The recent ISIS attack in Paris is an atrocity that has focused the world’s attention once again on the use of violence by terrorist and extremist groups, and the ways in which societies should respond to such attacks. An unexpected outgrowth of the attack is a discussion of hypocrisy in reaction to the horrific suicide bombing, specifically the unequal coverage when so-called Third World people face terrorist carnage, and the suggestion that some lives, including Black lives, are not worth as much as white lives.
On Friday night, ISIS suicide bombers descended upon a Paris concert hall, leaving 129 dead and 352 wounded, including 99 critically wounded, according to CNN. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, which represents the worst violence in France since World War II. Meanwhile, President Francois Hollande called the shootings and bombings “an act of war,” adding on Saturday, “We will lead the fight, and we will be ruthless.” France began bombing ISIS targets in Syria in response.
“Once again we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians,” President Obama said in a statement. “This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”
However, the West barely noticed that the day before the attacks in Paris, a pair of bombings in Beirut, Lebanon killed 43 people and wounded over 200. There were also a string of bombings in Baghdad that killed at least 24 people and left at least 50 wounded. Additionally, on April 2, 2015, there was a terrorist attack on Garissa University College in Kenya, in which 147 people were killed. For the East African nation, it was the greatest loss of life since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which claimed over 200 lives.
And yet, as Lulu Yang noted in Digital Trends, the media focused on France, including Facebook, which allowed for safety check-ins for users in Paris, and temporary profile picture filters with the French flag superimposed on the photos of Facebook users. Yet, there were no similar offerings for Kenya, Lebanon or Iraq. Hubert Southall, a designer based in Vietnam, responded by offering to place the Kenyan, Lebanese or Iraqi flags in users’ Facebook profiles, and has encouraged other designers to follow suit.
The scant attention paid to African and Arab nations also in the grips of Islamic terrorism begs the question— do all lives really matter? Implicit is the notion that a mass murder of Europeans is an incident that deserves our undivided attention, not to mention our condemnation and revenge. World leaders and celebrities, including Black celebrities, stand together when these attacks on humanity occur in the West. However, there is silence when such crimes occur in nations of a darker hue, much less when they are Islamic nations, because in the minds of some, “those” people are expected to do that sort of thing “over there” where “they” live.
Some who hope to capitalize personally and politically on that sentiment, such as presidential candidate Jeb Bush, have created the lines of demarcation between white Christians and the “other” by arguing that only Christian refugees should be allowed in the U.S. from Syria.
Further, the circumstances unfolding in the Mideast—the chaos, the violence, the destabilization and the displacement– point to the consequences of colonial policy by the U.S. and Europe. This includes manufactured wars, and the propping up of petty dictators to allow for the exploitation of resources and the economic and political repression of the local populations. As for France and other European nations, but for the resources they are stealing from Africa, they would be Third World nations today. For example, 14 African nations are paying taxes to France for the “benefits” of colonialism–a perverse form of reverse reparations–by depositing 65 percent of their foreign currency reserves in a shared reserve fund to France. In an example of “bleeding Africa and feeding France,” France is using the wealth of these African nations in order to further indebt and enslave them.
In the meantime, we must mourn lives whenever and wherever they are lost, and remember that terrorism takes place not only in Paris but against people in Kenya, the Mideast and places such as Columbia, Missouri. And yet, amid calls for the annihilation of ISIS, Black people in the U.S. are supposed to forgive and not seek vengeance, as they are greeted by domestic terrorism here at home. White conservatives are accusing Black students at the University of Missouri and at other college universities of “whining” about racism, living in a cocoon and staging a “temper tantrum” as people are being slaughtered in Paris. This is designed to render invisible these students who face hate crimes, death threats and systemic oppression on a daily basis.
We live in a world where Black people are categorized as thugs, criminals and terrorists, and it was decided that it is impossible for white people to become these things, even as Black people in America have lived through centuries of state-sponsored and vigilante terrorism, and continue to live with the badge of slavery. Various forms of terrorism persist—America’s mass incarceration of 2.2 million is built on the backs of Black people. Due to plunder, unjust laws and a rigged system, the gap between white and Black households continues to widen. In 2013, the wealth of white households was 13 times that of Blacks, up from a factor of nine in 2010, according to Pew Research Center. Black unemployment is double that of whites, and Black college grads have the toughest time finding work. Black men with no criminal record fare as about as well as white men right out of jail. And while childhood poverty in the U.S. is at 20 percent, among Black children it holds steady at 38 percent.
This is not to downplay the suffering of some, but rather to a shine a light on the suffering of all, and proclaim that Black lives matter as well.