage at all in the west, while the Paris attacks dominate all western media.

That is not a coincidence. And it’s not either because most Americans would find it as easy to find Damascus or Beirut on a map as they would Paris. That is, they would not. But still Paris is on American TV about 48/7 (that’s the attention span limit), interrupted only by either a Kardashian body part -or two- or by the single The Donald’s body part that sticks in memory.

And that’s where we find our link to economics, because in geo-politics as in economics, we, all of us, think, talk and live exclusively in narratives. We have stories pre-fabricated for us, and these stories determine how we see the world, and our lives, and other people’s lives and dreams and wishes.

That is to say, whatever it is we want and dream of is per definition just and justified, and other people’s desires are not, as soon as they threaten to interfere with ours. As we read ad nauseam post-Paris in literally countless references to the ‘freedom’ that ‘we’ have and ‘they’ hate, and to ‘our way of life’ that is under threat -with nary a soul knowing what that way is.

We cannot forever fool ourselves and others into believing that we are the good guys and ‘the others’ are the bad guys. It’s tempting, and there’s a whole behemoth media apparatus to confirm it, but it doesn’t get us any closer to what happened, and why, and therefore no closer to paying our full and due respect to those who died in Paris on 11/13.

“They” don’t resent us for our freedom, “they” resent us for not allowing them to have their freedom, too. We need to recognize at some point that we owe our affluence to the misery of others, not to our superior intelligence or morals or religion or way of life. But there’s not a single voice among us which wants to make that recognition happen.

We are not a benevolent force, no matter what we tell ourselves or how many times we repeat it. We are a civilization of oppressors. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after. We seek to uphold our status and our wealth at the expense of others, of strangers, people who live conveniently far enough away in conveniently impoverished conditions.

We have been building our empire this way since well before Columbus, we’ve greatly expanded it over the past 500 years, and we’re now looking at the terminal phase of that empire. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after.

Interestingly enough, it’s our own technological prowess and ‘progress’ that leads us into that phase. The very moment we started exporting our oil drilling technologies, our smartphones, our databases and most of all our modern weaponry to what we still see as colonies, the very foundations of our civilization and our power started eroding.

But that’s getting too philosophical, and it would require too many words and lead us too far astray from Paris and the due diligence we owe those who lost their lives and those who mourn them.

Pope Francis said in a reaction to the Friday 13th attacks: “This is not human”. Unfortunately, 2000 years of Christianity say he’s dead wrong, wrong as he could be. This is very human. It’s as human as feeling an overbearing love for our children. It’s all human.

It’s very human, too, to go for the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. Which is a big help in times of fear and insecurity and not having the answer, not having any other answers than the ubiquitous ones the media feed you.

But that still is not what the dead deserve. They deserve much more. They deserve that we try the best we can, not to settle for the first thing that comes to our reptilian minds. Not to make our entire lives come down to just fight or flight, but to attempt to find that area in between that is as close to truth finding as we know we can come.

To honor the dead, we need to look inside ourselves, and inside the societies we live in. And only when we’ve found, and eradicated, those things that make both us, and our communities, ‘guilty by association’ -for lack of a better term-, will we have paid proper respect to those who lost their lives.

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About David Dayen

David is a contributing writer to He has been writing about politics since 2004. He spent three years writing for the FireDogLake News Desk; he’s also written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, The Washington Monthly, Alternet, Democracy Journal and Pacific Standard, as well as multiple well-trafficked progressive blogs and websites. His has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He has contributed to two anthology books, one about the Wisconsin labor uprising and another on the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress. Prior to writing about politics he worked for two decades as a television producer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.


  1. tauko

    Bravo! A brave and honest post.

    Meanwhile, the doors of hundreds of people are being smashed in by the police, our governments vow to redouble their efforts to hack our most basic rights, and drones convert people in far away places (innocent or not) into sprays of pink mist.

  2. abynormal

    “It is asked whether, in fact, the leader makes propaganda, or whether propaganda makes the leader. There is a widespread impression that a good press agent can puff up a nobody into a great man.
    The answer is the same as that made to the old query as to whether the newspaper makes public opinion or whether public opinion makes the newspaper. There has to be fertile ground for the leader and the idea to fall on. But the leader also has to have some vital seed to sow. To use another figure, a mutual need has to exist before either can become positively effective. Propaganda is of no use to the politician unless he has something to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously, wants to hear.”
    Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda

    …are today’s leaders operating from shorter spin cycles of their own making, or could we be so economically beaten we’re unaware of shorter cycles? the tighter the cycles the closer to throwing a rod…

    1. JTMcPhee

      I lived through Tet 1968, 1stCavalry at a place called Phu Bai, which is just a rfle shot away from another place called My Lai, speaking of massacres of innocents. (And yes, the “gooks” killed, massacred a lot of innoceñts – and killed a lot of arguably “unlawful enemy combatants” in jungle fatigues and carrying M-16s and sporting US colors and insignia. As my mother and Sunday School teacher said, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”) Equating that actual massive warfare to the recent events in Paris is ignorant or disingenuous. Or both.

