A new year is here and, with it, an opportunity to try and make sense of some of the happenings from last year.
It's the anniversary of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, where gunmen stormed the offices of a small French satirical magazine and killed some of the creatives behind the publication. This atrocity, like many before it, had religion at its root cause. Whilst this point has been up for debate, with some arguing that madmen don't need religion to kill, in this instance it's difficult to say that religion did not play a major role.
Islamic extremists took responsibility for the attacks, claiming that Charlie Hebdo had committed some sort of crime by publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammad. Interestingly, this point of view was echoed by many around the world, even those who would condemn this kind of violence. Whereas some concluded that Charlie Hebdo ought to have known better than to poke fun at such provocative subject matter.
The concerning part of all this is that these occurrences are now becoming more common. In the same way that the United States has accepted gun violence as part of everyday life, the world is becoming less shocked by these acts of terrorism.
That's not to say the world isn't outraged and disgusted. But we now almost expect these kinds of attacks to happen. What makes it worse is that, often, the people in charge of governing us, of creating laws and policies, capitalise on these atrocities for their own selfish purposes.
Suddenly we increase our military presence in the Middle East. We racially profile the people best positioned to help combat this sort of violence, and we come down hard on clock-building school kids, driving potentially brilliant minds away with our fear and hatred. Worst of all, we support, encourage and publicise this kind of bigoted fear mongering by way of the upcoming US presidential election.
It's easy to see why Donald Trump is the front-runner for the republican nomination. He isn't tainted by the disdain and mistrust we have for politicians, who seem to care more for self-preservation than public representation. He is a man committed to a cause, he genuinely believes he can make America great and he abhors terrorism. If you stop reading now, he is the ideal candidate for the job of President of the United States of America.
The fatal flaw in the Trump campaign is also the source of his current strength -- Everyman syndrome. When you watch Trump debate or give a speech, you can imagine taking the elaborate venue away and replacing it with him sitting at the bar of a pub, drunkenly discussing current events:
- How do we solve a problem like religious extremism, where ordinary but fed-up people are lured into committing acts of violence for a cause they may not be that passionate about? Easy, ban Muslims from the country.
- How do we tackle the issue of immigration and the strain on national finance? Piece of cake, deport all Mexicans and build a wall.
- How do we tackle gun violence and protect our citizens? Simple, arm everyone and let them handle it.
It's easy to mock and make fun of some of what Trump has to say, and commentators will assure us that he will never make it to the White House. But with the media coverage of terror threats increasing, with the war on terror appearing to be a thinly disguised attempt to control oil reserves, and with no real solution in sight, whilst Trump says a lot of horrendous things, he actually does say something. The American public may or may not see through the theatrics to make a rational choice, but even if Trump doesn't go the distance his antics will raise serious questions for the next incumbent.
If we can learn anything from the Charlie Hebdo attack, it's that the way to beat extremism is to treat it for what it is: pantomime performed by the minority for attention. Charlie Hebdo successfully beat their attackers, not through extreme retaliation but by mourning their loss, picking themselves up and carrying on with the nation behind them. The terrorists achieved nothing.
Unfortunately, should Trump be elected it could be argued that the terrorists will have achieved more than they could have ever hoped for; an altogether more dangerous extremist occupying the most powerful position on Earth.