Monday, November 16, 2015


The atrocity in Paris was so awful and the stories so heartbreaking that you would have thought there might be a pause for thought, for some deeper reflection and for the evidence to emerge before embarking on the latest round of speculative bollocks. But no. First out of the blocks were the anti-Muslim fantasists and the anti-immigration right. They were followed rapidly by the self-hating left, beautifully satirised by Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar here:
“Nope. We created you. We installed a social and economic system that alienates and disenfranchises you, and that’s why you did this. We’re sorry.”

“What? Why are you apologizing? We just slaughtered you mercilessly in the streets. We targeted unwitting civilians – disenfranchisement doesn’t even enter into it!”

“Listen, it’s our fault. We don’t blame you for feeling unwelcome and lashing out.”

“Seriously, stop taking credit for this! We worked really hard to pull this off, and we’re not going to let you take it away from us.”

“No, we nourished your extremism. We accept full blame.”

“OMG, how many people do we have to kill around here to finally get our message across?”
But what I dislike most are the cynics. They sneer at people changing their Facebook profile pictures or posting statements expressing their sympathy. Yet this is all most people can do. It is a moral act; an act that is both individual and collective. It says, 'we are with you, the victims, and against the terrorists. The action was evil and we have to find some way of saying it.' It is a fine gesture, even if a small one, from people remote from the event and unable to influence it. And it is that same impulse that transforms others, who had the misfortune to be there, into heroes. If you want to understand more about humanity, look beyond the crime itself and what you will see is an ocean of kindness responding to a sea of barbarism. This survivor's account has gone viral and in it she too pays tribute to that human impulse.
But being a survivor of this horror lets me able to shed light on the heroes. To the man who reassured me and put his life on line to try and cover my brain whilst i whimpered, to the couple whose last words of love kept me believing the good in the world, to the police who succeded in rescuing hundreds of people, to the complete strangers who picked me up from the road and consoled me during the 45 minutes I truly believed the boy i loved was dead, to the injured man who i had mistaken for him and then on my recognition that he was not Amaury, held me and told me everything was going to be fine despite being all alone and scared himself, to the woman who opened her doors to the survivors, to the friend who offered me shelter and went out to buy new clothes so i wouldnt have to wear this blood stained top, to all of you who have sent caring messages of support - you make me believe this world has the potential to be better. to never let this happen again. but most of this is to the 80 people who were murdered inside that venue, who weren't as lucky, who didnt get to wake up today and to all the pain that their friends and families are going through. I am so sorry. There's nothing that will fix the pain.
So fuck your sneering, fuck your irony. This is not the time for cynicism.

One of the most irritating themes is the one that keeps mentioning how the same attention was not given to other outrages, such as the Beirut bomb. The posts usually start with some line that the 'mainstream media' (another sneer) won't tell you this. Of course this isn't true, the authors just haven't bothered to look at the multitude of reports everywhere. This happens a lot. However, they are right about one thing. It won't get as much coverage here as Paris will. But because of this, they insinuate that the grief is insincere, inauthentic, and implicitly racist. By mourning Paris and not Beirut you are a heartless imperialist. European lives are worth more to you. What this is designed to do is not to include the horror in Lebanon, but to invalidate the grief and anger over France. It is about neutralising the response. It's political, obviously, but it's also dishonest. Let me explain.

I live in Eccles. This is the home town of Alan Henning, the taxi driver and volunteer aid worker murdered by ISIS in Syria. Even today there are impeccably maintained memorials to him all over the town. Yellow ribbons are still tied to houses and railings, replaced regularly when spoiled by the rain, and each bearing a personal message. Does this mean that because Henning alone is commemorated Eccles is a town of heartless bastards who are uninterested in the appalling deaths of the other hostages? No. Henning was a neighbour, one of us, and so the mourning is more intense and personal, even amongst those who were not his among his friends and family. It is a universal phenomenon, what touches you most is what is close to you. How can it be otherwise? Everyone knows it. The people of Lebanon will be more concerned with their own victims than they will be about the dead in France. There is no harm in that.

George Szirtes summed it up perfectly in a Facebook post. I hope he will not mind me quoting him here.
Grief is not politics. One does not choose between griefs and cast one's vote for this grief over that. It is not competitive and it is low politics to compare griefs. Grief and shock are feelings that one may or may not feel. Grief is not a zero sum game. You cannot say to people: if you feel more grief for one thing than another you are not allowed to feel either.
The endless theorising without evidence, the shoehorning of a monstrous crime into a preordained ideological framework, the denigration of popular sentiment, all make me so angry. Part of the reason why I react so strongly is more personal. Much of my anger is aimed at my younger self, who, decades ago, would have fallen for some of this guff and repeated it earnestly. That was before I learnt to think and to have respect for a popular, if sentimental, morality that instinctively understands what is best in humanity.

À nous la liberté 


Anton Deque said...

I am pleased (yet hardly surprised Peter) to find I am not alone in finding the objectionable – and untrue – allegation that the horrific bombing in Lebanon went 'unnoticed'. It did not. Yet, the allegation of western partiality and the suggestion that compassion is politically biased was not the point of this bogus complaint: It was meant to diminish the atrocity in Paris, plain and simple.

I do not know anything as yet about the, to me obscure, Labour M.P. John Woodcock, but in recent days his has been the voice of true Labour. Woodcock's public disgust at the ill-titled Stop the War front's lies have provided at least some echo of what Labour was once only recently and is no more. I expect moves to deselect him are already underway.

Looby said...

Thank you so much for expressing so articulately my own sense of irritation, bordering on anger, at the sort of relativist neutralising of sympathy that one has seen post hoc-- which comes across as almost a wilful lack of compassion.