The reaction to Paris on Facebook

This is a considered response to the festering bubbles of hatred boiling up all over my news feed. I want to pop some of these bubbles. It is not aimed at those who have expressed solidarity with the people of Paris, those who have expressed indignation and are aghast at the scenes shown on our news channels and our news feeds. I understand why the flag of France now adorns nearly every profile picture on my Facebook feed and I think it a sweet gesture. It is not a specific response to the grotesque acts inflicted upon the citizens of Paris less than 48 hours ago. The information about that carnage is still incomplete and a clear viewpoint too impaired by outrage, pity, and consternation to be accurately discussed in terms of cause and effect. If I gain any clarity about this event, I will attempt to come to terms with it later. In the meantime, I am deeply saddened and appalled by many of the reactions across social media.

There have been a number of blogs I have read thus far that have addressed much of what I want to say. One is here. Another is here. Please forgive me if I repeat their viewpoints.

The initial response yesterday was to draw a direct cause and effect relationship between the current massive refugee crisis in Europe and those who inflicted terror upon the citizens of Paris. This response is akin to piling up a few of the dead bodies strewn across the walkways of Paris as your own gore-soaked soapbox to once again shout your message of intolerance and bigotry to anyone who will listen. The message you speak today is no different to the message you spoke last week – you are using the murder of innocents as an opportunistic and abhorrent stage upon which you can further inflame hatred and your hateful creed.

“fuck them all off before they slaughter us like animals like they have just done in France“

Who are “them”?

The man who cries at night in his cold tent in the refugee camp in Calais as he mourns the life he has left, the friends he has lost, and the familiar culture that encased his life?

The man who lies awake in that same tent worrying about his future and how he might fend for his family?

The woman who sits up in her sleeping bag and stares, empty-eyed, at the sleeping forms of her children beside her, helpless in the knowledge that she is unable to care for them as she once did, unable to feed them or clothe them, unable to embrace the sweet, unfettered innocence and wonder of their youth?

The time when my boys were very young was one of the happiest times of my life. These people will never know that depth of elation and joy. Their children will not know the carefree existence that my children enjoyed.

Are these the people you want to send back to a warzone? Are these the people that you want to “fuck off back where they came from”?

Do you not understand that trauma is the pre-eminent, leading, major cause of mental instability? Those who blew themselves up outside the Stade de France were not mentally stable. They were not soldiers. Soldiers plan an action in three stages – approach, engagement, and withdrawal. This is rational. It recognises the possibly of death or injury but plans for survival. Horrible – but rational. These guys had no such plan – and thus were utterly irrational. How did they get that way? How did they reach the point where their own lives became unimportant? As a person who has attempted suicide, I can answer that question. Such actions are rooted in sadness, despair, and, most importantly, a lack of hope for the future. It is also a significant (albeit belated) indication of a mind that has lost touch with reality.

We “send them back to where they came from” and those who survive will become the cannon fodder of extremists and war-mongers whose twisted agenda festers and flourishes amidst the bombed-out houses, the fetid drinking water, the starving bellies, and the sick minds of those who are daily traumatised by warfare. By “sending them back”, we are cultivating more terrorism, more death, more horror, and directly contributing to the grief of future generations.

You may accuse me of being a “bleeding heart” who fails to see some twisted reality that only you, and others like you, can see but my motives are, at their heart, entirely selfish. If we look after those who flee the warzones of the world and give them food and shelter, we deny our enemies some of their future armies, their future terrorists, their future suicide-bombers. We may not stem the flood, but we do reduce the flow. And this can only be good for me and my children.

Do we really want to cause more of this?

Do we really want to cause more of this?

There has also been a consistent call to lock up anyone even mildly suspected of terrorism on the grounds that our current system of surveillance and invasion into private lives “doesn’t work”. Totally ignore the rule of law. Fuck ’em, they could be terrorists – who cares? The Australian government has even introduced Draconian laws to this effect.

This is wrong, as the cliché goes, on so many levels – but boils down to one simple truth: If we voluntarily dismantle the pillars of our own democracy, it is akin to removing the supports for the roof above our heads – and thus we cannot express surprised when it all comes crashing down on our heads.

