14 November 2015

Terrorism, outrage, selective memory and uncomfortable questions

Two weeks ago, on the 31st of October, 224 passengers – Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian – on a Russian Airbus, Metrojet flight 9268, were killed in a plane crash in the Egyptian Sinai; Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack. Two days ago, on the 12th of November, two suicide bombers affiliated with Daesh killed 44 and wounded another 239 people in Beirut: the targets were Shi’a Muslims living in a Hezbollah-friendly neighbourhood. Yesterday, another Daesh suicide bomber in Baghdad killed 19 Shi’a and wounded another 30. And now a fourth tragedy has taken its toll on Paris, where 129 people were killed and another 200 wounded in another terrorist attack. Once again, Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack. Depraved attacks on civilians, just like this one, happen all the time in Syria, and have been for the past three years.

Yet it is the Paris attacks that have garnered the most media attention from the West, and certainly the most sympathy. The 224 dead Russians just days previously had been the target of blasphemous scorn and mockery from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which itself had been the target of a terrorist attack in January this year. There has been relative media silence about the killings in Lebanon and Iraq. Yet Facebook is now filled with French flags and the republican tricolour is even as we speak flying from public buildings around the world.

That last is not a bad thing, considered in itself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with showing sympathy for the victims of the Parisian terror attack. But let us be absolutely clear about this. The party which has claimed responsibility for all of these heinous atrocities, Daesh, would simply not exist if it had not been for a number of factors, chief among which are the 2003 war in Iraq, and a civil war which has been actively, maliciously fomented in Syria by numerous actors – the French government ranking high among them, right alongside ours and Britain’s.

The selective outrage that pours out effusive white-hot grief and anger over white secular French victims, while passing quickly over brown Shi’ite and Christian Arabic victims stems, I believe, from a highly-selective memory. At that, a selective memory driven by a prideful need to leave uncomfortable questions of recent imperialism and state-driven violence unexplored. We in the West, broadly speaking, including France, Britain and the United States, do not particularly like being confronted with the fruits of our own evil. Such confrontation might provoke reflection; it might provoke questioning of our authorities; it might provoke contrition and repentance. How much simpler it is when we can draw the line between good and evil, straight down neat geographical and political lines!

It’s no comfort at all to the victims, of course, who have little enough to do with the actions of their governments, even in an age which still hasn’t quite managed to drop the pretense of being democratic. But reality isn’t quite so simple. The attacks of Daesh are heinous and wicked enough, but they are not mindless and they do not happen in a vacuum. The uncomfortable question should be asked: would these attacks have happened at all if the American and French governments had treated their Russian and Syrian counterparts – the ones who are now forced to fight Daesh, the latter for its very survival – with greater respect, or paid greater heed to the warnings that had always been given to us?

But it strikes me that this selective memory is a necessity, indeed a psychological crutch, for those who subscribe to the insane superstition – I know not what else to call it – that the interventionist foreign policy our governments in the West have been pursuing consistently this past decade and a half serves any real purpose, or will somehow keep us safe. Has France’s belligerent foreign policy toward Syria kept it safe from attacks like this one, or the one in January? Has anyone’s safety and welfare been served at all by our aggressive and punitive posture against Russia? Is our selective attention in these cases coming from an unwillingness to acknowledge the lack of accountability in our own political institutions, and our ignorance and powerlessness in the way that they function?

No comments:

Post a Comment