I Am Become Death. Thanks for helping

It’s impossible to use the word “terror attack” in anything other than a media-loaded sense, now. The murder of two policemen, and the workers at Charlie Hebdo, were widely described as terror attacks as soon as the news broke; the burning out of mosques in retaliation don’t seem to have the same universal agreement. Terrorism, increasingly, is what we decide it is.

It’s obviously horrific to think of people being murdered. But at the same time, I can’t really shake a sense of… well, ennui, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. It’s the spectacle of the same phrases being repeated, over and over again, asnd getting stripped of all meaning in the process. Many people have declared the attacks shocking, but how shocking can they be if the same bloody thing keeps happening? Some arses blow up a home-made bomb at a marathon, or a Norwegian guy goes haywire with a bomb and a gun, or an idiotic teenager goes on a spree in an American school; all happened recently, all more or less the same. “Shocking” suggests something that doesn’t fit a pattern. This isn’t a shock.

The only thing that’s vaguely new is that the people at Charlie Hebdo were effectively killed for making jokes. That’s appalling, clearly. It’s astonishing, in isolation, to think someone might be killed because of satire. And yet most of the victims of attacks like this are killed for no reason at all. How is this more shocking than any of the others, then? Let’s not forget that many people thought it was legitimate to bomb Al-Jazeera, including David Blunkett and, allegedly, George Bush. Targeting media isn’t new, either.

I should clarify that I’ve not yet ruled out the possibility that I’m being the arsehole in my response – but somehow, the wider reaction to these attacks seems more drearily predictable, more stultifyingly banal, than any others I can recall. I could just have reached peak intolerance, and yet it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Important People are repeating the same old truisms, like tired children reciting the Lord’s Prayer from memory. Free Speech is integral to our democracy – yeah, everybody knows this, except for a very small number of wankstains who in some instances get hold of guns. Nobody has the right not to be offended – yeah, we all know this too. Repeating it doesn’t make you heroic or profound, just trite. There’s even some people parroting that freedom of speech is absolute, a comforting myth to tell yourself, as if incitement laws didn’t exist.

And as for the Je Suis Charlie slogan – no, you’re really not. This did not happen to you. It is not an attack on you. It doesn’t  mean anything as a statement. You’re not Charlie, because you’re not dead. Apparently it’s an expression of solidarity, but solidarity with what, exactly? With the right not to be murdered? What’s the point in expressing solidarity with something that’s universally established, and to what authority are you expressing it? All these statements do is elevate three pathetic pricks to Evil Supervillain status, as if they somehow attacked and disturbed the whole world, rather than some innocent people in an office. Ditto the comments that this is impossible to comprehend. It isn’t, and saying otherwise elevates these arses to the status of Cthulhu. Some pathetic little men who hate being challenged and craved attention carried out the most testosterone-fuelled, witless act imaginable. It’s not difficult to understand at all.

I’ve got very little idea of the content of Charlie Hebdo, and it’s not fair to comment on satire or humour when you don’t understand the social and political context in which it operates. Most of the cartoons I’ve seen since the incident didn’t do anything for me, and some of them seemed overtly unpleasant, but I’m not French and I almost certainly don’t get it. In response to something this piffling – nominally, anyway – three stupid fuckwits went and killed them. Everyone’s happy to call this attack on democratic values or free speech. Jean-Claude Juncker has declared it an attack on Our Way Of Life. Well if so, it’s a terrible, ineffectual attack. Three dicksplashes with guns, that’s all. And all they’ve done is make sure everyone’s heard of a magazine that was previously – on a global scale – more or less unknown, save for the previous firebombing story. I don’t know, maybe they genuinely believe that western democracy can be wiped out, 12 people at a time. Maybe they’re that stupid.

Unless this response is exactly what they wanted to happen, of course. To become ideas on the march, shadowy memes with weapons. Personifications of death. If this is a terror attack, than that’s more frightening than three arses who got hold of some firearms.

Beyond the very personal tragedies to the people involved – and do I really have to say that it’s utterly appalling for them, something that should not happen to anyone? – it’s the response to this that matters. And that response has been so crap. The rush of the world and its wife to condemn the attacks, as if it doesn’t obviously go without saying and as if those condemnations make the blindest bit of difference to anything (by all means mourn. But condemn?). The expressions of support from mainstream news outlets who wouldn’t have published any of these cartoons in a bruise-blue fit, who will happily follow any establishment line they’re fed with the odd token question. People declaring they’re “not afraid” of three stupid, ignoble anti-Quixotics taking on the entire French state, as if any sane person would be. The use of news-driven phrases like “execution-style killing” which is hollow and vacant and doesn’t even mean anything (who’s “executed” in an office, or an a street, for pity’s sake?). And, of course, the tissue-paper justifications for poisonous anti-Islamic horseshit.

I’m not entirely sure why this annoys me as much as it does. By any objective measurement, people being murdered is a damn sight worse than people saying predictable things. But here’s my current thinking.

The people who did this are appalling for many reasons, but not least because they’re so boring. They’re people who want to make the whole world the same, to follow the same orthodoxy, to recycle the same derivative wank. Confronted with something that disturbed their little universe, they responded in the dullest, most tedious, most predictable way possible; they decided to erase it from the world. Sure it’s violent and murderous. But it’s also so fucking tedious, so uninventive, so miserably dull and petty and banal. That’s why dull, tedious, banal responses are playing the same game. If you say “we must not give into this or we let the terrorists win,” you’re already letting the terrorists win just by saying something so bloody dreary. These are people who, in the most violent way possible, set out to make the world just that little bit less spiky and interesting. Why help them?

But the other point – and maybe the more important one – people who talk about Our Way Of Life, or say Je Suis Charlie, are making it about them. It’s not about them, it’s about the poor sods who got shot. Our democracy was not attacked, twelve innocent people were. Ultimately, what happened here didn’t do anything to democracy, or freedom. It’s a grubby, scuzzy, verminous little crime that’s only lent importance by the global response to it. Recycling shite about values and freedoms, all while oh-so-free western democracies go on quietly removing them, is a dull, miserable pantomime backed up by vacuity and media-aware speechwriters. Nothing more.

“Wait until the next terror attack hits your neighbourhood, or the next War starts and kills a few people who qualify as Us rather than Them. Wait until you see the pop stars and the minor celebrities, the boy-bands and the girl-bands and the Executive-controlled classes, the reporters and the hacks and the big names who base every opinion they have on the carefully-assembled profiles of their target audiences. Wait until you hear them sing their song – their wailing, meaningless, empty-eyed, fake-soul song of regret for all those who died and all those whose families suffered in “the tragedy.” Wait until you hear the lyrics of angels weeping in Heaven and children of all nations coming together in a time of peace, sung even as the War goes on and the Executives and higher powers nod their heads in approval.

Imagine that song… forever.

That’s the future. No boots required.”

Lawrence Miles, This Town Will Never Let Us Go

NOTE: This has been edited since its original posting, to take out some of the more clunky annoyance-fuelled bits. I should never write quickly.

Leave a Reply