The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement
I received a message from one of my friends in Lebanon who asked with feigned curiosity why the U.S. media only gave a passing reference to the bombing in Beirut before turning to non-stop coverage of the attacks in Paris. Of course, like many of us she already knew the answer – that in the consciousness of the White West there is a premium on the value of White life.
Acknowledging this fact is neither new nor should it be particularly controversial. Its obviousness is apparent to anyone who is honest. We saw it in the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks where the world (meaning the White West) engaged in a gratuitous expression of moral outrage against terrorism. But that outrage against terrorism didn’t extent to the two thousand Nigerians who were murdered by Boko Haram the same weekend that a massive rally in Paris took place to condemn the Charlie Hebdo attack. At that rally not one word of solidarity or condemnation of terrorism in Nigeria was expressed by the speakers or the thousands gathered that day.
What my friend and all of us who have been the victims of the selected morality and oppressive violence of Western civilization over the last five hundred years have come to understand is that non-European life simply does not have equal value.
How else can one explain the complete lack of attention to the humanity of the victims of ISIS attacks in Beirut and in Bagdad the day before or the lack of concern for the lives of the over 7,000 people in Yemen murdered by the Saudi Arabia dictatorship, with U.S. and NATO support?
And is it unfair to suggest that it is the diminished value of life of the lives of people in the global South that allows supporters of Bernie Sanders to dismiss his support for U.S. war-mongering policies in the global South?
The Liberal Roots of White Supremacist Psychopathology:
In the classrooms of Western universities and occasionally in civic courses in high schools, students are introduced to the ideas of liberal humanitarianism that are supposed to characterize the core values of the European enlightenment. The enlightenment is supposed to represent the progressive advancement of all of humanity by the thinkers of Europe who, of course, represented the leading edge of collective humanity.
But what is not sufficiently interrogated in these classes is the fact that while these grand theories of “mankind’s” inherent equality, rationality and even “perfectibility,” were being discussed, those theorists had already arrived at a consensus. This consensus was on the criteria for determining which individuals and groups would be recognized as having equal membership in the human family, what Hannah Arendt referred to as those people who had the “right to have rights.” According to the criteria, women and the non-European world were excluded or assigned to a lower order of humanity.
Eurocentric academicians, still a hegemonic force in the West, don’t historicize the “great” humanitarian theories of Europe and critically juxtapose the rise of those theories with the concrete practices of European powers. Those practices involved the systematic slaughter of millions of Indigenous people throughout the America’s and the African slave trade that made Europe fat and rich and allowed for the creation of a class of intellectuals freed-up from the struggle to earn a living and able to engage in the higher contemplations of life.
However, Eurocentric liberalism was never just confined to the academy. It became the hegemonic ideological force that embedded itself in the culture and collective consciousness of the Western project and with it the de-valuation of non-European life and culture. In other words, the white supremacist ideology and world-view, normalized and thus unrecognized by most, has become a form of psychopathology. It is the cognitive dissonance that Fanon talks about regarding white supremacy as part of the colonial mindset and what James Baldwin refers to as the “lie of white supremacy” that has distorted the personalities, lives and the very ability of many white people to grasp reality.
However, the contradictions in the spheres of ideas and culture are not the real threat. The construction of a Western collective consciousness that is unable to cognitively process information and consider knowledge beyond the assumptions of its own world-views and values is dangerous enough, but the ease with which humanity is stratified with Europeans and their societies representing the apex of human development is the real threat because that belief has resulted in the rationalization for the crimes of colonialism, slavery and genocide, and the politics of permanent war.
The White Lives Matter Movement writ large, played out on the international stage
Despite the spirited defense of the positive aspects of liberalism from John Rawls to radicals like Slavoj Zizek, the racist and sexist contradictions of liberalism was once again confirmed by the obscenely disproportionate response to the attacks in Paris that once again demonstrated that liberalism is no more than a racist ideological construct posing as trans-historical philosophy.
However, let me be clear, my critique of the moral hypocrisy of the West should not be read as a rationalization for the horrific crimes committed in Paris a few days ago.
The intentional murder of non-combatants is a recognizable war crime that can rise to the level of a crime against humanity and should always be condemned with the perpetrators brought to justice. That legal principle is based on the moral principle of the equal value of all life and everyone’s human right to life. The defense and enforcement of those principles requires, however, that all states and groups be subjected to the same legal and ethical standards and that all are held accountable.
But in the context of the existing global power relations, crimes committed by Western states and those states aligned with the West as well as their paramilitary institutions escape accountability for crimes committed in the non-European world. In fact some states -like the United States- proudly claim their “exceptionality,” meaning impunity from international norms, as a self-evident natural right.
And in that sense, while the victims of the violence in Paris may have been innocent, France was not. French crimes against Arabs, Muslims and Africans are ever- present in the historical memory and discourse of many members of those populations living in France. Those memories, the systemic discrimination experienced by many Muslims and the collaboration of French authorities with the U.S. and others that gave aid and logistical support to extremist elements in Syria and turned their backs while their citizens traveled to Syria to topple President Assad, became the toxic mix that resulted in the blowback on November 13.
Although a number of the dead in Paris are young Arabs, Muslims and Africans, in the global popular imagination, France, like the U.S. (even under a Black president), is still white.
So in Iraq the Shia will continue to die in the thousands from ISIS bombs; the Saudis will continue to slaughter Houthi’s with U.S. and NATO assistance; and Palestinian mothers will continue to bury their children, murdered by Zionist thugs in and out of uniform, without any outcry from the West. CNN and others will give non-stop coverage to the attacks in Paris because in the end we all really know that the lives that really matter are white.