As per reports in an Indian newspaper quoting Israeli sources, post terror attacks in Paris, President Francois Hollande of France had asked Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to stay away from participating in the Paris march against terrorism but Israeli PM eventually joined the march along with 40 other world leaders including President of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, who however raised no such reservation.
According to the new paper the request was made- not because Israelis are not against the terror but apparently because Israel is seen as the bad guy in the Palestine conflict. Presumably, the Muslims and other politically correct liberals in France would take it as an affront. The incident displays French ‘political correctness’ expressed in full. Eventually as it appears good sense prevailed.
All liberal democracies practise ‘political correctness’ of different shades. Political Correctness is essentially treating people and communities equally and not hurting sentiments of a community by any action. But most people would not go into complexities of an issue and pass judgement on something or someone as either only ‘black’ or ‘white’, Israel is bad because of its harsh treatment to Muslims and the underdog Hamas is good- not withstanding their alleged terrorist methods. While politicians may be accused for practising political correctness for electoral reasons, people in liberal democracies do so plainly by their ‘black and white’ sense of good and bad.
Some liberal democracies such as France have however carried their ‘Political Correctness’ into a fine art as already shown. Recent terror attacks in Paris therefore raise some questions about the French political correctness that has allowed known terrorists to remain free to plan and carry out the attacks. What is surprising is that these terror perpetrators and their motives were already known to the authorities in France. They also figured in US terror database with a clear travel ban to USA. Yet France authorities took it easy. One of terrorists had already served a sentence and it was also known that he spent some time in Syria- quite obviously not for holidaying on the sea beach.
Till the time when such attacks were taking place only in developingcountries, particularly India (with state sponsored terrorists next door ready to strike)- the reactions were ambivalent and indirectly fingers were many times pointed to victim countries with a presumption rightly or wrongly, of their politically incorrect approach and unresponsive and dysfunctional and repressive state machinery suppressing legitimate grievances of people. The story of India’s side was generally ignored outside the country until 9/11 had happened. Naturally, countries that are lately becoming terror victims are confused- where and how they went wrong.
The Paris terrorists reportedly belonged to the sizeable section of people who have come from former French colonies and became citizens and their descendants. Therefore, these are clearly cases of home grown teror by people who obviously have had relatively a better life in France than they would in their country of origin. But that is only half the story.
In France they are relatively, a disadvantaged and deprived section living in poor neighbourhood localities like north east suburbs of Paris (banlieue défavorisée) with overcrowding, huge unemployment and other attendant problems. These people do have a lot of grievances. For example, a large number of them do not qualify for jobs due to poor education and skills. Many of them take to petty crimes which are dealt as routine law and order issues. They had also held violent agitations in the past.
Immigrants anywhere may feel somewhat marginalised but large scale unemployment particularly among their second generation (who have not seen the difference in their parents’ countries of origin), blows up their feeling of victimhood. It is the frustrations with their lot in their very own country that pull them towards anything available be it crime or terrorism.
For many it is the easiest thing to identify themselves with their ethnic or religious roots to become foot soldiers of criminal or terrorist enterprises. Terror outfits borne out of extremist religious ideas have a bigger appeal to them without any pressure of guilt or qualms because they are told they would be fighting on God’s side.
The answer to the issues of their unemployment and crime should be appropriate government programmes for guiding and providing more opportunities for education and skill building so that they get jobs. But the answer is certainly not looking the other way when they are being inspired by extremist religious ideas because there is every chance of it growing into violence and terror attempts.
The authorities in France perhaps in their concern for not deviating from political correctness of tolerance and not restricting individual of right to express and follow their faith, spared even those spreading terror message/ propaganda and in the process perhaps have actually allowed or at least made it easy for the terrorist acts by some fringe elements to happen.
It would of course be easy to blame democratic and liberal laws in rich countries with too much of political correctness is built in. Some would say the Chinese and Russians have better handled such situations because they are not encumbered by any notion of political correctness. China and Russia already restrict many freedoms and therefore any chance that terrorists could take does not exist. Yet they too had suffered terrorist attacks.
However, the best example of a country successfully containing terror attacks in recent times has been the second largest democracy- USA. Being itself a country of immigrants, the country has been providing equal opportunities to all its residents, immigrants or otherwise. They have not scaled down their professed friendship with Israel but continued to provide equal opportunities to Palestinian immigrants to achieve success in their adopted country.
While the 9/11 attack- the only big terrorist attack in USA was a rude shock to Americans as they never expected it, there has been no significant case of home grown terror at any time. Post the 9/11 attack, USA have not significantly curtailed the freedom of their citizens except may be snooping on suspect private telecommunications.
But what they have done after the attack has been largely to strengthen their security apparatus, intelligence gathering, creating databases and sharing them with other potential target countries (as is now revealed in the case of the terrorists of Paris attacks).
They took some wrong steps while initially trying to get their act together such as, excesses at Guantanamo Bay prison, CIA’s interrogation methods in third countries, use of torture like water boarding etc. But these appear to have stopped subsequently and yet they have been able to foil several potential terror attacks, nab or eliminate terrorists in time or stop them from reaching American shores.
Has then US discarded their political correctness? At New York some years back, I was pleasantly surprised when informed that ‘Deepavali’ is one of the festivals celebrated at the White House. It continues to be celebrated and also ‘Eid’ was added to list festivals for celebration at the President’s residence. Clearly political correctness (as seen at the highest seat of power) is retained and practiced. But it is just not permitted to override objectivity.
The fact that France left the terrorists loose in the country to plan and execute attacks despite receiving clear intelligence from USA perhaps imply- they were more concerned about their political correctness. Lessons from France’s unfortunate experience are not only for France to draw but for other countries including India as well.
By: Prabhat Sharma