After Paris, where next? For those of you who have been worrying and wondering ever since, the answer of course is Iraq, the Philippines, Marseille, Bosnia, Mali, Iraq (again) and Tunisia. That’s not including the 76 people killed in four separate attacks by African Islamist group Boko Haram since Paris. Since 2009 they’ve killed more than 20,000 people – the equivalent of one hundred and fifty Paris attacks in just six years. This November there has been an Islamist terrorist attack every two days, somewhere in the world.
I use the term ‘Islamist’ advisedly, by the way. These people cloak themselves with religion but betray Islam. They are nothing more than murderous thugs. Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Really, it is. They call themselves Islamic, but are nothing of the sort.
Terrorism is caused by a wide variety of social factors, and very rarely carried out by people who decide to kill other people for no reason at all, but every major Islamist terrorist attack in Europe since 9/11 has been vocally justified by the attackers by the West’s seemingly never-ending military action and bombing in Muslim countries. When politicians say they hate our freedoms and want to destroy our society, it’s pure baloney. We’re seeking vengeance for what you have done to us, they say. So we go and bomb their countries some more. Go figure.
If you think this pattern isn’t true, you’re at odds with the French government and their security apparatus, who anticipated domestic attacks, planned and trained for them. The only surprise was that they acted surprised.
As the leading protagonist in the ‘War on Terror’ (a term now mercifully retired) and the most violent nation on earth, America has been remarkably untouched by major Islamist outrages since 9/11. In fact, white right-wing terrorists have killed double as many Americans since 9/11 as Islamists. Statistically, terrorism isn’t even a factor. More people have been killed by falling refrigerators.
This seems to make no impression on the leading candidates for the Republican nomination. The airwaves are jammed daily with more and more rabid pronouncements as to how they would handle the threat from ‘the Muslims’ if President.
But something strange is happening on the right of US politics, and with just over 11 months to go until the 2016 election, we should be getting extremely concerned.
A paranoid post-9/11 atmosphere has combined with Congress’ ongoing historic low approval rating of 9% to produce an ‘anti-politics’ mood within Republicans, and in Donald Trump and Ben Carson, this quest for an outsider has become flesh.
Congress has been poorly rated by the American people for decades, but that trend has moved into over-drive since the lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq collapsed. Indeed, a new paradigm has emerged, where hardly anybody on the extremes believes a word that establishment politicians say any more. Where once there was cynicism, an understanding that politicians spun the truth to fit their agenda, now many people almost instinctively believe the opposite of whatever politicians say. This is the malaise that has given rise to the Tea Party and Occupy movement – diametric opposites, politically, but both united in their belief that nothing the establishment says is to be trusted.
Neither Trump nor Carson have held elected office, but between them command 46% of Republican voters. Despite a large drop recently, Trump has 31% of the voter support, more than double that of Carson. Actual politicians like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have only got 8% each. Poor Jeb Bush, the limp establishment pick, has 7% and has been around there for a long time. He looks a busted flush.
From the outside, it’s hard to see the attraction of a property tycoon television personality with the world’s worst comb-over and a retired neurosurgeon with a pathological urge to say very strange things, but what’s funny in the warmth of August gets distinctly less so in the chill of December. Trump and Carson refuse to go away. A month from now we enter an election year.
Still, it’s hard not to laugh. Trump simply cannot open his mouth without saying something revolting. He’s called Mexican immigrants rapists (‘some’, he added, ‘I assume are good people’), said John McCain wasn’t a Vietnam war hero because ‘he got caught’ and insinuated that a female Fox News journalist who asked him a question he didn’t like was menstruating. He wants to build a big wall all the way along the border to Mexico, and to deport 11-million people.
Carson rates even higher on the gag-ometer. He claims to have tried to kill a classmate with a knife when he was a teenager, although can’t identify the person. He has a painting of him and Jesus wearing bath-robes on his bedroom wall. He thinks the pyramids were built as grain stores, despite every archaeologist in history disagreeing. Try this quote on for size – ‘Obamacare is the worst thing that has happened in this nation, since slavery’. Since slavery.
Both men aren’t mavericks, they’re kooks from the funny-farm. They’re fabulously unqualified to hold office, yet half of Republican voters think one of them should be President.
Things would be strange enough given the gibberish that comes out of their mouths, but the last two months have seen a significant increase in the overtly anti-Islamic rhetoric that all Republican candidates are using, and since Paris we’ve seen things said that indicate a race to the bottom that is not yet over. Trump said that Muslims should carry identity cards, and when asked by the interviewer how that would differ from Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews, said ‘you tell me’. Trump’s the worst, but the rest of the Republican pack are not far behind.
What was once coded dog-whistling politics has become overtly racist hate-speech by Presidential candidates in a way I have never seen before. Muslims make up a small portion of America’s population, and are not an electoral force. As such they make easy targets. But the demonisation is already making it’s way onto the streets. Muslims have been beaten to death in racist attacks. Many say they live in a climate of fear.
Whilst this is terrible for Muslim Americans, it should still be risible, electorally. Conventional wisdom goes like this. The Republican party is so fractured these days that in order to get the nomination you need to gain the vote of the intransigent hard right Tea Party types, and that means saying so many unpalatable things that by the time you get nominated and have to face the full electorate, you can be painted as a loony by your Democratic opponent. Barack Obama successfully played this out in defeating John McCain and more particularly Mitt ‘47%’ Romney in 2012. Romney was actually a moderate by Republican standards, but just could not please everybody all the time. In 2016, the Democrats have (almost definitely) a strong, centrist nominee in Hillary Clinton – if the Republicans put up a freak, she should canter home with ease.
This may be true, but the rising fear of Isis, a rag-tag group of perhaps 30,000 disaffected idiots in Iraq and Syria playing the media like a violin, has already provoked the US, France and Great Britain (and Australia) into considering boots on the ground in the Middle East again. Russia is already there, and after that fighter jet came down are just one incident away from open confrontation with Turkey. A small, ultra-violent Islamist group, unable to hold major cities in two failed and broken countries, is suddenly being portrayed as a threat to Western civilisation.
Nowhere is this more true than in America. 9/11 was over fourteen years ago now, but is regularly invoked as the sum of all fears, and casts the longest of shadows. Remarkably spared Islamic terrorism since that terrible September day, America remains on edge, one fright away from panic.
Speculation is always dangerous, but make no mistake, Isis has international goals, and as we keep playing into their hands each time we suffer an outrage, why not go for the biggest ticket in town – an attack within the US. For all America’s vast security apparatus, nothing can keep everyone safe all the time. One radical Islamist lunatic with a gun could mount a mass killing in America, and guns there aren’t hard to find. That would change everything.
Scared populations, particularly scared American populations fanned by a hysterical media, act irrationally. Go back to 9/11 – George W Bush’s personal approval ratings were in freefall through 2001, but after the attacks Bush received the highest rating in recorded US history. He’d been on holiday all summer, asleep at the wheel. They thought he was terrific. Imagine the effect an attack on US soil would have on next November’s elections. Suddenly the men who have been saying the problem we have is these darn Muslims will be the men who can paint Hillary Clinton as weak and out of touch.
This is speculation, of course. But it won’t take another 9/11 to put the cat amongst the pigeons. One idiot with a Kalashnikov will do. Something strange is brewing in America right now, and it has the potential to turn into something very bad indeed next year. Donald Trump is still the lead candidate for the Republican nomination, and he’s straying dangerously close to fascism with the things he says. If he wins the nomination, all bets are off.