ISIS legitimated its crimes in Paris because it saw the City of Light as the “capital of prostitution and obscenity”. I personally have no issue with legalised prostitution, if the workers are not exploited – and I tend to like some obscenity.
I am happy for people who believe in god, white horses, mystical trees, stone circles and crystals and I support their right to pray where and how they wish.
In fact, I like elements of religion, such as music, art, texts, mysteries and I love religious, pagan and non-pagan holidays such as Christmas, Vesak, and Eid Al-Fitr – great occasions to be with friends. But, as secularist the polis is superior to the church, mosque or temple in guiding our civic laws.
My mild hedonism is built on art, good booze, food and cigars (now and then), travel, music, theatre, parties, friends and my family. I love cities that support my liberty. So, when Islamic religious nuts attacked Paris again, I was angered.
Within hours of the attacks some progressives expressed indignation across Twitter and Facebook over what they perceived to be western media bias in not giving the Beirut massacres a week earlier equal weight to the Parisian one.
Their argument being: the West, (whatever the West is), cares less over the deaths of non-Westerners inflicted by Islamic terror groups. Interestingly, few of those arguing this referred to Paris’ cultural diversity. And we should know that many more Muslims living outside the West die at the hands of these theocratic terrorists.
The relativist approach elevates ISIS and like-minded groups by coating them with a revolutionary image and providing legitimacy for their stated causes. Seventy years ago socialists, liberals, centrists and conservatives joined forces to fight fascism and Nazism.
ISIS feeds off the creation of polarity. It thrives on angry anti-Muslim rhetoric by reactionaries and even ordinary folk. They seek sectarian division, they crave exactly what Western fascist thugs do – cultural superiority and racist policies.
New Matilda’s Chris Graham, in ‘Paris Attacks Highlight Western Vulnerability, And Our Selective Grief And Outrage’, asks us to consider a French citizen’s life only if it is counter-balanced by an immediate reflection on Kenyan or on Beirut victims of terror. Mali had not occurred yet when Graham published his piece.
Graham was worried about the western media’s perception of people from the “brown part of the world”, as though Middle Eastern, Turkish, African people are all ‘brown’ and he’s clearly already determined what ‘white’ is.
I wonder if Graham puts those of us from Greek, Italian or Maltese background in the ‘brown’ or ‘white’ box. My Aunty Georgia is browner than my mate who’s blond and Egyptian.
Theatre maker Lee Lewis a few years ago called for more diversity on Australian stages and wanted more “third world looking people” in theatre.
After 40 years of multicultural policies, a range of ethnic and Aboriginal advocates, service organisations, and non-Anglo artists and activists trying to break through one of the most monocultural industries in Australia – the arts – we now have a bunch of well-meaning, self-described ‘white’ Anglos patting themselves on the back for seeking more diversity, as though none of the non-Anglo voices since the 1970s mattered.
Anyway … back to Paris. Parisians are African, Arabic, Turkish, Vietnamese, Chinese and so on. The terrorists were European citizens. If Graham had raised the deeper issues of French and European approaches to integration and multiculturalism in comparison to the relative success of Australian, American, Canadian models, I would be more agreeable.
Many of us were disgusted, angered and felt helpless for the victims in Lebanon, Kenya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mumbai, Bali, Belsan and other non-western places.
My stomach knots when I view, read and hear about the horrors in Syria and the gruelling and dangerous journeys so many refugees have to make. If I had my way I’d have all refugees here. I’m sure we’d benefit from their skills, languages, creativity, personal experiences, entrepreneurship and good looks.
Graham writes: “…bombings in Lebanon drew no tweet from Malcolm Turnbull, no social media statement from Barack Obama, no live media blogs from Western media, no wall-to-wall media coverage.”
Yet President Obama, President Hollande, Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition Leader Shorten did reference Kenya, Lebanon and Turkey when discussing Paris. But they may not have done it just as the bodies were still piling up in Paris.
I am not sure if Graham has raised concerns over the fate of ‘brown’ Christians in the Middle East since the Arab Spring.
There was silence from progressive, liberal and conservative camps when Muslim Brotherhood supporters incinerated Coptic Churches in Egypt and ISIS in Iraq and Syria was literally crucifying ‘brown’ Orthodox Arabs.
I saw little discussion of colonialism, racism or western arrogance, yet Arab Christians have been in the Middle East and Ethiopia before Christianity (Judaism Lite) reached the Roman Empire through Greece, and Islam came almost 1,000 years later.
Until the nationalist post-colonial movements of the Middle East, Christians, Jews and Muslims had lived in relative peace with each other, if not always harmoniously.
