While we all – justly – mourn the lives lost in the Paris attack as #AllLivesMatter I would like to direct you to not that large of a continent called Africa, along with another region of the world known as the Middle East. According to the website of Wars in the World, there are roughly 27 armed conflicts in Africa as opposed to the 25 which has been officially recognized by the African Union. The Middle East on the other hand is home to three of the five most dangerous countries whilst the other two are in Africa. So while reiterating the fact that I empathise with – not pity- the people whose loved ones have been lost due to the callous act of terror and feel for the countless others who have been injured and tormented both physically and psychologically. I refuse to join in the parody that is Newton’s Fourth Law: Every action has an equal but opposite reaction, with social media overreacting.
The thing about the #generation and 140 character thought sharing platform is that, our attention span is just as short. Today we type #PrayForParis and tomorrow we will be back to the apathetic life style we have grown accustomed to and ponder what next to up load on to ‘My Story’ and if that will be accepted on to ‘Live Story’ on Snapchat.
Macho Governments and Warnings Ignored
In directing the reader to the point of salience, it is critical one remembers that this is not the first time bombs have exploded and guns fired in France, let alone on European soil. Due to the continuing trend of governments centralizing power in an unequitable manner, turning to punitive as oppose to restorative justice systems, failing to adopt pluralistic legislature and opting to garner political mileage by playing on the majority’s whims and fancies. Calamitous errors are being committed at a scale from which a return to peace and stability at a level of the human species is becoming increasingly doubtful. Thus, though unfortunate, it can be safely said this won’t be the last time a hashtag is created and used by social media users as a response to this kind scenario.
Lakshman Kadirgamar is undoubtedly a contested character and as is the case with all larger than life personalities, even after death, the manner in which he conducted himself has resulted in the continued debate regarding the man, his life and most critically his work. Long before the return of Jihad through the front door of European civilization, whilst Sri Lanka was at the high of its insurgency, Kadirgamar as foreign minister from 1994- 2000 warned the West of the repercussions of its lax nature and response to terrorist activity and the implausibility of justifying such actions in any manner. According to Kadirgamar with whom I agree, people and the communities they constitute must have the right to legally resist, voice discontentment and even change the status quo, provided it be though non-violent methods.
Short sighted and ill-advised Foreign Policy with a weak grasp of local dynamics has resulted in the first world attempted nation building through a top-down approach. The result of which has been persistent instability at the level of the central governments to hold sway over its territory in states like Afghanistan and Iraq for instance, where national boundaries lie only in the minds eyes of the Cartographer. Discomfortingly lessons have not been learnt as was evident through the intervention in Libya and continued attempts of a similar vein in Syria. Its doubtful western strategists will, if ever, adequately understand the consequences of toppling a minority sect from power. It happened with the Arab Socialist (Sunni) Ba’ath Party in Iraq now a similar scenario seems to be unfolding with the Alawites Shia sect in Syria to which Bashar al-Assad belongs.
Social Media as a Vehicle for Whining
As a result of these developments it is not a wonder that there is a lack of in-sight let alone foresight in national policy making, globally. Subsequently it’s not surprising that social media has morphed into a portal through which the majority vents its frustration in addition to the classic equation of social media to a vehicle through which ‘awareness’ may be created. However the question remains how much more awareness is needed before #PrayForParis2.0 can be avoided? I fear the #generation will continue to like, share, re-tweet and simply react to these social constructs of reality as oppose to being a proactive agent which moulds wider society. I fear this movement too will end up as a dusty old memory that those in the generation Y and Z demographic cohort will reminisce upon as a ‘what if story’ upon our own death beds in time.
I too am venting my frustration at the continued waste and under appreciation of life, not just human but all life. I don’t for a second masquerade myself as holding the panacea for the threats that global society faces. I simply want to remind all those who took the effort to read this ad hoc-eulogy written not solely for the lives lost in Paris but also for all those lives being cut short or maimed as a result of global apathy and through it suffer from unspeakable hardships. The problems faced globally are very real whether they be from the first world like gentrification in urban centers in America and Europe or from the third world where a child in some long forgotten hut in Africa, whilst exposed to the elements, is ever threatened with sexual assault by strangers at one extreme and simultaneously forced to undergo breast ironing by her own mother who does so to deter would-be rapists at another extreme. All these hardships need serious and uncompromising attention coupled with proactive efforts to resolve it.
The response to today’s news from Paris is largely routine, someone will Photoshop a picture with the Eiffel Tower in the backdrop, another will plagiarize some classical poet and add a sentence to it with the sole creative genius of adding a hashtag in front and lastly a celebrity will re-tweet it fuelling the trending extravaganza. The cycle of pity and sympathy will forever continue like a pendulum in a vacuum. It is due to the resignation of this static response, I refuse to join the bandwagon. I urge the reader not to simply share this. Should you chose to do so, then join a cause worthy of your time which is of service to another, volunteer at a elders shelter, join a book club and urge fellow members to read something other than memes or comics and to take up non-fiction books of substance. We are social animals and if we are to be more than just reactive zombies to the choices of the overt and covert forces of the global cabal it is critical to empathise, and this is only possible when people are engaged.
Hollande: the All American Frenchman
In response to the November 13th attacks many states have shown its solidarity with the French Republic. President Hollande has similarly gone on record making clear the resolution of the French State and its determination vowing a “ruthless” response to Islamic State which has claimed responsibility. These words are grandiose and bound to garner nationalistic support yet, it’s not the first time the media has carried such a bullish and defiant message from a leader of a reeling nation. If the response of social media is static to these calamitous events; one must recognize the unoriginal responses of leaders when caught between a rock and a hard place. In response I find it pertinent to quote Pete Seeger’s famous folk song, which at a point asks the question “when will they ever learn?” – to which I add – terrorism is the symptom not the disease. The disease oddly enough has over and over again proven to be apathy and insensible responses of the state to the grievances of its constituent people and the resultant dull, irrationally bias and weak policies chosen as a basis for governance.
The lessons to be learnt from what transpired in Paris on the night of November 13th are many for all branches of government in France and for the global community. However, along with the bullish comments made asserting retaliation it is best to remember the words of Sir. Winston Churchill who said, “democracy is the worst form of government except for all others”. Yes, the military offensive should persist to resist terror. Yet, it is absolutely critical to remember that fundamentalism can only be addressed in the long term not by states resorting to a fundamentalism of its own but through the reminiscence of what originally made the social contract that created contemporary constitutions possible. This factor is relative to each nation state and must be dealt with accordingly.
In concluding it is best to remember the words of Lee Kuan Yew, who in my personal view served a purpose far greater than his own personal upliftment. In 1990, responding to a question pertaining to religious tolerance he stated that “sensible, sensitive but firm government will ride this wave… soft government will lead to big mischief”. Its time governments became strong but not in a classic brutish manner coupled with its strong man antics which it so often resorts to. Its time governments became strong enough to resist populist policies and redirect its focus towards polices that afforded equal opportunities to its citizens and in doing so make the people the sole purpose of its existence. The order is tall and the path tortured but what can be done it is the only choice we have.
Kavinda Ratnapala read International Relations at University of London. Based in Sri Lanka, he dabbles in ethics, diplomacy, politics and environmentalism. The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s own personal views. They do not necessarily reflect or represent the policy or position of any institution or individual he is affiliated with.