THE MEMORY OF THE WORLD IS SHORT

by Ellen Musgrove

Cherokee writer and academic Daniel Heath Justice writes in The Kynship Chronicles that ‘the memory of the world is short, and death rides hard in the forgetting.’ Being indigenous and queer, Justice knows very well the selective amnesia of the nation-state, and the resistance that demands.

Such an introduction may seem obscure, but this perceived obscurity demonstrates the problem I want to discuss. The same nation-state amnesia is imbricated in “western” society’s selective mourning of recent terror attacks, the current refugee crisis, and now renewed military intervention.

The nationalistic framing of grief after the attacks in Paris is concerning. In remembering only the victims of violence perpetrated in one nation, one forgets the people whose existence is perceived as obscure. The loss of each life in the attacks on Paris is devastating, but each death in Beirut, Ankara, Maiduguri, Istanbul, and globally, is equally as horrific.

Added to this media bias is the outright racist reporting of outlets like The Sun, spreading the kind of falsehoods Donald Trump would approve of. We must diversify our consumption and dissemination of social and news media, and consume all media critically, or we will stagnate on a drip-fed diet of formulaic narratives.

All this is both symptomatic and causal of an exceptionalism which fuels the intervention of foreign powers in Middle Eastern countries.

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Western ignorance and propaganda have inscribed violence onto a monolithic vision of the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, etc. We are desensitized to this seemingly endemic violence, obscured from our own existence until it bleeds out and it is Western bodies and spaces being destroyed. In privileging the loss of lives on Euro/American soil an aggressive dichotomy is regenerated, one which is blind to the destruction wrought by colonial powers, botched decolonisation, and successive military interventions. The resultant entropy of nations as catalysed by the West and its allies in these regions contains the conditions in which extremist violence was and is able to mutate.

More bombing in the Middle East by western powers is not simply objectionable because it is violent and begets more violence. Thus far it has proven ineffective at best, and at worst catastrophically exacerbated the situation in the Middle East and sent shockwaves throughout the rest of the globe. In particular the civil war in Syria is so extremely complex that hurling explosives into presumed Islamic State ranks will solve nothing.

Western ignorance and propaganda have inscribed violence onto a monolithic vision of the Middle East, South Asia, Africa

Pro-military intervention politicians such as David Cameron argue for targeting IS because they pose a threat to western countries. Whilst this is true, western Europeans actually comprise a very small percentage of the total number of victims of terror. We must remember the truly devastating effect on civilians in Syria and the surrounding area, combined with the increased threat to western countries, if bombing is to continue and intensify. This extremely complex situation will not be solved by airstrikes for many reasons.

For example, the unconventional arrangement of IS on the ground makes any targeting of its ranks difficult and ineffectual. IS have ‘no institutional or economic heartland’ which might be targeted to destroy them. Neither does oil provide their main source of funding, as many emphasise. They are in fact mostly supported by regional powers and their own parasitic economic behaviour among the Syrian population.

One of the most significant elements of this situation is the ideology of IS which has called so many to its ranks. This is fuelled by a huge web of factors, not least Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians, Saudi Wahhabism and sectarianism, and the catastrophic intervention of regional and western powers maiming the lives of yet more civilians. An ideology will not be bombed into oblivion. In fact those bombs will add magnetism to the rallying cries of extremists, including war-mongering western leaders.

( Norwich rally © Ann Nichols )

( Norwich rally © Ann Nichols )

Meanwhile in the West, Islamophobia and anti-refugee sentiment boil over and fulfil the divisive aims of violent powers. Alienation of communities and government crackdowns on civil freedom only work towards the desires of extremist groups. In a talk I saw recently Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian-Egyptian journalist lately released from Egypt’s notorious Scorpion prison, recalled the Al Qaeda members incarcerated with him celebrating the rise of draconian anti-terror laws across the globe. These measures serve only to polarise communities, target individuals protesting the status quo, and catalyse the clash-of-civilisations narrative desired by extremist groups like IS. We must continue to struggle for our civil liberties by holding governments to account through education, dialogue, lobbying and direct action.

There are practical, effective, nonviolent solutions for combating terrorism, such as repairing the infrastructure of the nation-states most effected, maintaining dialogue with alienated communities, and providing post-terror counselling. Nonviolence is not so nebulous and idealistic as it is portrayed.

An ideology will not be bombed into oblivion. In fact those bombs will add magnetism to the rallying cries of extremists, including war-mongering western leaders.

So, to return, why did this article begin with a reference to queer indigenous resistance? What does this have to do with war in the Middle East? It is the idea of a life removed from one’s own as obscure which fuels alienation and violence by dehumanisation, and the perceived obscurity of past events that allows these mistakes to be repeated. Have we so quickly forgotten the photo of Aylan Kurdi which suddenly galvanised thousands? Do we forget the hostility with which Jewish refugees during the World Wars, now comparatively treated with respect, were met in the countries to which they fled? How can one validly decry terror only to meet it with more terror?

Let’s not wait for another Aylan Kurdi to remind us of the alienated victims of perpetual war. Death rides hard in the forgetting.

Featured image © Steve Bell

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