And All That We Breathe: Musings on Multiple Fronts
by Mari A. Gomez
It begins with the initial shock as news reports come in. A terrorist attack. Then, the images and witness accounts, the reactions to the dead and injured. The identity and stories of the victims follow, along with details of the killers. It dominates the conversation. After that, it becomes something else, a remnant of its actual monstrosity; it nourishes the talking points and fades in the news feed, soon absorbed by the larger narrative. Pieces of it, perhaps, impressions, images, sound bytes, seep into the collective consciousness until another occurs and it happens all over again.
To a person removed from the occurrences, what is the cumulative effect of these attacks? How does a common person internalize this? It is un-quantifiable and impossible to gauge, but all that is out in the atmosphere, the movement of the world, the ideas that float in the air, societies fears and tribulations, are breathed in and in a slow, perhaps subconscious way, it alters perceptions, understanding, and behavior.
As a young person a concert can be more than mere entertainment. It is a participation in ritual, a type of incantation and exchange of energy and ideas. It is a way to inject oneself with the spirit of the times and a way to viscerally converse with a sliver of the zeitgeist as it swirls around in the ether. That concert, those songs, the anger/love/angst/ that lives and blossoms in them, might just be a strata in the DNA of that precise moment in time.
I got to reflecting on the fact the massacre at the Bataclan in Paris in 2015 and the Manchester bombing involved American acts. By definition terrorism happens among civilian populations in an attempt to achieve a political end or message. However, the target of many of these attacks is a very odd opposition because the target is elusive, something more emblematic of a different way of thinking.
The Bataclan attack was an assault to the West, more specifically the American presence and its French fans. These young French people were participants in a conversation. These cultural events and what drives them, in this case a loud and witty rock and roll, connects people in a very metaphysical, perhaps spiritual way. These events are pressure points, linked to the bigger body of living and breathing ideas. An attack to one of these points sends subtle, but powerful shock-waves through the West’s cultural nervous system.
Perhaps the Eagles of Death Metal represented a mischievous humor, to some extent irreverence, a freedom to lash out, to be wild, to revel, to love and get drunk, that these terrorists either cannot comprehend or simply grow to resent. By his own admission Jesse Hughes, the singer for the band, is a rather conservative dude, likes guns, is pro American. According to a few reports, one of the killer’s phone revealed there had been some online searches of the band. Did the killers listen to their songs? Did they Wikipedia The Eagles of Death Metal and base their hate on perfunctory details? Did they see their tattoos and their crazy outfits and did they see that as representation of whatever American aggression they had seen in Syria?
According to that report, which cites the police report as the source, witnesses recalled hearing the killers ask, “Where is the singer? Where are those Yanks?” In a similarly odd account, according to survivors, one of the killers played the xylophone that was on stage as he laughed maniacally at the audience, mocking them. If these details are true, it's very telling. However, they were cited only in a few places. Allegedly the killer also reference American and French bombing, suggesting that they had in fact targeted an American band in retaliation for American policy in Syria. They may have definitely had an intent to affect foreign policy of these nations, but they figured out that the way to do it was through these back channels of culture. ISIS had apparently just changed their modus operandi and called for a more indiscriminate attack plan that targeted "everything."
The Bataclan attack was part of a bigger plot, which involved others that were to detonate inside a football stadium where France and Germany were playing a friendly match. Their plan was ultimately botched, but they intended to kill people as they entered a football game in support and celebration of their national team. Football it seems would be another pressure point, as it is central to European culture and national pride. On the same night, as part of the same plot, there was a car driving around to nearby cafes and shooting people indiscriminately as they sat in outside terraces, drinking, laughing, smoking cigarettes.
In the case of Ariana Grande, had the lone killer gone on You Tube and watched her provocative, rather tasteless posing in front of the camera? Had he masturbated to these videos and hated her for it? Was he disgusted by her innuendo and suggestive lyrics? It’s quite possible to imagine that she represents a lifestyle, an attitude that rattles their world view. Grande is also a very Western creation, in the sense of the young pop star with lavish live shows, formulaic pop songs, that sells an easily marketable image and sex appeal that attract the young and impressionable. According to the killer’s sister, the Manchester terrorist was upset about American bombing in Syria.
Perhaps her concert was just another American invasion of sorts, in what they now consider, given that most of them are European nationals, at least in part, their territory.
Whether the killers consciously knew it or not, the Eagles of Death Metal and Ariana Grande have an intangible connection with their fans. There was something in that room, that is both a threat to these guys’ extreme ideology and a portal to the heart of what they are trying to destroy.
British singer Morissey called out his country’s leaders in a statement that unsurprisingly received a lot of backlash from the P.C police but expressed an accurate sentiment. He writes in part:
"In modern Britain everyone seems petrified to officially say what we all say in private. Politicians tell us they are unafraid, but they are never the victims. How easy to be unafraid when one is protected from the line of fire. The people have no such protections."
These attacks are not targeting Parliament, or politician’s houses or vehicles, or diplomats and embassies; they aim for the heart of Western culture and where it manifests.
The attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 2015 was an attack on the liberty of expression. A defilement of the spirit of imagination and art. Aside from the tragic casualties and the immediate pain, the event reverberated here in an unfortunate way. It prompted questions about the “limits” of freedom of speech. That was one of the narratives and we look around a few years later, in tandem with other political influences and factors and we see the “hate speech” police and University’s buckling to ‘controversial’ speakers as a rising trend. Now, we find ourselves at a time where speech is constantly being shut down by protesters who are unwilling or unable to handle it.
The day of March 22, 2017 on Westminster Bridge in London the attacker did not choose a dark corner of England or a school with British schoolchildren, he chose a pressure point. Fifty people of at least twelve different nationalities were injured. One American was killed.
The Nice attack of 2016, a man rammed a truck into pedestrians happened on Bastille Day, a day that represents French culture and history and where tourists join the celebration. Two Americans were killed in that attack, one an eleven year old boy.
The London bridge attack in June, a buzzing nightlife spot where people go out to have drinks, get rowdy, and indulge in the Dionysian offerings of the modern Western life included casualties that were French, Canadian, Australian, and Spanish nationals.
They are attacking beyond discernible borders. Even the bombing in Brussels which was near many EU buildings, targeted an international airport and train station where travelers and tourists are likely to be present. Four Americans were killed there. So with one kill shot they send reverberations across oceans. They are slowly puncturing that innate aspect of a free people, that unbridled spirit and somehow our very own society is preventing us from becoming defensive of it, protecting it, and even becoming angry.
In an interview conducted by Gavin McInnes for Taki Magazine, the Eagles of Death Metal described their harrowing experience at the Bataclan. They expressed their suspicions about the venue security and their feelings about Islam and the cultural deterioration of the West that has led to a subdued fighting instinct. This was a fascinating point: the idea that he saw people incapable of fighting for their own lives, due to an absolute paralysis. Jesse Hughes attributed this, or seemed to attribute this, or was pondering on it as a possibility, to a culture unaccustomed to defending itself. A culture rendered absolutely helpless in the face of terror as a result or a manifestation of harmful politics. Perhaps, a culture that is far too dependent on government or has been sheltered, promised a impossible utopian society where everyone is equal and we are all the same. And this is a fascinating point, for we must wonder whether our own political correctness and fears have actually bred an entire generation of vulnerable people, incapable of saving what rightly belongs to them.
Of course, after the comments about Islam several of the band’s gigs were canceled in France, depriving expecting audiences of their live performance. So in effect, the terrorists had also won in that regard; for, even if momentary, they halted our conversation and hijacked it. After they saw their fans’ brains explode and had their skull fragments on their face, the Eagles of Death Metal were ousted for being politically incorrect, for suggesting something. Jesse Hughes had to apologize. That was almost two years ago and the conversation is the same. Somehow a fear of offending has surpassed the importance of saving the American culture and what it stands for.
A few days after the Manchester bombing the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals declared Trump’s travel ban unconstitutional, thus halting Trump’s order for the third time. In the decision the court states that “in context [the executive order drips with religious intolerance and animus.” (pg.12) "Drips?" The context refers to comments made by Trump during the campaign trail going back almost two years.
The court stated that President Trump’s temporary travel restrictions will “cause feelings of disparagement and exclusion” (pg.25) to people waiting to get into the U.S and/or their families.
Another Plaintiff, the Middle East Studies Association, was also fighting Trump’s executive order, as stated in the court document, because it would cost a reduction in attendance to their annual conference and cause the organization to lose 18,000 dollars in fees. (pg. 25-26)
A United States court sided with the feelings of non-citizens? They sure as hell did, but mostly they just HATE Trump.
This isn’t about constitutionality. It’s about politics. An ACLU lawyer fighting against the Order stated that if Hillary Clinton had proposed the same Order it would be constitutional. They're worried about America hurting people's feelings?
Whether this temporary travel ban prevents any terrorist attack is impossible to say. More than anything it would be in some form symbolic, to show that America is moving towards protecting its borders and itself. Most if not all of the attackers in the recent attacks had either been on the radar, detained, suspected, and/or recently returned from Syria or Libya.
Manchester, just like Paris, was an attack at our cultural compatriots.
It was reported that one of the terrorists that blew himself up in front of the stadium of France was wearing a Bayern Munich jersey. Recently a British tabloid was criticized for pointing out that the killer at the London bridge attack was wearing an Arsenal jersey.
But that’s precisely it. Arsenal soccer team and football in general represents a part of England that is essential and central to their national identity and this motherfucker had adopted it and then used it against its own people. He had probably loved football at some point, talked about it with neighbors or friends.
In Manchester, that asshole died wearing American clothing: jeans, tennis shoes, a backpack, a Hollister jacket, an archetypal image of a Westernized student and literally blew it up from the inside.
The battlefield is on multiple fronts, one of which is a very fluid and vulnerable place. The cultural shores, where our own politics have become dangerous and our enemies have adopted our uniforms. On June 11 2017, three U.S Army Rangers were killed in an insider attack by an infiltrated 'freedom fighter.' This means he was working alongside American soldiers and then simply turned his gun on them. It happened again a couple of days later, when another insider attack wounded American soldiers. Apparently, it's not that uncommon. So, who exactly are we fighting? Ourselves?
The war is not just in the Middle East, it's not just in the terrorist attacks on London or France, the reach is much deeper than that. The war is in the realm of ideas and expression, where culture happens: in art and in the regular lives of people who are formed by the narratives they breathe. Except the air is toxic.