“3.7 Million March In Paris… World Leaders Join Demonstrators In Mourning And Defiance… French PM: ‘Today, Paris Is The Capital Of The World’…”


An accompanying headline boomed, “AT WAR WITH RADICAL ISLAM.” The reaction was in response to the Charlie Hebdo and Grocery Store attacks. Millions jumped on the bandwagon and declared their solidarity — much of the outpouring was, however, tinged with heavy doses of racism and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Far from being instructive or provoking a discussion, it resembled the posturing of the 90-pound nerd at a high school football game shaking his fist at the opposing team yelling “we showed you.”

 My reaction to these events has been one of frustration.

I became a professor because it was a place I could search for the truth. As I studied about Latin America and Mexican Americans, it was apparent to me that there could be no truth without knowledge of the forgotten people. In order to find answers I needed to ask pourquoi? (por qué in Spanish and also pourquoi in French).

A French female commentator cast a bright light on the question saying that the question should be why are so many French-born Muslim youth attracted to these radical movements? Most, according to her, are not from religious families or religious themselves.

The answer, according to her, could be found in the Muslim ghettoes of Paris and the rest of Europe where separate and unequal societies exist. Violence and racism increase cultural and racial tensions that have led to riots such as the Paris regions of October 2005, when an immigration law banned Muslim women from wearing the niqab. Unemployment and a sense of hopelessness make many youth restless and even desperate.

Outside the ghettoes, tensions are worsened by the xenophobia of the Rupert Murdocks who are fanning a race war. 

The marchers were led by world leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who joined French President Francois Hollande – all are heads of former Western Colonial powers. They were joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who elbowed his way to the head of the line and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Nowhere is the chasm between the first and the third worlds as glaring as it was at this event. Film actor Boris Kodjoe criticized the world leaders who attended the unity march over the deaths of 17 people who were killed last week and ignoring 2,000 deaths that occurred in Nigeria. Why was no one marching for 2,000 murdered Nigerians? Or for that matter the carnage that is occurring in Mexico?

In all this fanfare, “POURQUOI” has become a victim drowned out by chest thumping. On Sunday I watched the Golden Globes. As usual, Tina Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s monologue was the centerpiece of the gala where white Hollywood is intent on showing it is the custodian of free speech. In order to show its defiance, Fey and Poehler trotted out a skit of a North Korean that was frankly racist. The Korean actress who played the part (Margaret Cho) said that it could not be racist because she was Korean. Using that logic, a racist stereotype of a Mexican or black by Mexican and black actors cannot be racist. POURQUOI?

Adding to the circus was Bill Maher, who slammed Islam in the wake of Charlie Hebdo. For the last ten years, Maher has made a career defending Israel and attacking Muslims. Comedian Janeane Garofalo, a frequent guest of the Maher show criticized Maher on his Israeli bias and called his portrayal of Muslims unfair.

Professor Reza Aslan,  an Iranian-American writer, scholar of religious studies and a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside has appeared on the Maher show and had him for breakfast correcting many of Maher’s religious views.

Nevertheless, Maher is the darling of the American left. After all he is an atheist,  and once lost his show for being politically incorrect.

When passions take over and we forget to ask pourquoi, reason is the loser. I can understand the anger over the death of 17 people, but why isn’t there that same outrage over the conditions that have created these two worlds? Pourquoi?

Some will respond that everyone has to take responsibility for their lives, which is an inchoate view of history. The Africans are in Paris because of a historical process and history matters. They are the former slaves of the French and other Western European Empires that Joseph Conrad wrote so graphically about in “Heart of Darkness” (1899). The words of Kurtz as he dies and whispers weakly “The horror!“ have come back to haunt Western Europe.

We cannot wish away the sins of the past.

In asking pourquoi, we must examine the assertions of “liberals” such as Maher. Is Islam the most violent religion in the world? If we got rid of it, would the Evil Empire go away?

All religion is violent — just read the Old Testament. In Exodus 17:12, everyone remembers Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ arms till sunset but most forget the context. They forget that the act of murder is rampant in the Bible, where there are laws that command that people be killed for absurd reasons. In Exodus, god commands the Israelis to leave Egypt and make war on the inhabitants of the promised land. In the Valley the Israelis slaughter men, women and children commanded by god, overwhelming a superior force. They prevail as long as Moses’ arms are extended.

 The message is that god did the killing.

The truth be told, every religion envisions its followers as the chosen people. Predestination runs through Puritan teachings. Manifest Destiny is a replay of Exodus, and in the end 2 million to 18 million died in North America alone. It rationalized the theft of half of Mexico’s territory. Just as the symbol of the cross rationalized the deaths of millions of Mexican Indians whose population fell from 25 million to one million in 80 years.  Pourquoi?

During the Paris march “One young protester,” is quoted as saying,“I am here because our society today lacks solidarity. We must have a society with more solidarity.” Pourquoi?

Most ignore that the crisis of capitalism has had disastrous economic and social consequences — unemployment, poverty and insecurity. It also challenges the most desperate as they seek comfort in religious norms. For most, the motto of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” has no meaning.  Like one commentator put it for those outside the system  the French Republic is based on a system whose real motto is: “exploitation, inequality and repression.”

The murder of 17 people is a tragedy no dispute. Freedom of expression is vital, but there are limitations. I am sure that the white racist hollering “greaser” believes that it is his right of free speech. But we have to ask: pourquoi?

In today’s world it seems as if freedoms have become part of white middle class privilege often conditioned by the hue of one’s skin. The poor are trapped in poverty but want the same things we all do. But they cannot hear the fight of the 3.7 million marchers — pourquoi?

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an American historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos,” which approaches the history of the Southwestern United States that includes Mexican Americans.