In March 2016, the world’s population reached 7.4 billion people. There’s no way of measuring the complex interplay of uniquely individual choices versus the social, economic, religious and political influences that steer people’s actions willingly, or unwillingly, because one is observing an almost infinite combination of decisions and reactions with every moment. To comprehend a person we reduce them to a fiction, to an enduring illusion remaining ever the same, except where we acknowledge heavily-signposted changes — it allows us to overcome the inconsistency and discontinuity in a normal person’s actions and statements. That same reductionism is how we seek to understand wider swathes of humanity; we substitute a straw-man and let it stand for thousands, if not millions, of individuals. Thus we ‘know’ what a banker is like; what a welfare recipient is like; what a redneck is like; what a Jew/Buddhist/Evangelist/Catholic/Muslim is like — the illusion is comforting in a way that the fluid confusion of reality is not.
In the case of Jesse Hughes and his comments on the Bataclan attack in Paris to Taki’s Magazine, it’s always disheartening to witness such a morass of ignorance issuing from a mouth with a microphone and a media soapbox. Untrue accusations about the security staff colluding with terrorists; outright lying about “Muslims celebrating in the street during the attack”; the fantasy Muslim terrorist boogie-man of his imagination who will “attack us from within”; Hughes’ worldview is completely cut-off from competing perspectives. He welds his pre-existing prejudices (the idea that wearing “traditional Muslim garb” makes one less rather than more likely to be a figure of suspicion) to equivocal and unrelated observations (“the backstage door was propped open”) then tosses in outright falsehood. Because his views are fundamentalist ideology and therefore impervious to rational debate, he explains that the absence of evidence supporting his views, far from showing that his views should be questioned, is proof supporting his views because it can only mean that the media is muzzled by “Arab money floating around.”
His inability to escape the straw-men inside his head becomes clear when — despite having achieved no acts of heroism or resistance of his own during the Bataclan attack — he blames shooting victims for having “surrendered to death in front of my very eyes” and for having been so weak that “three feet away is life and they can’t see it because they’re too scared.” He can’t even acknowledge the victims as human; they exist only as metaphorical products of liberalism – 90 dead facsimiles of the cardboard cut-outs within his worldview. Hughes’ statements rely on an absurdly Hollywood view of reality in which anyone who freezes or runs when faced with the incomprehensibly horrific is mere fodder. The Middle East is in the grip of a complex religious war between different branches of Islam; of wars between different countries; of proxy-wars between rival powers; of revolution against oppressive dictatorial regimes; of the fallout from severe missteps during western intervention; of the full spectrum and continuum of human life and death. His subsuming of a vast number of globe-spanning events into a one-dimensional confrontation between Christianity and Islam ignores the majority of victims and most of what has actually taken place.
Hughes’ untruths are fairly easy to shoot down. One attendee at the Bataclan show — a French Moroccan Muslim — has responded eloquently condemning the attackers for their anti-human nihilism and Hughes’ for his dull-witted ignorance in a post I can only encourage others to share. In direct contrast to Hughes’ worldview, a Muslim security guard risked his life and saved several hundred people regardless of creed, colour, race. Likewise Hughes’ belief in a conspiracy warning Muslims to escape (“There must have been coordination”) is belied by the numerous Muslim victims included a 35 year old waitress and her sister who leave behind a husband and two children; a receptionist whose Algerian father had fought as part of the French army during the Algerian war; Asta Diakité, the cousin of French national football team member Lassana Diarra; a Moroccan architect out with his wife; a violinist and composer studying at the Sorbonne.
The Eagles of Death Metal have since been removed from the line-up at the French Rock En Seine and Cabaret Vert festivals. This doesn’t seem like unreasonable censorship. Hughes has decided to trash the norms of western civilisation, to spread hatred toward a section of society, and has therefore been treated in the same way a pro-Jihadist performer would be (with the distinction that he’s not been arrested.) He’s entitled to speak his mind to anyone who might listen — but not to demand a right to be paid by private organizers for the privilege of spouting hateful nonsense toward national citizens, their children, their parents, their families.
