Cynically exploiting a tragedy

November 17, 2015

In an article written for Australian socialist newspaper Red Flag, Ben Hillier argues that Western leaders are using the Paris attacks as an excuse for war and repression.

THE COORDINATED terrorist attacks in Paris are inexcusable--a tragic waste of life that will serve only to strengthen Western imperialism and bring further violence against Muslim populations in Europe, the U.S., Australia and elsewhere as the political right mobilizes to take advantage of the situation.

"We will never understand such hatred," reads today's editorial of Australia's largest circulation paper, the Sunday Herald Sun. What a cheap and easy line; an insult to intelligence and an affront to the dead. Not only the dead in Paris, but the dead in Beirut, in Syria, in Iraq, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, in Yemen...

The Murdoch press is not alone in rendering these acts, which according to reports have taken around 130 lives, "unspeakable" and the work of pure evil. Heinous though these crimes are, such a narrative must be resisted at all cost--not to apologize for the perpetrators, but because such an account lends itself only to more horror, more suffering and more grief.

That Paris is somehow incomprehensible unless viewed through the prism of fanaticism is abject cynicism, deployed by those media and politicians who calculate, grotesquely, that in this outrage rests an opportunity to further stoke the flames of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim prejudice; to further empower the surveillance state; to bolster imperialist armies; to intervene more forcefully in the Middle East; to fortify Western borders and reinforce the divide between plundered and plundering nations. It is a cynicism that strengthens the hand and the violence of the far right--which has been responsible for carrying out its own terrorist attacks on the continent.

France's flag flies at a vigil in London in sympathy with the victims of the Paris attacks
France's flag flies at a vigil in London in sympathy with the victims of the Paris attacks (Christiaan Triebert)

The sheer volume of coverage, not simply the content, is distorting. It suggests that these crimes carry disproportionate weight when compared with the myriad atrocities of Western states, and indeed the political right, which receive such little condemnation. It suggests that these lives are more valuable than those lost elsewhere.

If it were indeed incomprehensible, then only more of the same would do--paranoia toward and brute force deployed against Muslim populations. That is what got us to this point in the first place: 15 years of a "war on terror" that has left perhaps more than 1 million dead and the Middle East in ruins, topping off the longstanding Western carve-up of the region.

Only the willfully blind could fail to notice the obscene corporate profits and political fortunes that have been made out of the resulting human misery. Only the dead at heart could fail to understand the seething rage and abject humiliation that must be felt by those who repeatedly are forced to witness dignity stripped from their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers--the raping, the pillaging, the torturing, the leveling, the disappearing, the occupying. The lifeless "collateral damage" strewn about streets, again and again and again, after another Western air strike; the dictatorial butchers installed, vaunted and played off against each other while their populations suffer.

Each justification for more dead children must feel like a thousand paper cuts or worse to those children's families. And how grave an insult that innocent lives not only are worthless, but degraded further with the insinuation that they had it coming.

The language of war in the aftermath of the Paris attacks is everywhere, as though this were the opening strike.

WHAT MAKES Paris different? Is it the embedded racism of the West, which can sympathize only with white victims of atrocities? Yes, but there is more to it. A coordinated attack in the heart of fortress Europe has exposed the weaknesses of Western state security apparatuses, which more people than ever identify as protectors of the common good.

Leaving aside the cynicism of the media and the Western political elites, the outpouring of solidarity from people in Australia, the U.S. and the rest of Europe, is not simply about "whiteness." It expresses a sense of vulnerability in the West born of real insecurity--generated by a combination of the "war on terror," the collapsing state structures in the Middle East, economic malaise, austerity and the long-term undermining of social solidarity in the neoliberal era.

Last night, the Sydney Opera House and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, among other landmarks, were lit in the tricolor of the French flag--a gesture of goodwill to a people, expressed through an emblem of Western imperialism and colonialism.

Was this ironic? No. Was it hypocritical? Perhaps, depending on who made the decision. Was it color-blind? Absolutely. This flag is emblazoned on the uniforms of the 10,000 French troops currently deployed overseas, mostly in West Africa and the Middle East. It flies atop state prisons, the populations of which are estimated to be 70 percent Muslim and predominantly of Algerian descent.

That people see it as heartfelt, and that so many also now adorn their social media profiles with the same tricolor, only shows that social solidarity has been eroded to an extent that its gesture today is easily and reflexively channeled via the institutions of the powerful, rather than the powerless--in the process whitewashing them, all the better to carry out yet more violence.

If we truly want an end to the terror of the 21st century, our calls for solidarity must be deeper and broader than this. They must extend to all victims of Western state terror. And they must be expressed not through identification with national institutions, but as a gesture toward class unity across borders and against false divisions--unity with our working class brothers and sisters in all nations who daily struggle for secure lives in an insecure world. That solidarity is not color blind--it carries the red flag of internationalism, which once flew proudly over all of Paris.

The politicians and corporate media want none of this. They stand for more violence, not less; for more divisions, not fewer; for more hatred and more misery.

While we stand in genuine solidarity with the victims of Paris, we must stand hard against the rulers who seek to benefit and the politics that take succor from such events.

First published at Red Flag.

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