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Against Moral Imposters: Mourning the Dead as a Part of the World 


“I’ve never seen so many dead around me.  It looked like a battlefield, there was blood everywhere, there were bodies everywhere…”

– Witness named Yasmine, as related to BFM television.

This was “not just an assault on France but on all of humanity and the universal values we share.”

-US President Barack Obama

“What you are doing in Syria, you are going to pay for it now.”

–reported words of suicide attacker in Paris’s Bataclan theater.

CounterPunch contributor Chris Floyd has put into words some of how I’ve been feeling this morning, in response to the horrific news out of Paris.   I recommend reading his piece.  I won’t restate the facts and arguments he makes, but they are crucial.

I will only add this:

Doing justice to the human misery of this moment means both attending to the particular experiences and desperate needs of those affected right now in Paris, *and* relating what has happened to the rest of the world, and to the history that has brought us to this desperate point. Still a rare occurrence in the West, such blinding terror attacks have become an apocalyptic commonplace in the places that Western states have helped to ravage. While it is totally unacceptable that places such as Paris are made to look like battlefields, it is equally crucial that we seize upon this moment to reflect on those other places, with histories and culture just as rich as Paris, that have been torn apart by recent wars and sectarian violence, often as a direct–and sometimes an indirect–response to Western imperialism, and often under US leadership.  Places whose suffering seldom makes it onto our TV screens, and even then, when it does, is generally shorn of the historical context that makes it comprehensible.

Were we to take seriously Obama’s boilerplate affirmation of “humanity and the universal values we share” in the wake of these mass killings, we would have to stand opposed absolutely not only to the killing of civilians in Paris, but in all the many other cities and towns across the world, including especially those places where Western bombs rain down, snuffing out innocent lives of every day people, even as I write this line.  After all, while we have very limited influence over the actions of others–infantile imperial fantasies of “full spectrum dominance” to one side–we ought to have much more say over our own actions, right?

Those who emphasize only the immediate and particular suffering of those killed and injured and traumatized in Paris, without acknowledging the broader context and history out of which this horrific violence has exploded–though they may sound like the true humanitarians–neither do justice to the situation, nor do they help us to achieve a framework for response, in thinking or in action, that can in fact reduce, rather than escalate and increase, the dangers that these terrible events represent, and that they portend.

Those politicians and pundits who loudly mourn and claim to honor the victims of the Paris attacks, emphasizing the exceptional, unique, and inexplicable nature of “the terrorists,” and before long calling us to rush and to strike out at a “terror” and an “evil” that is understood incorrectly as located simply *elsewhere,” are moral imposters.  They all but guarantee that such horrors will recur again soon, “elsewhere” and “here” both.

Relishing the latest killer drone strikes and promising us a generation-long war against “militant islam”–just moments before the bombs went off in Paris– the new US Joint Chiefs of Staff head Marine General  “Fighting Joe” Dunford only assures us that he will create more “Jihadi Johns.”  Every bomb is a toxic seed, that both brings terror to the people below, and planting the basis for future terrorism.

Conversely, those who emphasize only the “big picture” and do not dwell on the human devastation and horror of what is happening to the actual people whose lives have been torn apart in Paris do an opposite injustice, focusing on the general  situation to the point of growing blind to the particular.  We must not trivialize the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Paris.  We must not see our anti-imperialism as negating or making light of what these people are facing.  We must rather see the struggle against imperialist response as a deep and sincere way to honor the lives of those who have been made to pay the price for reckless policies and murderous rulers who ravage in their name.

We have reached a point where it is possible–and perhaps necessary–to conceive of the struggle to end imperialism and to dismantle its ideological and institutional apparatus as a way to protect innocent people from terrorism of both the sectarian and the state-sponsored variety, both “here” and “abroad.”  We must make the argument against war and empire both in ethical terms and in terms of our own self-interest. If we want to live in a world without terror and terrorism, we must stop it from raining down on others as well.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that we live on one and the same world, and that this world is in peril, indeed, in despair.  Let us shame and shed the leadership of those who would kill innocent people for their cynical ends, whatever flag they hoist or dogma they spout.

Let us not allow Paris blood be traded for blood elsewhere, whether among the immigrant and refugee communities of Europe, or among peoples living in the war-torn Middle East.

Let us unite with the suffering in the streets everywhere, as human beings, not as captive crusaders blinded by pain and by the false moral imposters that tell us again and again that our particular suffering is unique.  It is horrifying, it is intolerable, yes.  But it is far from unique.  Just as the terror is not unique.  When we feel this pain and sorrow and terror, sadly, we are being forced to join with so much of the rest of the world.  Let us mourn the victims in Paris, not as separate from, but as part of that world.

As part of that world, let us break the vicious cycle of imperialism–sectarian terrorism—imperialism.

Until and unless we do, I weep for our future, which surely will burn…

Joseph G. Ramsey is an activist and writer living in Boston. He is a contributing editor at Red Wedge, a co-editor at Cultural Logic: an electronic journal of Marxist theory and practice, and a contributing board member at Socialism and Democracy.

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