Last Friday, news outlets went on overdrive surrounding the explosion at Parsons Green station. Our media has since been saturated with coverage on it; front pages have featured blurry images of someone who may or may not have been the attacker, TV pundits have speculated on motives and meanings, and social media has been saturated with discussion about what we should “do next”.
Buried beneath the headlines was an Isis attack in Iraq that same day. While, thankfully, the incident in Parsons Green led to no mortalities, over 80 people were killed in the Southern Iraq attack.
As an Iraqi living in London, the discrepancy in reaction is hard for me to stomach. For it highlights that we globally value some lives over others. When the safety of Western citizens is threatened, there is global outrage. When innocent civilians are massacred on Arab soil, most are unmoved – it’s barely reported, profile pictures don’t perform solidarity, and cultural conversations are not shifted.
Every human life is priceless – yet the Western media’s global monopoly has constructed a value system in which Western lives are worth more words, tears and time.
The issue is much more than emotional – it’s political. As Trump’s election so brashly demonstrated, Western neoliberalism has a fragile but terrifying ego. With the foundations of capitalism finally cracking – financial recessions, vast inequality, deteriorating public services, terrorism, climate change – right-wing politicians are doing all they can to persuade that it is simultaneously our only solution to global plight. How? Through the free market’s offer of opportunity and individual liberty.
The West, apparently, has all the answers – and the Middle East is posing all the problems. Hence every Western terror attack is reported as a threat to “our way of life” – and terror attacks in the Middle East are “everyday occurrences”, to be expected in “those sorts of places”.
But what we don’t discuss is how “our way of life” directly destroys foreign societies’ ways of life. I can tell you, as someone whose relatives had to flee Baghdad because of the war, that Iraqi civilians too dream of freedom. The West does not own freedom. The idea that it does is a capitalist fallacy, which depends on savaging countries around the world to stay propped up.
The war in Iraq created ungoverned foreign territories where extremism could brew. Resultant Islamophobia in the West has forced many Muslims into extremism themselves. American and British governments sell the weapons that land in the hands of Isis. Western governments – so quick to condemn incidents of terrorism – have undeniable culpability.
Capitalism has always needed an enemy; before it was communism; now it’s Islamic extremism. This culture of fear has created a world in which lives affiliated with Western neoliberalism are worth more than those which aren’t. I think of capitalism as a virus that will stop at nothing to infect every cell of our humanity. And it’s our humanity that we’re starting to lose. The way we report about the victims of terror is just one indication of this.
We have a social responsibility to make sure we mourn every innocent life lost the same. When we don’t, immigrant identities are disregarded, leading to an increasingly divided society where white Westerners are privileged above everybody else.
And though all acts of terrorism must be condemned, we must start confronting the invisible acts of extremism happening every day. Because acknowledging the suffering of those abroad must go hand-in-hand with admitting that the way things are in the West isn’t a utopian ideal everyone should be striving for. The entrenched structures that govern our “way of life”, valuing the lives of the privileged at the cost of the vulnerable, still leave a lot to be desired.
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