Policy shaped by power in world burdened by grief

Policy shaped by power in world burdened by grief
Sadness and pain from Peshawar to Paris should not blind us to the clichéd responses of those in power. More airstrikes in Syria and Iraq will not help France with its social disintegration. Hypocrisy diverts and only breeds war.
5 min read
15 Jan, 2015
A mother cries as she leaves the reopened Army Public School in Peshawar (AFP)


Imagine the pain that courses through the veins of Andaleeb Aftab, a teacher at the army public school in Peshawar.

On December 16, seven Taliban gunmen entered the school and killed 150 people, including at least 134 children. Among the students was Huzaifa, the 15-year-old son of Andaleeb Aftab.

     All righteous indignation about free speech was absent when French authorities arrested Deiudonné M’bala M’bala for a Facebook post.

It was hard to fight off the tears, she said. But she had to be a role model for her students.

The Taliban said that its murderous rampage came as revenge for army operations in Waziristan, where at least two hundred children have been killed by drone strikes alone.

That one thing happens in Waziristan is no justification for another happening in Peshawar. Retribution against the body of a child is unforgivable.


In April of last year, Boku Haram fighters abducted two hundred schoolgirls from the government secondary school in Chibok in Borno State. A month after they had been picked up a hash tag (Bring Back Our Girls) flooded social media. At Unity Fountain in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, the police disallowed a regular Bring Back Our Girls protest (bringbackourgirls.ng/home/) joined by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, a former minister. The Nigerian federal court subsequently allowed the protests to continue.

But little progress has been made in finding the girls.

In early January of this year, in the town of Baga in the northeast of Nigeria, Boku Haram fighters killed over 2,000 people, many of them children, reported district head Baba Abba Hassan.

One resident who fled the town said, “There is not a single house that is left standing.”

As the shock of the Baga massacre drifted to Abuja, young girls with bombs strapped to their tiny waists exploded in Borno and in Yobe – killing many, throwing Nigeria deeper into another pit of sadness.


A direct line links the massacres of the children in Peshawar and Borno with the terrible bombardment this past summer of the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

Israel’s formidable arsenal took the lives of over two thousand people – at least a third of them were children. Pernille Ironside, the UNICEF chief in Gaza, said, “We see children killed, injured, mutilated and burnt, in addition to being terrified to their core.”

Fourteen-year-old Razan told Ironside that “she preferred to have been killed under the bombardment than to survive and be faced with the ongoing anguish and sense of deprivation and hopelessness.”

To put the Israelis with the Taliban and Boku Haram will certainly rub some people up the wrong way. After all, the latter are designated as terrorist organizations while the former is a recognized member-state of the United Nations. What unites them is not their legal standing in the eyes of the international institutions, however, but their behaviour in warfare, their utter sense of impunity and the harm they cause civilians (with children being the denominator of our grief).

All this reminds me of the callous remark by the former US ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright who, when asked in 1996 about the half a million Iraqi children dead due to the international sanctions regime, said: “We think the price is worth it.”

That’s half a million dead Iraqi children due to a policy pushed by the United States in the 1990s.


Much has been written about the killings in Paris. So many words have been spilled over that tragedy, with 3.7 million people around the world reportedly taking to the streets in protest.

Rightfully there is outrage – however provocative and outrageous the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, their murder was despicable. I have lost too many friends and colleagues in these wars – people such as Syed Saleem Shahzad (in Pakistan) and Selena Shim (in Turkey) – to be cavalier about such deaths. Equally, every journalist will condemn any attempt to narrow what can be said, what can be reported.

Sadly, the reaction of the French government has been the clichéd voice of power rather than the soft voice of sadness that connect the crowds in Paris to Andaleeb Aftab struggling to fight back her tears in Peshawar.

The French Assembly decided to use the attack on Charlie Hebdo to expand its military operations against “jihadism and radical Islamism”. How these will be defined is not clear, although it means that the French will prosecute with more vigour their war against the Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS) in Iraq.

That the killers in Paris had little known operational connection with IS or even al-Qaeda in Yemen is immaterial to the lawmakers. As if air-strikes in Iraq will be help France with its social disintegration – there is as much a direct line from the 2005 Clichy-sous-Bois banlieue riots to the alienation of the French-Algerian brothers as any line that goes from them into northern Syria, Iraq or Yemen.

It's not about free speech. It's about murder. Read Azmi Bishara here

All righteous indignation about free speech was absent French authorities arrested comedian Deiudonné M’bala M’bala for a Facebook post. M’bala wrote: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.” The French comedian took the ubiquitous hash tag Je Suis Charlie and linked it to the kosher supermarket killer Amédy Coulibaly. What he meant by his statement is not clear. It was provocative, as provocative as the new Charlie Hebdo cover that once more portrays the Prophet Muhammad. The one is celebrated, is even funded by the French government. The other faces the French courts.

Self-righteousness is the dominant mode of discussion about the murders in Paris. Free speech, liberty and press freedom are the emblems. Sadness at these acts of violence fails to drive policy. We will get more hypocrisy, more war. It is hardly the tonic against the cycle of violence. More guns are being polished somewhere. More sentiments are being reduced to hate.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily respresent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.