As a British Muslim with high blood pressure and a French fiancé, much of my week has been spent avoiding the news but being unable to. It’s all too horrible to digest. That sheer panic when one of our Parisian friends didn’t come back online until Saturday morning. Learning that a friend of a friend had been shot in the arm, another escaped out of the Bataclan on hands and knees, another shot in the back. Such horror exposed to innocent people who have no concept of violence, gun crime, suicide bombs or warfare.
I watched profile pictures turn tricolore, and then back to normal, because we came to the realization that this was just one of a long list of massacres and atrocities. We ended up arguing with each other about why French lives matter more than Lebanese, Kenyan, Palestinian, Israeli, Nigerian, etc. We then had to declare they don’t matter more. Or less.
The media feeds us and we feed it. Like it or not, we, the collective mass, grieved more for Paris than we did for Garissa, the bombings in Lebanon or the violence in Nigeria. Links to those news stories simply just didn’t get our clicks, and the airtime they received reflected our own levels of interest. In the next three days, textbook, we will stop hearing about Paris, we will move on to the next news story. The spectre of the Paris attacks will linger, presenting itself in future news stories through the irresponsible “us and them” rhetoric we have become accustomed to hearing.
We live in safe countries. So it comes as a shock that a massacre be perpetrated on a city, country, continent that has always led us to believe that we are exempt from invasive acts of war. We live in safe countries… Safe, in the sense that when we do engage in conflict, as we have done since 2001, we do so by sending our troops to fix other nation states. The news feeds us with images of far away lands, blistering heat, Arabic road signs, and fighter jets flying members of our royal family over deserts – the assurance that we know what we’re doing – making absolutely certain that evil dictatorships would never dare invade us or send their armies to our shores, so we can go about our daily lives. And go about our daily lives we do. Engage in acts of war outside of the rule of law we do.
“People hate us, our way of being, our freedom and our liberties.” They also hate our air strikes, ground troops and bombing campaigns.
Nonetheless – war is down to politicians and generals: despite our anti-war efforts we do not have a say in military action. What we can make a difference with is how we treat each other, the people around us, our young people.
We are fed with overly simplified stories of good and evil. We put a face on the evil, we give it characteristics; the war becomes dirty. The face is brown, Muslim, young, male. Victims of the Paris massacre go beyond those who lost their lives, those who were injured, their families and friends. There are those who will receive a racial slur, just a small one, every day, on their way to the shops. There are those who have been turned away from businesses for being Muslim. There are those who have things thrown at them, called paki, terrorist, sand nigger. There’s people who think they’re not being funny: “Not being funny, but don’t you pakis keep your daughters locked in basements?” And then there’s the “let’s graffiti the gurdwaras, that’s where the terrorists hang out.” Downright stupid. These are just things that I personally have come across over the years.
So we then believe that the real and immediate danger is actually at home, living among us, brainwashed by foreign ideology. We perpetuate this belief. We exclude. We marginalize. And then we see it, 7/7 bombers – kids – with English accents holding the jihadi flag in a room with 90s dado railing; angry French and Belgian born boys given kalashnikovs and permission to go and use them in the streets of Paris. How deeply sad that these adolescents, outcast and excluded from our society, find solace in violence. How sad that we as a society have failed to teach and bring up our young citizens.
Written by Rabya Mughal.