Monthly Archives

November 2015

Mali’s Missing Tragedy Hipsters

November 20, 2015
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There’s a terrorist attack in Mali today – gunmen stormed a hotel shouting “God is great” in Arabic, killing a number of people and taking many hostages, apparently releasing some of the hostages after they showed they could recite verses of the Quran.

Two days ago, Boko Haram killed 49 people in a suicide bombing attack in Nigeria. The suicide bombers they used were 11 and 18 year old girls.

Both attacks made the front page of the Huffington Post. By and large, very few people I knew were discussing them extensively on social media.

I think it’s time to admit a couple of things –

1) The media do not “ignore” terrorist attacks in other countries. The media actually reported these two attacks quite openly and fairly.
2) The same people claiming to care so much about Beirut and Kenya (months after the fact) seem to ‘not care’ about these attacks as much as everyone else – with internet silence on their own part. In fact, the only people I know who did discuss this on social media weren’t people who took part in “grief shaming” people about Paris at all a few days ago.
3) Most likely, when and if another attack happens in the west, people will suddenly say that the media “ignored” these attacks, and that other people “don’t care” about them.

We should also admit a few things moving forward –

1) Most people we know simply do not have as personal a connection to Mali or Nigeria as they do to Paris. It’s just an accidental circumstance of their birth. And that’s okay.
2) Horrific tragedies aren’t a stage upon which one gets to pounce around proclaiming their own progressive superiority, especially when they “didn’t seem to care” according to their own metrics in the first place.
3) Liberals, especially white liberals, are genuinely uncomfortable discussing when attacks like this take place, when it’s predominately minority terrorists attacking other minority victims. We really want to believe that terrorism is mostly our *own* fault, that it’s the result of White privilege and White supremacy and colonialism and imperialism. I think it gives us a sense of control and reinforces our own well-internalized framework of how to understand the world, a process which gives us comfort and reassurance at precisely the moment when people need such things most. “White people have done bad things too” or “Who are we to judge” seems to be something we are much more comfortable saying in reaction to this, rather than perhaps really confronting the truth that unspeakable acts have been committed by people who happen to be members of historically oppressed minorities that we, in our very best awareness, solemnly swear to protect.

Something tells me however that when a group is using 11 and 18 year old girls as suicide bombers, “white people have done bad things too” should probably take a back seat for a couple of hours. Not that it isn’t true – it takes the focus off of the people that need our attention the most – the victims – precisely when they require our attention the most.

Don’t Grief Shame for Paris

November 15, 2015
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Many people are asking why others on Social Media aren’t mourning as much for victims of recent terrorist attacks by ISIS and other Islamist groups in Beirut, Kenya, Syria and Iraq as they are in Paris. Some are saying “I refuse to change my profile picture to the French flag because I care about these other countries just as much – where is their flag, where is *their* safety check-in?” This happens quite a bit when terrorist-related tragedy strikes.

I guess on the surface I’m heartened to know people suddenly care about victims of terrorism in the middle east, but I must say I am confused, because overwhelmingly the people I know saying this usually completely ignore attacks such as these when they actually happen. Indeed, it is only when an attack happens on European or Western targets that some choose to voice their sudden concern over them, even weeks or months later than when the attacks took place.

Case in point – many people are now confused into thinking the attacks in Kenya just took place at around the same time as the attacks in Paris. They actually took place last April, and the same people now declaring their importance actually had almost *nothing* to say when they occurred. I do remember posting about this, and some of the same people now saying this overall were strangely mute. The responses I got from such people were “well it’s a complicated conflict”. It *was* a terrible tragedy, incidentally, in which 147 people died when they were attacked by the Somali islamist group Al-Shabab.

