Even though I’m mostly numb to the daily onslaught of news about murders, bombings, drone assassinations, terrorist attacks, civil wars, refugees drowning, violence against ethnic minorities, police brutality, rape and sexual assault, school shootings, and extreme poverty that kills thousands every day I’m having trouble shaking the deep sense of sadness that the recent attacks in Paris have left me with.
It’s not because of the number of people killed. Far more children die every day of preventable diseases and I’m too rational to be more bothered by the fact that it happened in Paris. It’s not because religion was involved because I don’t think this is a religious issue. It’s not because I value the life of a Parisian more than the life of an Iraqi because I don’t.
It’s because as soon as I heard the news I immediately knew what the consequences would be: an escalation of the “war on terror,” i.e. more innocent people dying, and subsequent escalation of terrorist attacks. And because I know that the only things that might eventually work to tamp down the cycle of violence are not going to happen anytime in the near future. My fears were confirmed when I heard French president Francois Hollande say that France would respond “mercilessly.” And sure enough Monday morning France had announced that they bombed Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State.
We desperately need to begin to put an end to the cycle of violence. This attack on Paris is an opportunity for those of us in the West to have some idea of what it means to be under threat, of what it means to have friends, family, countrymen killed by violence. We need to try to understand what it is like to live in the Middle East, although none of us can ever truly understand. The amount of violence, terrorism, poverty, instability, oppression, that the people of the Muslim world have endured is staggering. Yet, we in the West have largely been oblivious and indifferent.
The only time we seem to give a second thought to anyone in that part of the world is when our lives are disrupted in some way. Did anyone in the United States or Europe give a shit what was happening in Afganistan before 9/11? Did we care about the oppression of girls being perpetrated by the Taliban? Were we concerned with the child mortality rates and illiteracy rates there?
Did we or do we now care about the fact that not a single country in the entire Middle East is a functioning democracy? That the idea of civil rights is a sad cruel joke for them? Even the vast majority of us that liberal and care about these issues have not done nearly enough.
We have two options we can start giving a shit about the billions of poor people in the world suffering in inhumane conditions of poverty and oppression from warlords and corrupt governments or we can kill some of the people who want to kill us, while spending lots of money to make military contractors rich, killing lots of innocent people, and feeding into the cycle of oppression and terrorism.
I vote for the former and here’s how we can begin to do it
The most important thing we can do at this point to be committed to seeing justice done in Israel and Palestine. We can no longer unilaterally support Israel. We must stop all aid, military and other to Israel and we must apply diplomatic pressure until an agreement on a two-state solution can be reached. Without this there is not going to be any progress in the region. In a discussion with students in one of my ethics classes we discussed the Paris attack and one student asked what can be done to make the situation better. This class was about one-third Arab so I was trying to parse my words carefully. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure how they would feel about what I was about to say, but I just went with what I thought to be true and said that the first thing we need to do to begin the process of moving to stabilize the region is a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. My apprehension immediately vanished as I saw every one of their faces immediately light up with huge smiles. The amazing thing is that out of all the problems in the Middle East this one is actually quite feasible. Transitioning every other country there to a functioning democracy is going to take a significant period of time but we end get half-way to fixing the region by just reversing course on our unilateral support for Israel and pushing vigorously for a two-state solution. Those of us that understand this need to take serious political action on this issue.
Additionally, we need to demand that any country that is our ally transition to democracy and uphold basic human rights. We must stop doing business with countries that are not democracies, most notably in the Middle East this means Saudi Arabia. People in those countries know that the United States is morally bankrupt. We will never any moral credibility as long as we do business with corrupt governments and dictators simply because it in our short-term financial interest. We also need to end the privatization of oil profiteering in the Middle East. As long as American corporations profit off of military action in the Middle East there is no possibility for people in that region to see us as anything other than criminals. And we need to put George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and anyone in the Bush administration who was involved with torture and lying about weapons of mass destruction on trial for crimes against humanity. We need to show the world we are absolutely committed to upholding the universal declaration of human rights and that we value the lives of all members of the human race equally.
More broadly we need to end extreme poverty. We can not continue business as usual. If the whole world were serious about ending extreme poverty, you know the kind that kills 21,000 children every fucking day, we could end extreme poverty in a very short period of time.
I’ve been encouraged by the many blog posts and social media posts I’ve seen about how we can’t just “#prayforparis” and how we in the West have failed to value human life around the globe the way we value the life of an American or a Parisian. The Paris attack came at an opportune moment just on the heels of other equally devastating attacks in other parts of the world that received far less sympathy and outrage. This is an important start, and we need to the keep the conversation going. Since the beginning of the modern period of history Europeans have failed to respect the dignity of those outside of Europe by enslaving them and exploiting them and while the grossest forms of violence have been rejected our political structures still fail to value every human life equally.
There are children dying of preventable diseases virtually at every moment somewhere in the world. 21,000 die of preventable disease per day,875 per hour, 14 per minute, or one every 4 seconds or so. Or over 7,665,000 per year, if you prefer it calculated per annum.
A half a million people, using a conservative estimate, have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. led invasion in 2003. The Israelis have been terrorizing the Palestinians with the support of the United States and Europe for decades. We have absolutely failed in our moral mandate to value all human lives equally. We can make whatever excuses we want but collectively we should all admit this. Admitting it we can begin to move forward.
These challenges are not going to be solved by any one person. The United States political system has been almost entirely corrupted by corporate interests. Poverty is so high and the level of education so low amongst vast portions of society that they literally can not comprehend the basics of how government works and how taxes and government welfare programs work to benefit the poor. So many of us have lost hope that positive political change is possible. And the absolutely dismal voter turnout virtually guarantees that no positive change will come about.
Yet there are signs of hope. The Occupy Wall Street movement shined a bright spotlight on the issues of economic inequality and class that have remained hidden from view for the better part of a century in the United States. A socialist is running for president and is being predicted by many to win. Gay marriage has become legal and drug decriminalization is only a few years away. The black lives matter movement is raising consciousness on important racial issues in the United States that have long been neglected.
We’ve failed and we should have the honesty to admit that we’ve failed. The standards of morality are high and there is no shame in failing to live up to the highest moral standard if we’ve made a sincere effort, but far too often we haven’t even made the slightest effort.
Let’s change that. Let’s vow to do better. Let’s vow to care more about the entirety of humanity and to put our words into political action. We must protest the injustices that are taking place and will take place in the near future. Let’s demand that our governments do better. And let’s vote for politicians who will value the lives of all of humanity.