Source: The Automatic Earth blog, by Raul Ilargi Meijer
Herbert Draper Lament for Icarus 1898
There are times when you have to talk about things when it appears most inopportune to do so, because they’re the only times people might listen. Times when people will argue that ‘this is not the right moment’, while in reality it’s the only moment.
A solid 99% of people will have been filled, and rightly so of course, with a mixture of disgust, disbelief and infinite sadness when hearing of yet another attack on civilians in Europe, this one in Manchester. An equally solid 99% will have failed to recognize that while the event was unique for the city of Manchester, it was by no means unique for the world, not even at the time it happened.
Though the footage of parents desperately trying to find their children, and the news that one of the dead was just 8 years old, touches everyone in more or less the same place in our hearts, by far most of us miss out on the next logical step. In a wider perspective, it is easy to see that parents crying for missing children, and children killed in infancy, is what connects Manchester, and the UK, and Europe, to parents in Syria, Libya, Iraq.
What’s different between these places is not the suffering or the outrage, the mourning or the despair, what’s different is only the location on the map. That and the frequency with which terror is unleashed upon a given population. But just because it happens all the time in other places doesn’t make it more normal or acceptable.
It’s the exact same thing, the exact same experience, and still a vast majority of people don’t, choose not to, feel it as such. Which is curious when you think about it. In the aftermath of a terror attack, the mother of a missing, maimed or murdered child undergoes the same heartbreak no matter where they are in the world (“I hope the Russians love their children too”). But the empathy, the compassion, is hardly acknowledged in Britain at all, let alone shared.
Not that it couldn’t be. Imagine that our papers and TV channels would tell us, preferably repeatedly, in their reports in the wake of an attack like the one in Manchester how eerily similar the emotions must be to those felt in Aleppo, Homs and many other cities. That would change our perception enormously. But the media choose not to make the connection, and the people apparently are not capable of doing it themselves.
None of that changes the fact, however, that British lives are not more valuable than Syrian and Libyan ones. Not even when we’ve gotten used to ‘news’ about bombings and drone attacks executed for years now by US-led coalitions, or the images of children drowning when they flee the area because of these attacks.
The overall theme here is that 99.9% of people everywhere in the world are innocent, especially when they are children, but their governments and their societies are not. That doesn’t justify the Manchester attack in any shape or form, it simply lays equal blame and condemnation for western terror attacks in the Middle East and North Africa, perpetrated by the people we elect into power.
This is something people in the west pay no attention to. It’s easier that way, and besides our media with great enthusiasm pave the way for our collective ignorance, by calling some other group of people ‘terrorists’, which while they’re at it is supposed to justify killing some other mother’s child.
There’s another thing that is also different: they didn’t start. We did. The British and French terrorized the region for many decades, since the 19th century, even way before the Americans joined in. The presence of oil, and its rising role in our economies, caused them to double down on that terror.
Yes, it’s awkward to talk about this on the eve of a deadly attack, and it’s easy to find arguments and rhetoric that appear to deflect responsibility. But at the same time this truly is the only moment we can hope that anyone will listen. And lest we forget, the UK carries an outsized share of the responsibility in this tragedy, both historically and in the present.
You can say things about the city coming together, or the country coming together, or “not allowing terrorists to affect our way of life”, but perhaps it should instead really be all the mothers who have children missing or dying, wherever they live, coming together. They all see their ways of life affected, and many on a daily basis.
Those mothers in Syria and Libya, who have been through the same hellhole as those in Manchester, are a lot closer to you than the politicians who send out jet fighters to bomb cities in the desert, or sell arms to individuals and organizations to control these cities for their own narrow personal gain, such as the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The traumatized mothers in the desert are not your enemies; your enemies are much closer to home. Still, most of you will tend to react to fear and panic by looking for protection in exactly those circles that are least likely to provide it. The UK government under Theresa May, like those of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron before, is as cynically eager as their predecessors to send bombers into the desert, and sell arms to those living there.
We can illustrate all this with a few bits of news. First, the US-led coalotion, of which the UK is a substantial part, killed more civilians in Syria than at any time since they started bombing the country almost 3 years ago. They keep saying they don’t target civilians, but to put it mildly they don’t appear to go out of their way not to hit them. For instance, a single attack on Mosul, Iraq in March killed over 105 civilians. ‘Collateral damage’ in these cases, and there are hundreds by now, is a very disrespectful term. Moreover, the files released by Chelsea Manning show US soldiers killing people ‘with impunity’.