Graham’s argument is a code for the axiomatic; ‘terror is natural payback for past colonialism’ by the West of the Middle East.
There’s much to blame on French, Italian, British, Turkish (many on the Anglo left have forgotten the Ottomans), colonialists and other settlers for some of the mess that is the current Middle East.
Various American administrations have also exacerbated conflicts. What of the rest? What of the 300 million culturally, religiously and demographically-diverse Arab and non-Arab people who make up the Middle East?
Are they simply fodder for the relentless roll of historical materialism?
What of that luminous start of liberal democracy so viciously extinguished by religious and later military forces after the Arab Spring? Does Graham think nothing of that?
Historical injustice (real and perceived) does not explain the rape, torture and slaughter of innocents by ISIS and like-minded fanatical groups. History relieves no one of ethical agency.
That Paris secured more coverage in the western media may also have something to do with the fact that the city occupies a central place the political, social, philosophical history of the modern West. It’s the hotbed of revolution! And yes, France also spawned fascists, Vichy, the National Front, the sort of goons Daesh wants to enrage in its attempt to create division.
We forget that Beirut was referred to as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ – and with good reason – before it was subsumed by a civil war aided by Syria/USSR/Muslim on one side and Israel/USA/Christian on the other. It was a sophisticated, liberal, open, commercial, multi-faith and multicultural city, as were many of the centres of the Middle East.
On the Tuesday after the massacre, at 9.00 am on ABC News, the federal Minister for Justice Michael Keenan linked the downing of the Russian jet over Egypt with the Beirut bombings and Paris, as did the Australian prime minister and President Obama.
The bombings in Kenya and Lebanon and the bombing of the Russian passenger jet attracted substantial attention in Anglo-American-Australian media, but attracted far more attention in Middle Eastern, African, Eastern European, Russian and European media.
In a globalised digital media setting and a culturally-diverse world, The New York Times, Le Monde, RT, BBC, RAI and Al Jazeera occupy a level playing field. CNN Arabic and BBC Arabic exist for a reason – they communicate to a large and important language market.
There’s a cultural hierarchy innate in the arguments espoused by Graham and others like him. He seems to regard the Anglo-Western media as more important than non-Anglo-American-Australian media.
When the Turkish, Middle Eastern, European media focused on Turkish victims of terror a few weeks ago Graham wrote nothing. I saw no article from him, or others, on why Turkish media did not immediately conflate the suicide terror bombings with the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
When Kenyans and tourists were murdered at the Westgate Shopping Centre in 2013, did Graham condemn Kenyan and other African media for not immediately conflating those deaths with western deaths at the hands of terrorists?
Over two weeks in South Africa this year my perspective of the world increasingly became more African. The media’s foci were on Africa, while Europe, Britain and the USA were relegated to pages six or eight, while I saw more Chinese media, RT and Al Jazeera than BBC or CNN on TV.
Finally, we should recognise the attacks on Paris for what they are; an attack on secularism, liberalism and freedom.
Rousseau’s human rights and France’s revolution stimulated the ideology that shook off colonialism and hereditary power across much of the modern world – especially most of the colonised world seeking independence.
It was these revolutionary values that gave succour to the American Revolution, the Irish Republicans and gave Algerian revolutionaries independence from France.
The Algerians fighting the colonial French forces used the French constitution to legitimate their cause, as did the Vietnamese fighting the French first, and then the Americans.
De Gaulle was both a hero to colonial settlers, or ‘Pied Noir’ as he was to the Algerian people seeking independence from their French colonial masters.
France, as the home of revolution, modern human rights and republican ideals, could not sustain antiquated forms of colonial oppression, especially as the leaders of these ‘brown’ or non-white revolutions were educated in Paris.
The people gunned down by these Daesh recruits, like all their victims in the Middle East, need to be mourned. No death is more important than any other. I also consider the horror of the families of the young men and women who join this fascist clerical movement.
President Hollande, when talking of defeating ISIS, spoke of the French values of liberty, fraternity and equality as the pillars of its society. He also talked at length about embracing cultural diversity and engaging with the French Muslim population.
He argues that this cultural cohesion was the real enemy of ISIS. Our PM, Malcolm Turnbull (thank god Tony is out), also praised Australia’s multiculturalism and asked the Muslim communities to be partners in the fight against extremism. I guess Graham may have missed much of this.
* Fotis Kapetopoulos heads Kape Communications Pty Ltd, a cultural communications consultancy. He was Multicultural Media Adviser to Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and former editor of Neos Kosmos English Edition.
This article was first published in Crikey Daily Review.