Today, everybody is an armchair expert on international relations. I'm just one more. I'm no expert either, but I can vent forth with the rest. I do it here to avoid getting into fruitless arguments in social media, because I've seen feelings running very high. I prefer to keep calm and analyse. Because a lot of people are talking bollocks.
The argument du jour is that Paris is just one place that has been hit by ISIS, far from the worst, and is getting too much publicity, and everyone is forgetting about the rest. Well, some may be, I can't help them. There will always be those who live under a rock. But for most people, it is not a question of Paris being more important, but of the shock factor when the target is outside of the "trouble zones". If it had been Sydney, or Buenos Aires, or Oslo, or Tokyo, the reaction would have been the same. We don't expect it to happen in those places. We are used to seeing atrocities in the middle east and in Africa. It doesn't mean we don't care, it's just less of a shock.
Like it not, nobody, absolutely nobody, reacts viscerally to every news story of a mass killing, or even a natural disaster. Every single one of the people who are suddenly interested in the "whole world and not just Paris" have ignored deaths on a greater scale, somewhere else, recently, because nobody, not even dedicated journalists or activists with a human rights bias, have the time or the energy to respond to everything that happens in the world. There is a lot of it.
We react first and foremost to things close to home. Or places that feel like home. For me, personally, this was a "big deal" because I know Paris well. I love it very much. It feels like something that was "mine" that was harmed. For other people, even those who've never been there, it represents something special. It has a distinctive history of the people taking charge, and keeping it that way. It has a culture many are deeply fond of, even at a distance. In a way it seems familiar, even to Americans who've only seen it in the movies. It's not wrong to be upset about an iconic city. It's also not wrong to care about people even if their government may not have had a "clean" record in policy. I'll come back to that in a moment.
But the fact is that it's been proven time and again that we care more about things that look us right in the face. Charities know they'll get more money showing us ONE starving child, than if they tell us that 20,000 children are starving to death daily (they are by the way, are you "we love the whole world, not just Paris" people doing anything about that?). We react to visuals. To names. To personal accounts.
Just a few months ago nobody knew about the refugees from Syria. So nobody cared. Then we started seeing photos comparing the before and after of the effects of the bombings there.
.....and then we sat up and took notice. But some still want to send them back there!
No, it's sad, and it's wrong, but we become accustomed to news of tragedy and death. We scroll past it. It's just another one. Or another 5,000. We know, and we move on.
But there's actually a benefit here. Eventually something gets our attention. It becomes symbolic. It becomes a turning point that finally makes people think, and talk, and act. We have to hope they act well, because by the nonsense I keep hearing (more bombs! more bombs!) I don't think some of them have got it yet.
On a side note, this reminds me of other issues where a focus is criticized. Black Lives Matter is criticized for its focus on black people. "All lives matter", they cry. Yes, we know, but these are the ones who, right now, need more attention, because it often appears that they are treated as expendable. Feminism is criticized for its focus on women. "What about men?" they cry. Yes, men matter too, but women are the ones who, still today, are treated as second class. To reach equality we need to boost the status of women UP to that of men. Sometimes you have to focus on one area to get awareness, and you choose those who are suffering NOW. For example, all dogs deserve love and fair treatment, but right now we have to focus on the rights of Pit Bulls and similar dogs, because they are the ones being euthanized for no reason. "All dogs matter" isn't what helps the Pit Bulls. A focus on them is what is needed.
I'm going to borrow an analogy I read on this topic, because it's a damn good one. If you break your arm and take it to the ER, you expect the doctor to focus on your arm. If he X-Rayed your whole body, and put a cast on all your limbs, you'd ask him why. And if he said "all bones matter" you'd demand that he paid attention to the broken arm, never mind the rest right now. "But what if you break your leg next week?" Well, you'd deal with that then.
And to further this analogy, there are lots of other people with broken arms not being attended to by that doctor. Their broken arms matter too, but they have not presented themselves to him. It's not that he doesn't care about them.
Now, it has been said that the west is responsible for the rise of ISIS, and in inflaming tension in the middle east in general. Those with longer memories, or an interest in history have also noted that the instability in the middle east has long been affected by the actions of Europe and the US, and that ultimately you reap what you sow.
Obviously, there is much truth in this. Either directly or indirectly, outsiders have damaged not just the middle east itself but also Africa, and central Asia by self-serving policies, for hundreds of years. Colonialism was never a charity mission. We cannot expect that to be just forgotten, forgiven, and for everyone affected to just get over it. The damage is done, and it's extreme.
At the same time, we aren't going to make things better by making things worse, so, for example, insisting that French foreign policy is evil and it serves them right, is not a way forward. It's not a solution. It's just not helpful. Learn from mistakes, yes, most definitely. Then work towards a better future.
We are also not going to solve anything by blaming and persecuting innocent Muslims, which is the vast majority. Not only is it unethical, it's illogical. When something is both of those then it's simply wrong, and that's all that needs to be said on that topic, because I just can't waste my time on such nonsense. I have zero tolerance for that level of stupidity.
Of course a lot of knee-jerk reactions are caused by fear and ignorance. Perhaps we have to be a little patient with friends and family who are saying things we don't agree with. We solve nothing by fighting among ourselves over something none of us have any control over.
I'll leave you with this article, as it's one of the better ones I've read recently. There are plenty of others, and it does help us understand it a bit. But at the end of the day we have to accept that we don't and can't really understand this phenomenon. I sincerely hope that those who are working to overcome the poison that is ISIS know what they're doing, and I wish them well, because I wouldn't want their job for anything. Meanwhile if you are really so clever that you have a solution, do let them know, I'm sure they'd be pleased to hear from you.