The stupidity of Hughes’ comments, however, reaffirms the need to carefully examine individual incidents in their specific contexts. Hughes’ mentioned football fans booing during a minute of silence — and he was right that, in Istanbul on 17th November, an incident did take place. There’s no denying it. What can be readily denied, however, is that such incidents show some kind of universal Muslim response. In fact, in October, a minute of silence commemorating a bombing in Ankara that killed and wounded 500 Turkish trade unionists and opposition party members was similarly interrupted. What such incidents show are that ‘some’ fans had no interest in, nor understanding of, the entire concept of a minute of silence; that ‘some’ fans preferred to shout anti-terrorist slogans; that the noise of ‘some’ fans drowned out the silence of many fans; that ‘some’ fans couldn’t care less about a hundred dead in a country on the other side of the continent any more than that country cares for Muslim or Turkish terror victims; and that, yes, ‘some’ fans likely support ISIS. Ignoring the vast diversity of individual views present in a crowd — or taking football fans as representative of a global religion of several billion adherents — and adopting Hughes’ simplistic one-liners ignores numerous individual actions in a stadium. Furthermore it says nothing about what happened at the Bataclan; it ignores the French Muslims who joined their fellow nationals in mourning and protest against the actions of ISIS and it ignores the Muslims across Europe who actively protest and demonstrate against ISIS. As one defiant tribute left at the Bataclan addressed ISIS; “We are Muslim. You are terrorists and imposters.”
The Columbine school-shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, have been idolized by a small number of white American youths — it doesn’t mean white American youth are supporters of killing children. Anders Breivik massacred 77 people and injured 319 in the name of white Christianity — but that doesn’t mean all white Christians bear any responsibility or shame for his actions. The killers of the Bataclan bear responsibility for their actions; those who supported them bear that crime; all but a small minority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims do not. One of the glories of western civilisation is that we extend to Hughes the acknowledgement of his individuality that he denies to anyone of Muslim faith. Hughes is a *insert insult here — prizes for the best one*, but his views do not reflect upon his bandmates who unfortunately will suffer a loss of income and public support thanks to his actions — he’s hurt his friends and that’s his responsibility. His views, despite the kneejerk anti-Americanism that (annoyingly) infects many conversations, say nothing about Americans in general — only about a small fraction of a continent-sized country of 319 million people.
Likewise, Hughes’ views are not proof that ‘rock music’ in general is racist or reactionary. Popular music, like any broad gathering of humanity, has always had such elements — and their polar opposite — going right back to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin using Sammy Davis, Jr. as a foil for showbiz razzmatazz, for racial stereotypes and for racist humour. During the Seventies, a band as talented as Thin Lizzy had trouble getting on radio because of Phil Lynott’s skin while record labels would market Eighties black rock bands — like Sound Barrier or Living Colour — in disco packaging because they saw rock as white man music. It’s still here now in that minority who can’t distinguish between performers of ethnic origin and ‘gangstas’; between a Muslim and a terrorist.
The night of the attacks, I texted one of my Muslim friends in Paris. She responded, trying her best to describe how seeing the events unfold on the screen had shocked her into physical numbness; that she had cried throughout. She felt a deep foreboding too, the same fear of further terrorist attacks felt by all her friends in the city — regardless of creed or colour. But she was also keenly aware of a double-threat to her loved ones. She feared terrorist killers bearing a warped and illegitimate interpretation of her faith but also wondered whether — whenever her elderly mother, father, brothers, nieces and nephews, leave their homes —there would be an idiot with views like Hughes, or an idiot who listens to people like him, who can’t distinguish between frail old folk attending mosque and ‘the enemy’. Who can’t tell the difference between a child praying and someone who deserves to be punished for the sins of others.
J’Accuse Jesse Hughes.