      And one major reason why “we” got to Tet at all is the heady, handy, profitable-to-the-usual-parasites confluence of French (that “French connection”) colonialism and US imperialism, compounded by those who operate the RACKET known so blandly and blindly as “war.”

      “History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes and always echoes…”

      1. Gio Bruno

        History “echoes” because we fail to learn from it.

        The librarian of my local community college put up a book display on the anniversary of the “ending” of the war in Vietnam. Most, if not all, the books displayed glorified the the war or the American participants. I asked why no books on “My Lai” or Captain Medina or Lt. Calley. No credible response.

        So the main entry of a college (critical thinking) library was giving its students full monte jingoism. Sometimes the lessons of history are just hard to find. As I departed I reminded the librarian that there is a Vietnamese woman on staff; 4 million Vietnamese died in war from 1954 to 1975. Celebrate, America.

        1. JTMcPhee

          Other stuff ( there’s so much of it) that is down the memory hole includes the Phoenix Program, you probably know this:

          Allegations of torture

          Methods of alleged torture said to have been used at the interrogation centers include:

          Rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes, or hard objects, and rape followed by murder; electric shock (‘the Bell Telephone Hour’) rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue; the ‘water treatment’; the ‘airplane’ in which the prisoner’s arms were tied behind the back, and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair, after which he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; the use of police dogs to maul prisoners.[17]

          Military intelligence officer K. Milton Osborne purports to have witnessed the following use of torture:

          The use of the insertion of the 6-inch dowel into the canal of one of my detainee’s ears, and the tapping through the brain until dead. The starvation to death (in a cage), of a Vietnamese woman who was suspected of being part of the local political education cadre in one of the local villages … The use of electronic gear such as sealed telephones attached to … both the women’s vaginas and men’s testicles [to] shock them into submission.[18]

          The alleged torture was supposedly carried out by South Vietnamese forces with the CIA and special forces playing a supervisory role.[19]
          Targeted killingsEdit

          Phoenix operations often aimed to assassinate targets, or resulted in their deaths through other means. PRU units often anticipated resistance in disputed areas, and often operated on shoot first basis.[20] Innocent civilians were also sometimes killed. William Colby claimed that the program never sanctioned the “premeditated killing of a civilian in a non-combat situation,” and other military personnel stated that capturing NLF members was more important than killing them.[13][21][22][23] Lieutenant Vincent Okamoto, an intelligence-liaison officer for the Phoenix Program for two months in 1968 and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross said the following:[24][25]

          The problem was, how do you find the people on the blacklist? It’s not like you had their address and telephone number. The normal procedure would be to go into a village and just grab someone and say, ‘Where’s Nguyen so-and-so?’ Half the time the people were so afraid they would not say anything. Then a Phoenix team would take the informant, put a sandbag over his head, poke out two holes so he could see, put commo wire around his neck like a long leash, and walk him through the village and say, ‘When we go by Nguyen’s house scratch your head.’ Then that night Phoenix would come back, knock on the door, and say, ‘April Fool, motherfucker.’ Whoever answered the door would get wasted. As far as they were concerned whoever answered was a Communist, including family members. Sometimes they’d come back to camp with ears to prove that they killed people.

          Strategic effect

          Between 1968 and 1972, Phoenix “neutralized” 81,740 people suspected of NLF membership, of whom 26,369 were killed….

          It goes on, of course,, and on, and on, gulag and oubliette and Abu Ghraib and etc…

          So some folks can cognitive-dissonantly think of themselves and their Troops and tribes as the blessed good guys, while doing all that other stuff just because they can, and because it’s FUN and titillating and lizard-brain plain old satisfying. And now evil Shits of ISIS have plunked our magic twangers once again, and while we are busy making Martyrs, some of us be getting promoted and rich…

          The guilt for My Lai and Abu Ghraib and the rest goes way up the chain of command , way above Media and Valley’s pay grade. “Without remedies, there are no rights…”

          Effing stupid rotten species.

        2. Plenue

          I seem to recall that something like 20,000 books have been written about the American War on Vietnam, and very, very few of them bother to give even passing mention of the experience of the regular Vietnamese, North or South. I wonder how big a monument it would take to list every name of the 3.8 million dead…

  3. equote

    “With an outbreak of hostilities, the [Israeli army (or government)] will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes.” — Colonel Gabi Siboni of Institute for National Security Studies

    Is this the cause or the remedy of/to ‘terrorism’ (or both)?

    1. ambrit

      Both, of course. More to the point, this is the formula for Gazificztion.
      “An eye for an eye” is a powerful and ancient human meme. Rising above that takes hard work.

  4. ambrit

    Charlie Wilsons’ War: Part the Second.
    I always thought of Charlie Wilson as the modern Cecil Rhodes.
    As a side note; I have become convinced that it is ‘we’ who hate ‘our freedoms.’ We are now giving them away ‘hand over fist.’

