Curtain Raiser

The Casualties of Paris, Colltalers

Some news can’t go unreported. Even for those of us, let’s say, not graced with the audience of millions, but still speaking to many people in all continents, it’s virtually impossible to find a subject other than the one glaring on every world headline.
Which doesn’t make it any easier finding an angle that hasn’t already been so thoroughly dissected to be sucked it out dried of any meaning. Or to avoid falling into the trap of taking sides, for that matter, the ultimate capitulation to the ‘us against them’ quagmire.
Consider the events that unfolded in Paris this past week, with the murder of several cartoonists, a Muslim cop (more on that later), a few hostages, and three of the alleged accused of having invaded the Charlie Hebdo magazine with intent to kill.
The particularly bloody attack left us with a few options: either to dutifully line up what’s known from a distant point, as an unqualified but no less involved bystander, taking the ethical precaution of consulting more than a few sources at every step of the way. Or to go on a diatribe against everything we see that’s so blatantly clear about what’s wrong with the times we live in.
Good luck with either one, you may say. Both ways seem utterly irrelevant: neither one more recapitulation of the events that gripped, or rather, grabbed the world by its throat will shed more light on what’s going on, nor will simply complaining about it.
But the three million who marched across France, in solidarity to those massacred, did have something meaningful to say. And so had the many Muslims, Jewish, Catholics, and members of pretty much all walks of the French society, who condemned the brutal killings, and that now have a gargantuan task of toning down their own indignation with necessary calls for temperance.
To the world at large, which includes the mentioned ‘involved bystanders,’ the battle is equally challenging, as the intelligence agencies, which failed to prevent the attack, now go on the offensive, asking for more security, surveillance, and funds for going after their perceived enemies. Never mind that billions of dollars spent spying on common citizens just proved once again useless.
Fear that, no matter how much money governments spend on gathering information on extremists across the world, we’ll remain unsafe and constantly at risk for acts of terrorism, may fuel another dangerous wave of phony patriotism, xenophobia, racial hatred, ethnic cleansing, just like the one that followed, in varying degrees, the unconscionable 9/11 attacks in the U.S.
We’ve all suffered the consequences, not just of the attacks themselves, but of what came in reaction to them: widespread paranoia against people who didn’t look like us, and a crippling feeling that shady organizations, both within governments and independent from them, know more than they should about everyone, even while consistently failing to protect us.
The rampage in Paris didn’t occur in a vacuum either. Rallies against immigrants in Germany, growing anti-Semitism in Europe (which Israel’s right-wing leaders have shamelessly used for political gain), and the 800 million pound (of TNT) sitting in the middle of the room, the open conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, all play out as a disgraceful context for the assassinations.
But none of that can’t be admitted as justifications for murder, if we’re to preserve respect to human dignity, and the democratic right to disagree, allegiance to which have tenuously separated us from barbarism (a misnomer we’ll let it slide for now).
Take Ahmed Merabet, for instance, a police officer and the first to be shot dead by the ‘two false Muslims,’ as his brother Malek put it in a moving statement for tolerance. He couldn’t possibly envision that he’d be killed by those claiming to be avenging the Prophet, to whom they all piously prayed through their lives. And neither could he be placed in the same context of his killers.
But that kind of nuance may have already become another casualty in the aftermath of the tragedy, as security forces have already arrested over a dozen suspects, while hunting for Hayat Boumeddiene, the fourth accused of having planned the attack.
As the episode becomes a police matter, as it should, the larger issues surrounding it are bound to be reduced to the usual cliches that have marked the debate over terrorism, security, religion, right to self-determination, race, do we need to keep on going?
‘Clash of civilizations’ has been tossed with abandon, even as some of those detained have already been released, and the four Jews killed during a hostage situation at a kosher supermarket, may have been chosen randomly, or even been hit by police bullets.
There’s no possible uplifting moral to be drawn from Boko Haram’s latest massacre, where it’s said to have wiped an entire Nigerian village. Speaking of misnomers, it’s instructive to know that the name could mean ‘Impure Books’ in a rough translation, which, nonetheless, is clear in its Fahrenheit 501-like hatred towards education and knowledge, and used to justify murder.
If fact, for the same reason that there’s no lesson to be learned in suicide bombings, there isn’t any merit in the media’s reductive reporting of them. Case in point: the latest, despicable twitter that media mogul Rupert Murdoch wrote about Muslims.
Then again, what possible moral standard can be squeezed out of the fight to eradicate Islamic State extremists in Syria, for instance? It was only after a human rights group said that up to 50 civilians may have been killed by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike against ISIL, late last month, that the Pentagon felt compelled to investigate some claims, while still disputing that number.
It is indeed an outrage that, despite billions of dollars spent, attempting to kill 41 suspected terrorists, the majority of whom almost no one can name, American drones have killed an estimated 1,147 people, according to a different human rights organization.
So much for ‘target killings,’ and even to drone technology, that’s supposed to save soldier lives on the ground, and small fortunes in the defense budget. We’re certainly not seeing these ‘savings’ being reverted to increase worldwide literacy, curb hunger and poverty, improve basic infrastructure, and other efforts to promote human beings here and abroad.
Thus this open-ended, and deeply incomplete, post that, it’s been said, neither enumerates nor elucidates the scourge that got the best of everyone in France, before people took to the streets to declare their unwavering rebuff against hatred, religious or otherwise.
For we already knew that the majority of people all over this planet do not consider bloodshed as an acceptable alternative to settle disputes, even when justice is so often poorly served. But given the media coverage the tragedy in Paris has received so far, we’re not optimistic about what comes next. Which doesn’t mean that the senselessly murdered have been killed in vain.
Jean Cabut, Stephane Charbonnier, Philippe Honore, Bernard Maris, Michel Renaud, Bernard ‘Tignous’ Verhlhac, Georges Wolinski, plus Frédéric Boisseau, Elsa Cayat, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Philip Braham, François-Michel Saada, Ahmed and fellow cop Franck Brinsolaro, and a still unidentified number of victims, will get their due of recognition from their loved ones.
We’re memorializing them here, and even if for a brief moment, we’re making their pain ours. Now if their sacrifice could count for anything longer than their human lives, it’d be a perfect way to end this post. As it goes, however, it is not, and we’re bracing ourselves for more. What a terrible way to start a new year. Now there’s only 353 days for us to make it better. Stay strong. WC

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