In the days following the horrific attacks in Paris, which claimed the lives of over 100 civilians and injured hundreds more, I returned to the United States from Europe after a long visit with family and friends. I was not in Paris this time, but I did spend time in France. I, like so many others, have a connection with the ‘City of Light’ so this tragedy struck me in a visceral way. Whenever something like this happens there is shock accompanied by despair. But I am reminded that despite how abhorrent this incident was, there is a big world outside Western borders that suffers this each and every day and on a much larger scale. And its misery is mostly due to our willful ignorance and our leaders penchant for division, aggression and plunder.
To the powerful of the world irony is something reserved for satirists. It is easily dismissed. Hypocrisy is not in their vocabulary either. In response to the attacks French President Francois Hollande said “France is at war.” This statement is astonishing given the country’s long history of colonialism and recent events in its foreign policy.
One might ask Mr. Hollande what the assault on Libya that left thousands dead and demolished one of the richest nations in Africa was if it was not war? Or the continued military aid to Saudi Arabia and Israel which have mercilessly slaughtered thousands in Yemen and Gaza in the last two years alone? Or France and NATO’s relentless bombing of Syria over the past few years which has done nothing but create unimaginable suffering in what once was a jewel in the Middle-East’s crown?
Unsurprisingly, in the United States political opportunists have used the tragedy in Paris to ramp up anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Syrian refugee rhetoric. Incredulously, these are the same ones who drone on endlessly each year about the non-existent “war on Christmas” on a holiday which commemorates a Middle-Eastern family seeking refuge from terror over 2000 years ago. But they cannot be bothered by such irony either, nor can they take any responsibility for a legacy of American imperialistic plunder that has fostered constant misery for millions of people daily around the world. By all accounts, crippling sanctions and the invasion of Iraq, a war based upon lies, spawned the creation of ISIS. But now it is being talked about as if it sprang out of nowhere.
The propaganda of politicians and the mainstream media, which revel in beating the drums of nationalistic xenophobia, is ubiquitous these days. And their selective grief and outrage encourages a largely misinformed public to ignore the long list of Western backed atrocities that have caused the refugee crisis to begin with. For instance, just weeks ago the US military bombed a Doctors Without Borders run hospital in Afghanistan, burning patients to death in their beds and incinerating doctors and staff alike. But critical coverage of this was scant in the mainstream press. The same applies to grief. On the same day as the attacks in Paris suicide bombers killed scores in Beirut, but media coverage of this tragedy was dwarfed by the enormous attention that has been paid to Paris.
For the rest of us there is a choice. We can ignore the enormous costs of imperialism and neoliberal capitalism and believe the lies of the war profiteers; or we can choose a path toward shared humanity that sees no boundaries of worthiness when it comes to suffering. We can also oppose the political and economic order that is rapidly destroying fragile ecosystems and that perpetuates alienation and misery in most of the world.
Solidarity with those suffering in Paris is to be commended; and there is no shame in expressing it publicly. But if we do not come to realize soon that we must seed the fields of empathy for all who suffer needlessly on this ever smaller and beleaguered planet, I fear we will doom ourselves and our children to a world of perpetual savagery or even, possibly, end civilization itself once and for all.
Kenn Orphan 2015