A similarly horrific attack occurred in Pakistan in December of 2014, in which Taliban gunmen stormed a school, killing 132 children and 9 adults. Many of the same people now suddenly caring about *other* Islamist attacks were almost totally silent on this when it was *actually* occurring.
It’s difficult for me to parse this out, because I actually do think it’s great that some liberal friends are beginning to focus on acts of terrorism in the middle east, a topic that too often goes ignored in these discussions. I do think some people I know on social media are *genuinely* concerned about them, and to those I am grateful that they are sharing news of the truth of these events.
However, I can’t help but imagine that others really are just using such events rather sanctimoniously to feed their own need to feel superior to their fellow liberals, and the extent to which they suddenly care about these past attacks only seems to coincide with the ability to help manufacture this superiority. Faisal Saeed Al Mutar captures this perfect in his sarcastic hashtag ‪#‎IamMoreProgressiveThanYou‬.

When terrorists attack Western targets, in a strange way I think it’s easier for us to understand them. Our belief that imperialism and white privilege create terrorism aligns with our (rightly) mutlicultural and multiracial sensibilities, and gives us a sense of control that by already working towards goals we care about we can solve these problems, without ever having to castigate members of a historically oppressed class of people that we work tirelessly to try and elevate to a level of greater equality in our world. I think that sense of control we feel isn’t dissimilar to the feeling some get by prayer – in an insane world where tragedy abounds, that feeling of control and the idea that we can somehow make a difference is a critical source of comfort to the grieving, and I do not discount it.

But I think when attacks like the one in Kenya and the one in Pakistan actually occur – when an Islamist group murders children or students that are predominately Pakistani or Black or Arab or other non-white minorities – liberals have a difficult time parsing through it, because it flies in the face of narratives we very much want to believe regarding terrorism. We obviously believe that Islam is a peaceful religion, and that Muslims overall are peaceful people, and that these attacks occur not because of religious ideology but because of the oppression that historically has been placed upon these groups of people, most notably by Western imperialism and colonialism. We really don’t want to believe that something wrong may be afoot among some individual people who happen to be members of those groups, and we feel that due to our privilege and power in the world we cannot “possibly” criticize members of these oppressed groups fairly. Indeed, it’s committing heresy against the ideals we hold dearly in our quest to make the world a more racially equitable place. I think we have a harder time believing sometimes that such horrific acts can also happen as a result of independent human agency and devotion to a literalist, straightforward reading of religious scripture.

I can’t help but think some (not all) of the people pointing to this disparity of coverage among these tragedies suddenly look at the tragedy in Paris, and now find these other tragedies as a convenient vehicle by which to boast their multicultural credentials, to puff out their chests and quietly shame others for expressing their solidarity with Paris and the victims of the attack. This grief-shaming not only I think is in poor taste, it is somewhat narcissistic, and turns the attack in Paris into more of a commentary about themselves than about the victims.

Please don’t mistake me – we can tell the difference between those who are genuinely concerned and others more self-serving, so don’t automatically assume I’m criticizing you if you pointed this out.  But maybe we should consider just allowing people to recognize the tragedy and mourn the victims in peace in the way they know best, and not use it as an opportunity to score Social Justice points for ourselves. By all means, let us draw attention to these other acts of terrorism when they occur. But for the Social Justice inclinded type of person, perhaps we should consider ceasing the “grief-shaming” when tragedy strikes.

Thinking Instead of Praying for Paris

November 13, 2015
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Prayers for Paris are well intentioned, but let’s not forget that it was also partially too much prayer that inspired the deaths of over 100 innocent people today.

Maybe it’s time to admit that in this crisis, lots of prayer isn’t the solution to our problems – too much prayer *is* the problem.

Maybe it’s time to work together to do a little less praying and more thinking. Less recitation and more questioning.

Maybe it’s time to be less respectful of belief without evidence, and more respectful of the common heritage science irrefutably shows us to possess. Time to admit that our ancient ancestors, doing the best they could with the best they had, just got it wrong, and that we *can* do better. For religion, racism, sexism, communism, fascism, all at their core are baseless superstition that science and reason render impotent on a daily basis to the mind that is open to questioning everything critically.

Let’s pray a little less and think a little more about how we can retire these relics of our barbaric ancestors. Our progress as a species depends on it.