AFTER PARIS – THINKING FOR OURSELVES

by Micha Horgan

The events that took place in Paris are deeply upsetting; the implications, vast and immeasurable. Immediate thoughts are naturally for those killed and injured and those who loved and depended on them but beyond this there is a lot to think about. Blame, heightened surveillance, further scrutiny of immigration policies (at a time when this is not needed) and other discriminatory backlash will be at the forefront of our media in the coming months.

Following Friday’s events the rhetoric from some people has been that the Western world is “no longer safe”, that we are moving into a darker time. What is certain is that it is time to think.

Selective reportage of world events is to be expected but it is no time to forget that it is also one of the primary mechanisms by which we have avoided culpability.

For relatively affluent Western countries, the privilege of living without daily fear has been a privilege unconsciously enjoyed because for the majority it is the norm. This privilege is not universal, but rather than recognize this vulnerability, relative affluence has too often bred a sense of moral superiority that divides and dehumanises.

This calloused mindset has meant that our shrinking world is larger than ever, with media portrayals too often contributing to this distancing and dehumanization of the vulnerable. Selective reportage of world events is to be expected but it is no time to forget that it is also one of the primary mechanisms by which we have avoided culpability.

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Since the attacks, BBC news clips have shown a number of responses from people in Paris. On many occasions those being asked questions expressed complete incomprehension. “I don’t know how this could happen.” “How could this happen.” The feelings are human: disbelief and shock mistaken for a sense of randomness. The direct emotional response is understandable. However, to have news clips that reiterate a sense of randomness is disingenuous and should be acknowledged as such.

To present these attacks as random or mindless killings has proven easier than discussing root motivation (and potentially accepting a certain amount of culpability), but no act of embittered violence is without cause. As intelligent individuals we have an obligation to inform ourselves, to find out the answers to the question of ‘Why?’ And where possible, to challenge the circulation of dishonest simplifications.

Such desperate acts of “terror” should be waking people to what we have tacitly supported our governments in doing all over the world.

The killings in Paris were wrong and yet, as unwilling as government is to admit it, they did have a purpose. In some ways they were an attack on a sense of Western invincibility – intended to shake up an understanding of what fear really means, not simply to scare (as we are so often led to think), but to display to the privileged world what it is like to live in constant fear. Such desperate acts of “terror” should be waking people to what we have tacitly supported our governments in doing all over the world.

While the attacks were misguided and wrong, the closeness that we feel, physically and sentimentally, to Paris creates a situation from which we should attempt to humanize ourselves further – to use the understanding of fear to be compassionate to those who endure such hardships regularly, and to think a little bit more about what feeling vulnerable really means to many millions of people not only in Paris but all over the world. Untangling the Why may be easier if we take this first step.

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