Like legions of filmmakers before them, Islamic State made full use of Paris’ cinematic qualities.
Much has been written about the disparity between the responses to the attacks in France compared to those in Lebanon the previous day, so it seems worth noting that IS, too, probably considered that the French victims were worthy of a more complex narrative than their Lebanese predecessors had been. The carnage in the impoverished Bourj el-Barajneh neighbourhood was basic no-frills kitchen-sink realism, with two bombs (a third failed to detonate) killing 46 people and injuring more than 200 others.
The production values in the Paris attack were far superior. By combining bomb attacks with shootings and hostage-taking, IS (if it was in fact IS) instilled the Paris attacks with an element of suspense and unpredictability that it could not be bothered to bestow on Beirut. Audiences around the world were able to follow the Paris attacks as they unfolded from sources including amateur and professional video footage, eyewitness reports from the street, and tweets posted by the some of the terrified hostages held in the Bataclan concert hall. By the time the outside world found out about the attacks in Beirut, it was all over, bar the body-count and IS’ claim of responsibility.
The contrast in staging between the Beirut and Paris attacks follows an established IS pattern. As I wrote in this article last year, its snuff movies “place a higher value on the lives of white Americans than of Arabs, with the murders of James Foley and now apparently Steven Sotloff rating their own mini-features, while the ‘Oriental’ victims are disposed of in mass executions”. White lives just provide better clickbait.
Last week, US officials announced that they were almost certain that they had “evaporated” the celebrity executioner from those videos, Mohammed Emwazi, aka “Jihadi John”. This was claimed as an important symbolic victory over IS, even though Emwazi had not appeared in any recent propaganda from the organisation. The warnings from those — including family members of some of Emwazi’s victims — who said that his extra-judicial execution served no useful purpose have been underscored by attacks in Beirut and Paris.
I did not expect Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) to join the global wave of condemnations for the Paris attacks at their seminar in Melbourne on Saturday night. After all, Hizb ut-Tahrir media spokesman Wassim Doureihi made headlines for his refusal to condemn IS during a heated argument with Emma Alberici on Lateline last year. The refusal to condemn is an HT hallmark — and one that strikes a chord with the growing number of Muslims who have become fed up with being held responsible for any atrocity committed by any Muslim, anywhere.
Saturday’s seminar attracted a large and attentive audience — indeed, the most well-behaved audience that I’ve ever seen at a Muslim event. They arrived on time and managed to find their way to a new venue after being told that the Darebin Community Arts Centre had cancelled HT’s booking. They sat quietly even when the speakers droned on and on beyond their allocated times. They took notes.
The word “narrative” was used again and again throughout Saturday’s seminar, as speakers urged the audience to resist conforming to a storyline in which “radical Muslims” present the primary risk to global peace and security while Western atrocities are ignored or excused. This provided a pretext for the forcible imposition of “liberal values” upon Islam. And according to Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Uthman Badar, “Muslims are not only expected to be grateful but to celebrate having these values imposed upon them”.
Ataman Atlas was introduced as a comedian as well as a lawyer, and the audience certainly laughed when he told them that they could see that he wasn’t a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir because he didn’t have a beard. “I mean, look at these guys!” — gesturing towards the lavishly bearded HT males. Atlas described himself as an independent advocate who was working with HT because, unlike other Muslim community organisations, HT has refused to endorse the dominant government and media narratives that serve to oppress Muslims. He reserved his own condemnations for Muslim leaders who were prepared to serve up regular condemnations for crimes committed in the name of Islam:“I condemn this, I condemn that!”
He noted that the Islamic Council of Victoria had immediately condemned the attack in Paris while allowing other atrocities and injustices to pass without comment. Why did the ICV and other Muslim community organisations not put a similar amount of effort into resisting the new anti-terrorism legislation, which, among other measures, would allow children as young as 14 to be subjected to control orders?
No condemnation of the Paris attacks from him, then, or from any of the other speakers that evening.