Here we go again. Another frightening terrorist attack followed by renewed calls for more war and bombings abroad, and fear-mongering racism at home. The routine has become all too familiar by now. So it goes.
Mere hours after the Paris shootings, Facebook users began perfunctorily changing their profile pictures–in a well-intended, though ultimately superficial show of “standing in solidarity” with the citizens of France–to an overlay of the French flag. The online trend recalled the similar re-posting of “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” that ensued after the equally deplorable terrorist attacks on the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, earlier this year.
But, as with the Charlie Hebdo meme, once again more rational voices have tried to point out the hypocrisy inherent in such conformist, selective outrage.
“We are all France. Apparently,” writes anti-war activist and author, David Swanson in a blog post titled, “Non-French War Deaths Matter.” “Though we are never all Lebanon or Syria or Iraq for some reason. Or a long, long list of additional places.”
“The majority of deaths in all recent wars are civilian,” Swanson writes. “The majority of civilians are not hard to sympathize with once superficial barriers are overcome. Yet, the U.S. media never seems to declare deaths in Yemen or Pakistan or Palestine to be attacks on our common humanity.”
Swanson’s point recalls Professors Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s distinction between “worthy” and “unworthy” victims, enumerated in their classic 1988 media critique, Manufacturing Consent.
According to Herman and Chomsky, the mainstream mass media, which the authors liken to a “propaganda model,” often employ disparate approaches in their treatment of victims of wars, depending on the nation’s relationship to the United States and its allies. (The color of the victims’ skin likely plays a factor as well.) This distinction between so-called “worthy” and “unworthy” victims constitutes one of the many “filters” the corporate news media utilize to shape public opinion, “manufacture consent” for programs and policies citizens would not otherwise be inclined to support, and generally serve as a propaganda arm for the corporate state.
Thus, the deaths of Israeli soldiers at the hands of Hamas regularly garner prominent, sufficiently outraged coverage from the media, while the exceptionally higher numbers of Palestinian civilians routinely killed by Israeli military forces register, by comparison, considerably less attention by the same media outlets.
The Paris attacks have also led to the inevitable descent into Islamophobia, with renewed racist invective toward immigrants in general and Muslims in particular. Gov. Paul LePage got in on the act last week when he proclaimed he would “adamantly oppose any attempt by the federal government to place Syrian refugees in Maine.”
Given that the governor technically has no authority over who is or is not allowed into the state, combined with the overall unlikeliness of refugees from Syria seeking asylum in Maine, one should view LePage’s ignorant comments as another of the vapid, unintelligible outbursts he has become known for. But that does not diminish the frightening racist sentiments behind those comments which, sadly, are shared by an alarming number of Mainers.
Bangor Daily News blogger and Bollard editor, Chris Busby, called LePage’s stance a “de facto surrender to the terrorists of the Islamic State [of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS].” (“LePage’s refugee stance cowardly, traitorous,” 11/19/2015.)
“LePage,” Busby writes, “has offered ISIS the full buffet: fear, bigotry, and an open declaration to the world that the United States cannot protect its citizens against ISIS even inside our homeland.”
The anti-Muslim rhetoric reverberated throughout Washington where the Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed a bill Friday, 289-137, halting the influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. The bill, “The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act,” was pure reactionary theater. Asylum seekers already face an exhaustive, two-year vetting process before being granted entry into the country.
But then, we are entering an election year, and the unfortunate truth is racist fear-mongering secures votes.
The late cultural critic, Edward Said, has perhaps done the most influential work in analyzing the plight of “The Other,” or any minority group that is marginalized and scapegoated as somehow different or alien in an “Us-versus-Them” mentality. Said was himself, Palestinian.
“Arabs… are thought of as camel-riding, terroristic, hook-nosed, venal lechers,” Said writes in his classic 1978 work, Orientalism, “whose undeserved wealth is an affront to real civilization. Always there lurks the assumption that although the Western consumer belongs to a numerical minority, he is entitled either to own or to expend (or both) the majority of the world resources. Why? Because he, unlike the Oriental, is a true human being.”
The rank hypocrisy of xenophobic Mainers who side with LePage and other reactionary Republican governors is glaring. They argue we must “look after our own” citizens rather than accept refugees fleeing war-torn countries. Yet, their idea of “looking after our own” is apparently deriding the poor and homeless as “lazy,” and “moochers.” I am willing to bet most of them voted against the “living wage” referendum earlier this month.
“Look after our own”….? That is a nice idea. We should try it sometime.
But while the American working class misguidedly directs its anger and hostility at Middle Eastern refugees–most of whom are the victims of our own wars and imperial adventures–the real villains are laughing all the way to the bank. Literally.
As Glenn Greenwald reported Nov. 16 on The Intercept, the stock prices of major weapons manufacturers like Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, and General Dynamics started soaring a mere two days after the Paris attacks. Surveillance state profiteers, Booz Allen Hamilton, where exiled NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden worked, has also seen a similar stock rise.
Turns out Allen Ginsburg was right: War is good business.
The campaign’s obvious logistical absurdity aside, the so-called “War on Terror” has proven to be an utter disaster. Rather than ridding the world of terrorists, the now 14-year-long conflict, which in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, now includes Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Pakistan, has only generated more anti-American hostility throughout the world. And as CIA Director John Brennan has himself admitted, the “War on Terror” is not truly meant to be won. It is meant, in Orwell’s prescient phrase, to be continuous.
The carnage unleashed in Paris is, no doubt, horrific. But increased war and Islamophobia will not make us safer. Those of us on the left must oppose–in actions large and small, meaningful and symbolic–the West and Europe’s drive for more war.