    1. GuyFawkesLives

      You made a valid and horrifying point:
      It is ‘we’ who hate ‘our freedoms’ as we are giving them away hand over fist.

      I was just thinking (before Paris attacks) about all our freedoms we allow to slide because we (most) demand convenience.

      Or as with my neighbor who wished to prevent me from expressing my freedom of speech when she attempted to prevent me from posting anti-bank signs on my property during the 2008 crash. She tries to shield her children from anything she finds ‘subversive.’

  5. financial matters

    Yes, it makes a big difference how we use government funding. We can use it to backstop a financial industry that is largely self serving or we can finance the real economy including social services.

    “5 Marx had argued that the mainstream economists of his time, whom he called vulgar economists, misunderstood production as C-M-C’, starting with commodities to exchange for other commodities, with money only playing a role as a medium of exchange. Instead, he viewed capitalist production as M-C-M’; that is, Marx’s argument is that production begins with money to produce commodities to be sold for more money. We might view modern finance as starting with money (M) to make more money (M’) without the production of commodities.

    Whenever the government promises to substitute legal tender for a private liability, this affects the price of the liability as it increases its liquidity. Clearly, individuals can reduce margins of safety if the government’s safety net is extended to cover virtually all liabilities of those with market power.” Mission Oriented Finance

  6. Jim Haygood

    Four attacks; eight odd numbers in the dates. Simple probability of this outcome is the same as flipping eight heads in a row: 1 in 256. Not wildly improbable, but mildly unusual.

    One can’t help being reminded of the 13-level seeing eye pyramid on the back of the one-dollar Federal Reserve Note.

    1. LifelongLib

      If historically the West had been content to (say) just buy oil from whoever in the Mideast was willing to sell it and let the political/economic chips fall where they may, I’d agree with you. But that’s not what we did. We’ve amplified a lot of the problems the Mideast would have had anyway, and I don’t see how we can avoid responsibility for that.

  7. Elizabeth Burton

    I spent most of Sunday quietly injecting much the same message, and the desire to ignore our part in these disasters is deeply ingrained. As is the misinformation. Someone actually responded by saying we left a stable government behind in Iraq, so they have no one to blame but themselves.

    Twenty years ago, burned out writing biased stories for a daily newspaper, I swore I wouldn’t touch journalism ever again. In these last two or three years, I’ve had to accept that if I don’t, I’m part of the problem.

    1. craazyman

      Any newspaper, from the first line to the last, is nothing but a web of horrors, I cannot understand how an innocent hand can touch a newspaper without convulsing in disgust.

      – Charles Baudelaire

      It didn’t seem this bad to me in the 80s and 90s but I was young and maybe cluelessly delusional. It seems worse today, so much so I no longer read the newspaper or much of anything at all. The cable TV is unbearable idiocy. The talking heads are vomits of noise and vanity. The anchors are transparent grandiose poseurs little more than mannikins in make up and lights.

      It’s frankly only on woo woo radio that I hear truthful news about alien space ships and inter dimensional life forms. That makes sense to me, quite strikingly. Everything makes sense if you just have the right concept. For me now the concept is consciousness rising up through the dirt of reality to some invisible sun blinding with a benevolent grace. Everything you touch and feel is something in the dirt but the real reality is beyond the dirt and somehow penetrates every inch of soil with an irrefutable persuasion. Somebody might privately think I’ve lost my marbles, but then I look at them and I sort of understand their limited reality filter. The only part of the newspaper I will read regularly is the sports section. If there’s anything else one needs to know then channeling is always the most accurate method.

  8. andyb

    The Illuminati are great on symbolism. Check out the January issue of the Economist. 11 and 13 are prominently displayed on the lower right.

  9. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    I like Raul but in typical fashion he gently dances around the central unassailable *facts* that the West ignores in polite company: we bomb, maim, torture, kill children, break international and domestic law, play footsie with terrorists, create them, arm them, pay for them, and then indulge in a giant hypocrisy-fest when *white* people get a taste of this wonderful medicine we’ve been dispensing around the globe.
    We look at the stream of refugees fleeing America’s wars and decide *they* are the problem, not the policies that created them in the first place.
    Maybe the time for polite debate and pretending to ignore the enormous stinking elephant in the living room is over. We reap what we sow, period, end of story. You either like sitting in this steaming pile of consequences, or you don’t.
    Looks like we love it. We’re told that the answer is more bombs, more torture, more police, more spying, and more footsie, and nobody says a peep to their Dear Leaders to indicate that they do not have the consent of the governed. Fat billionaires on private islands reap the profits while the rest of us get the jackboot and less and less of everything we hold dear: freedom, security, money, and peace.

  10. Gaianne

    This is the most incisive essay on this topic that I have read yet.

    Needless to say, everyone I know wants to go with the crocodile tears.

    So much more comforting.

    And self inflating.


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