“35 people dead in Paris. They don’t know what it is yet. Not sure if there were bombs.” That was the text message I received on Friday during my walk home from Rice University.
Here we go again, I thought…
My first reaction: the media will instantly assume Muslims carried out the attack, regardless of whether Muslims were even involved. That is standard fare these days in the media. Violence = Islam = Terrorism. My second reaction concerned my social media feeds. I had a gut feeling that my Facebook “friends” were going to pour their hearts out for the killings in Paris.
I was right. And I was a bit annoyed by that.
“TERROR.” That was the first word that I saw on CNN when I got home. Go figure. Twenty minutes after the attack, and the media made sure to let me know that this attack deserves the word “terrorism.” Never mind the recent Charleston shooting, where a white man killed two handful of black people in a predominantly black church. That was not terrorism. That was just violence carried out by a “crazy white dude.” This “crazy white dude” is not a terrorist. Because he is white. White people do not commit terrorism. Only brown people can do that. And brown Muslims at that.
Let us have an honest discussion for once. When people die in Paris, the media calls it “horrific.” When hundreds of Syrians die on any given day, the media hardly flinches. Events in Syria do not get labeled “horrific.” That is because Syrians dying is considered “normal,” their deaths simply pass us by. No big deal.
About an hour after the attacks were first reported, I started to wonder, “how long before these events are linked to ISIS? How long before these deaths are used to justify Western imperialism in the Middle East?” In my head, I gave it twenty-four hours. In reality, it was about twenty-four minutes.
My Facebook feed confirmed my fear. “Friends” posted things like “the terrorists shouted ‘Allah Akbar.’ See it is terrorism! Fuck terrorism! Screw ISIS.” Yet, when a Christian kills an Afghan to “protect and preserve American values,” none of these “friends” label that “terrorism.” How dare someone even suggest Americans are terrorists! Our violence is completely justified because it is our violence. We are never terrorists, only anti-terrorists. We are civilized, they are uncivilized. So the argument goes.
Hardly any of my “friends” shared their outrage when a dead Syrian baby washed up on a beach in the Mediterranean. Hardly any of them shed a tear. Did any of my “friends” even notice? That is the bigger question. And yet, what happens when Paris is attacked? When Parisians die? People are enraged.
The double standards are ridiculous.
And what about President Obama? His initial response, which came up on my Facebook feed, condemned the horrible attack that terrorized Parisian civilians. Yet Obama has killed too many civilians to count. Where are my Americans “friends” condemning the President? Is it okay when our President is responsible for the deaths of babies in Pakistan? It appears so. The silence confirms that. The silence is deafening.
Let us count the civilian death toll in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. The number is high. Shockingly high! These deaths occur in the face of imperialism. Our imperialism. It is our terrorism, but nobody thinks of it that way. That, in itself, is racist.
Then there are my “friends” who say, “the terrorists in Paris attacked our values, our Western values. That was their intention!” Really? I doubt that. And even if that were true, that is a racist argument. It suggests that Muslims are backward, pre-modern, and incapable of progress. It suggests that “our” way of life is inherently better than “theirs.” That is racist too. It suggests that “the West” and “Islam” are fundamentally incompatible. That is racist. Make no mistake about it.
Again, let us be honest. There is only outrage on Facebook when “we” suffer from “terrorism.” “We” meaning the so-called “civilized West.” There exists a hierarchy of human life on Facebook and elsewhere. Some people are valued, while others are not. An American life is worth more than an Iraqi life. A French life is worth more than a Palestinian life. Somehow, what happened in Paris is unjustified. It is “barbaric.” Yet everything the “West” has inflicted on others, the extreme state-sponsored violence, the imperialism, the destruction, is somehow justified. This deeply ingrained racism is real. Very real.
My Facebook “friends” criticize me for asking the question, “Why are some lives valued, while others are not?” They are particularly upset with the timing of this question. But let me ask you: when is the right time or wrong time to talk about racism or humanity? Should I just sit back and wait for a bright sunny day, when nobody gives a crap, to share my views, or should I cut right to the chase, during the heat of the moment, and call out racism when I see it?
NOW is always the time to talk about the value of human life. If not now, when?