Dismantling or significantly altering our legal system will be a massive victory for the terrorists. It is a very short step (followed by a slippery slope – leave no clichéd stone unturned) to the creation of a totalitarian state where people are “disappeared” on suspicion of a crime they may or may not have committed – or are thinking of committing. We will have created “thought-crime” just like Orwell envisioned, and we will be reading and acting from the same play-books as Pinochet, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and various other fascist leaders – and that’s just in the last century. Is this what we want? Most corporations would love this – terrified people don’t ask awkward questions.

How do we pick those who we unceremoniously dump into prisons? I want to ask if we judge them by the colour of their skin – the temptation is great – but then that would be racist – and the proposal is logical, not racist. Isn’t it?

Internment without trial – without due process of law – is an anathema to our current social contract. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty – it underpins our judicial system and thus our society. The system is far from perfect. I know that. We all know that. However, it’s the best one that anybody has come up with so far – and it is far more civilised than the alternatives.

Another consistent and really fucking annoying statement I have seen pop up in my Facebook newsfeed in the last couple of days – and far too regularly – is the one along the lines of “we will be taken over before too long”. This has also been a consistent feature of recent responses – especially from those who are immigrants themselves – or are first generation descendants.

“We” will be “taken over”. Who is “We?” The Aboriginals? Too late.

By whom? The Muslims? Which ones? Shi`ite or Sunni? Druze, Alevis, or `Alawis ? This really matters.

And can you define “taken over”?

In the case of my own country, all of this was said about “The Asians” in the 80s and before that about every other wave of immigrants that has settled on this shore. How have “they” taken over? There are suburbs where we have a predominant cultural population – this is true. The Irish did this in New York, Boston, and Chicago; the Greeks did it in Oakleigh here in Melbourne, “Little India” in Dandenong – the list goes on. These areas allow the gastronomically adventurous to visit restaurants serving genuine samples of cuisine from that particular culture without the cost of an airline ticket! Works for me. I work with many children from the southern part of the Indian sub-continent as well as Sri-Lanka. Through conversation during class, I am gradually learning more about the cultural norms of their ethnic background, their history, their geography, and even some of their language! This is a privilege and a definite perk. I recognise that others may not be so curious – and that’s their prerogative – but I can assure you that these children’s children will have an Aussie accent, love their AFL or NRL, and while they may not celebrate Christmas, most will still just be “Aussies” like the rest of us.

The irony is that, in Australia, the only group of immigrants that have had a lasting and permanent impact on this country are the English. Look at the names of our states and our major cities – the history behind all of them is English. The vast majority of Australian who trace their ancestry back to immigrants – which is all of us who are not 100% aboriginal – are of English heritage. This map – based on genuine statistical analysis – is fascinating evidence for my statement- and it makes sense. The initial European invaders and white settlers of Australia were English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh – but the Poms ran the government. To the victor go the spoils – and the naming rights.

That “they” are “taking over” has absolutely no basis in fact. None. None at all.

To paraphrase myself, my brother-in-law, and a few fellow bloggers, I think that the sense of outrage that we all feel about the bombings in Paris are because this is a city to which we can relate. May of us have been there. We may not have the familial connections but our cultural connections with the French language, history, and culture go very deep. They are also “white” and “Western” like us. I do not like to admit this – especially when I like to regard myself as “skin-colour-blind” and utterly incapable of using the phrase “I’m not racist but…” – but…. the impact of the pictures and video from Paris DID impact on me to a greater degree than the repeated pictures and video coming out of Palestine, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, and other similarly war-torn hell-on-earth locations across the globe.

We are all of Paris.
I have observed an outpouring of disproportionate disbelief and grief in the immediate aftermath of the Paris bombings from just about everyone on my Facebook news-feed – and I changed my own banner picture in response – not a meme but my own creation. The Facebook filter of the French flag is as I have written, sweet – but why are our profile pictures not (permanently) covered by the Palestinian flag? Why do we not post messages of sympathy for those who are terrorised by Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon? My initial response was that we all have an involuntary and dichotomous reaction towards “brown” versus “white” victims – a primitive reflex based on “us” versus “them” – and perhaps there is an element of truth in this. However, it is more complicated than that.

When a city with a similar culture is hit, we in “The West” all feel a greater degree of empathy. The concept that the victims could easily be us hits harder than pictures of inert brown bodies striking grotesque poses in the rubble of Gaza. We recognise the surrounding streets, shops house as something akin to our own cities. The French language uses the same alphabet as English and they have many words closely related to our own language. We can read some of the street signs and some of us can catch a basic grasp of what is being said by the witnesses on television. The white-washed stone and mud-brick hovels of the Middle East, the dusty streets and Arabic lettering of the shop signs that hang from the corner of a bombed out shell are harder to identify with – the vast majority of us have never known such streetscapes – and thus it is easier to stand in the metaphorical shoes of the people of Paris – the victims and the survivors.

