Reflections on Paris: We need to examine our role in the Middle East

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The next time any of us go out to a restaurant, to a sports event or to a music venue will we be imagining what it would be like to be suddenly confronted by ISIL jihadists shooting at us with machine guns? In all likelihood, we will. And we should, because every Western nation involved in illegal wars and regime change in the Middle East is a target for such attacks.

But simply imagining such an attack does nothing to increase our understanding of the Paris assault, nor does it lead us to a place where we can begin to examine our own government's role in the Middle East and what kind of role we might play instead -- a role that would actually lead over the long term (nothing will change in the short term) to a stable, just peace in that region.

While we are reflecting on the horror of the attacks in Paris we have a responsibility to remember and reflect on the fact that literally every day at least 129 Muslim men, women and children die and hundreds are injured in conflicts initiated or worsened by our governments. How many people sitting in thousands of French, British, American and Canadian restaurants, stadiums and music venues tonight know the history of the hideous destruction of Iraq, the illegal and brutal regime change in Libya (creating a violent failed state from which ISIL operates with impunity), our support of totally corrupt regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, our carte blanche for Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, the encouragement of Syrian opposition groups five years ago to take up armed struggle against a regime whose brutality they were acutely aware of and whose strength they underestimated?

Citizens in Western democracies have not only the responsibility to know what their governments are doing in their name but they are uniquely able, given their democratic rights, to demand of their governments that they end their arrogance and imperial hubris, quit giving Israel everything it asks for in destabilizing the Arab world, and acknowledge that a major reason behind Western military interference in the Middle East is the apparently limitless greed of American and European oil giants.

ISIL's evil genius in the Paris attacks was to precisely attack ordinary citizens going about their ordinary activities and the fact they chose Paris is especially significant: the City of Light, the symbol of the Enlightenment, where Western civilization can be said to have reached its pinnacle.

It is highly unlikely that ISIL saw these attacks as a way of waking up French citizens to the illegal actions of their government in the regime change in Libya, or to send a similar message to other Western citizens about their governments. But surely that is a message we need to take anyway. When suicide bombers say they are killing us in revenge for what we are doing to their countries, why don't we believe them?

We can continue to enjoy our exceptional freedoms and outsized standard of living and declare that we are not interested in "politics" as we head to the shopping mall for our newer model big screen TV.

But unless we wake up and wake up our fellow citizens will we begin to avoid shopping malls for fear that the next bomb will go off there?

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years.

Photo: Kazuky Akayashi/flickr

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