By Raj Shekhar Sen
Tragedies have become almost a tradition in the way one happens to evoke the memories of the last one or the one before. After the Paris Attacks happened, we have had random references made to 9/11 and Mumbai and then, almost apologetically, to more recent tragedies in Beirut and Baghdad. Something tells me we have been so accustomed to deaths and violence that such comparisons do not cause individual heartbreak and pain anymore.
May be we need to ask ourselves, how we became what we are now. Perhaps we should pull back each tragedy and pick through each wound with our own empathy and our own broken hearts so that we can create our own carefully woven and preserved sadness. Perhaps each word in the phrase, ‘Je Suis…’ stabs humanity distinctly and reflects on our predicament. John Berger, the writer with a brilliant way of words, once wrote: “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.” On second thought, can there ever be a single story? There are only ways of seeing them.
Most people fall into two categories when it comes to examining tragedies: one side wants to look at the tragedy as an event in itself and not as an event that followed a longer narrative of some other historical events; on the other side, there are people who see such events within the continuum of a chain of events.
Paris is a story of ISIS or Daesh or for some it’s a story of Muslim terrorists, who killed a lot of people mercilessly without any sense of empathy. And they would be right to look at things this way. Just see how we have made 9/11 stand alone as the flag-bearer and a benchmark for all that has been wrong and terrible in this world. Almost like an Anno Domini as everything that happened before is carted together as the chorological sand under the carpet of time.
However, there is another category of people, who looks at events not as single isolated atoms but as a chain of events linked with each other in this tale of relentless war. This group of people, too, calls such acts terrorism or agree to the term ‘infinite justice’. But for them each such event is a reminder of how something inside us has died through time; something that is so beastly that has almost compelled us to pick and choose our own genocide; the one that suits our narrative. And these people refuse to do that.
For those, who are on the narrative one, the flying of French airplanes across Syrian skies is a just reaction against the Paris Attacks last week. But for those subscribing to the second narrative, the French airplanes induce horror not just because there is something inherently wrong in people desiring retribution, abetted by the state, but how the cycle continues like a juggernaut.
Paris and Beirut and Baghdad and London and Madrid are all part of the large font chapter headings on the war on terror. And then there are the token Gazas and Iraq and Afghan and Syrian refugees. We are horrified by Paris and by Aylan and Malala. However, we don’t spend our sparse budget of outrage over half a million people, who died for a war in Iraq against the Weapons of Mass Destructions (WMDs). This tells a lot about the narrative that is peddled to us.
The world has witnessed so much tragedy from Normandy to Hiroshima to Guatemala to Cuba to Vietnam and East Germany to Tiananmen and to the Arab Spring. But, as they say, the more the things change the more they remain the same.
Let us start walking back on the long-winding path of history and look at Paris from a distance.
It was said that Iraq was about WMDs and Saddam (the same Saddam who was all cuddly with the Reagan administration in the early eighties), and Afghanistan was about rooting out the evil Taliban (which now has a good and a bad narrative attached to it). We eventually did get Saddam and Osama and wiped out a large part of the Taliban. But did that root out the evil?
Some wars, if carried on by the right people, are all about freedom and human rights. Someone rightly said if the oppressor comes from the West, he is Alexander the Great and if he comes from the East, he is Genghis the Barbarian. And now we have ISIS, the new evil. The villain changes from German to Cuban to Korean to Vietnamese to Hamas to Hezbollah to Al-Qaeda but the hero remains the same, over and over again.
There are some legitimate questions which are often asked: Why did Wahabi Islam become violent so easily? How does Islam manage to make these people do such things?
We hardly ask the other questions: How did ISIS, which started as a Sunni/Wahhabi extremist organization blowing up Shia mosques, become what it did after the American invasion of Iraq? Who was/is funding the ISIS, which is a Sunni force in a country with 65% Shia population? Not many question how the Saudi ideology of Wahhabi Islam is being funded in Iraq and Syria and how the US is selling arms to Saudi Arabia worth millions of dollars. The right questions, too, depend on the side of the coin you want to be. After all, a great man once said, either you are with us or with the terrorists!