Old Hat

Old Hat

This is why we are angry. It could have been us.

And this is why we must not be angry.

Paris was chosen for a reason. The wounds left by the murder of those in the “Charlie Hebdo” offices have not healed in that city. After all, the last horror happened only 10 months ago.

The beautiful response - the only response - to Terror.

The beautiful response – the only response – to Terror.

It is more effective to press on existing scars than to create new ones. This was known by the IRA in terms of the many horrors they inflicted on London, ETA knew this when targeting Madrid; history is full of similar patterns.

The desire of all terrorists is evident in the name that we give them. Terrorists. They evoke Terror. They create Terror. They want us to be terrified. Frightened people are easier to influence and control – recent Australian and U.S. domestic policies are entirely based on that premise. Terrorism is not new. It is effective because we allow it to be effective.

Terrorists want us to marginalise groups within our society – especially the children and the uneducated.

Terrorists want us to spit on the woman wearing the Hijab, the Shayla, the Al-Amira. She will bring that resentment, anxiety, and fear into her home and the baby she holds will be directly infected by her negative emotions – we will help to “grow them young”.

Terrorists want us to ostracise their children, to make them feel unwelcome and unwanted. The children become disenfranchised (a spectacularly useful precondition for those who recruit for radical causes), disillusioned, and dispirited. From such malignant seeds grow the future cancer of children strapping bombs to their bodies, children voluntarily boarding aircraft to join ISIS, and young men wielding Kalashnikovs in crowded arenas. The more we hate, the more we fan the flames of their desired world-wide conflagration.

Our most effective weapon against terrorists is to love and accept the children of the Middle East. Embrace the refugees. Sate their hunger. Make them feel safe. Give them hope for the future. They will love our country like we do – and will reject those who desire harm against us and our children. Sadly, this approach is easier to dismiss by those who prefer violence (the human base preference for immediate action or reaction as opposed to thought and/or empathy will always hamper our progress as a species), does not create an atmosphere of fear, and above all, is not profitable. So – it will never happen.

The very worst thing we can do is “fight fire with fire”. This has never worked. The U.S. government reacted with violence in retaliation for the bombings of 9/11 – their reaction concurrent to the toxic smoke and ash of their own lesson in retribution settling on the streets of Manhattan. There is no retribution in violence – there is only more violence. ISIS was born in the fiery aftermath of the Iraqi invasion by the U.S.-led coalition. The pre-conditions were ignored. (Edit: – actually – they known by 2012 – read this) The U.S. government and its arse-rimming allies – including Australia) – are directly responsible for the creation of ISIS. A solid argument for this can be found here. The Sunni majority – oppressed for so long by the Shi’ite minority – rose up and are now attempting to carve out their own state using the instability caused by the power vacuum created by the deposition of Saddam as well as the inherent instability of the government in Syria – the historical and ideological internal rifts between the Sunni and Alawite factions in the ruling Ba’ath party along with the oppressed Kurdish minority made the Arab Spring uprising almost inevitable – and the ensuing civil war made Syria ripe for the picking when ISIS turned its gaze, and its forces, towards that hapless country. I do not wish to debate the pros and cons of the invasion of Iraq – I am merely stating that this event directly led to the formation of the phenomenon currently known as ISIS. The Middle East is aflame and, as I type, the war planes of my very own nation add fuel to that conflagration. There are no easy solutions to the phenomenon of ISIS – but the most effective ones will not involve random fire-power injected into the cauldron. They will involve thoughtful consideration of the rights and needs of the populations of Kurdistan, Syria, and Iraq – so that the ISIS leaders are robbed of their power-base and their hateful rhetoric will fall on deaf and contented ears.

I don’t have a solution. I am far too ignorant of the historical and cultural complexities involved in this regions. However, I know that the lessons of history teach me that “bombing the shit out of ’em” is definitely not the answer.

One thought on “The reaction to Paris on Facebook

  1. Great pce. You are right, the enormous amounts of sympathy and kindness are amplified because “it could have been us”.

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