In 1988, Saddam Hussein razed hundreds of villages in northern Iraq, used chemical weapons and machine guns to kill thousands of Kurdish people. Today we know the same year the U.S. government provided him with $500 million in subsidies to buy American farm products. The next year, after he had successfully completed his genocidal campaign, the U.S. government doubled its subsidy to $1 billion. It also provided him with high quality germ seed for anthrax, and helicopters and dual-use materials that could be used to manufacture chemical and biological weapons.
Paris burns and the debris and death will soon be part of the long unbroken chain of folklore that binds New York and Madrid and Boston and London. But the bloodshed would not end. Palestine still remains illegally occupied, Syria is burning, and so are Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Africa. Many other unknown unromantic and un-white places still remain at large.
So many people live in inhuman conditions, in virtual refugee camps, where they are subjected to collective punishments and twenty-four hour curfews. They are humiliated and brutalized on a daily basis.
Never knowing when their homes will be demolished, when their children will be shot, when their precious trees will be cut down, when their roads will be closed, when they will be allowed to walk down to the market to buy food or medicine and when they will not know whether there will be food or medicine at all. They live with no semblance of dignity.
On the 11th September 1922, the British government carried out a mandate in Palestine, a follow-up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration – which promised European Zionists a national home for Jewish people – with all its army standing outside the gates of Gaza. Note that the Second World War and Hitler’s genocide happened much later. Sometimes you wonder if that had not happened how Israel would today be created.
In 1937, Winston Churchill said of the Palestinians, “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the Black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a worldlier wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
That set the trend for the Israeli State’s attitude towards the Palestinians. In 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said, “Palestinians do not exist.” Her successor, Prime Minister Levi Eschol said, “What are Palestinians? When I came here (to Palestine), there were 250,000 non-Jews, mainly Arabs and Bedouins. It was a desert, more than underdeveloped. Nothing.” Prime Minister Menachem Begin called Palestinians “two-legged beasts.” Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called them “grasshoppers” who could be crushed. This is the language of the Heads of State, not the words of ordinary people. Later, Egyptian premier Morsi would say similar things about Jews, “Jews are apes and pigs”. He would proclaim and so will many other leaders across the Islamic world proving once again that in the adrenaline high of power, all animals are equal.
But where does that leave the real victims?
The US has aided Israel in all its effort to sustain itself in the midst of a very disturbed zone. The wonderment lies in the fact that nobody asks how this disturbance was stirred in the first place.
The Taliban may have disappeared. Tomorrow we may win the war against the ISIS but their spirit and their system of summary justice has already surfaced in the unlikeliest of places. In Pakistan, in Nigeria, in America, in all the Central Asian republics run by all manner of despots, and, of course, in Afghanistan under the U.S. While we feel aghast at how an unelected, undemocratic ISIS treats its captives, the ‘most favorite ally’ Saudi representative sits atop the UNHRC. And, of course, neither Fox nor MSNBC want you to discuss their human rights record. Neither does anybody ask about the well-being of Asia Bibi in Pakistan, while the US pours billions of terror-dollars to fight the evil.
Right by the shopping mall, there’s a Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah sale at unbelievably amazing discounts – cheap clothes and shoes and bags (just do not ask, how and where they are made). All can be bought by you; you may also buy outrage in the confines of your home. Again do not ask for a specific kind of the supply line because outrage is selective.
Meanwhile, in the quid pro quo of free market, relinquish your rights to the oceans, rivers, oil, gene pools, fig wasps, flowers, childhoods, wisdom, wilderness, civil rights, eco-systems, air – all of 4,600 million years of evolution.
But justice and dignity are still exclusive. They are not commodities that can be given out for free like welfare schemes. Only a certain genetic predisposition has acquired the rights to them. But do not fear, for everything else there’s Mastercard.
Raj Shekhar Sen is based out of San Francisco, California, having lived the majority of his life scattered around cities in Central India before renegading to the US of A. He considers writing to be primarily a hobby but has been fortunate enough to be published in a few journals, including Nivasini and Aquirelle. His day job is internet surfing and sometimes business consulting.
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