The attacks in Paris, following hard on the heels of the bombings of the Russian airplane that took off from Sharm el-Sheik, the bombing in southern Beirut and the twin suicide bombings in Ankara, are in many ways very similar: In the number of causalities inflicted, in the deliberate targeting of civilians and in the claims of the same organization. It is the attacks on Paris that have been presented as an attack on all of humanity. This is not only the understandable hyperbole of French political leadership, but it is something that is echoed by other politicians elsewhere in the world and even private companies like Facebook and Apple, which draped themselves in the colors of the French flag. Leaving aside the moving gestures of solidarity from far and wide - like monuments in major cities covered with the tricolor to honor the victims in Paris - the question remains as to what has prompted such empathy with these victims, rather than other people, killed by the same organization with similar methods. With the access and reach of contemporary global media as well as social media, it is hard to peg this down to merely geographical proximity.
Why should the killing of people in Paris be associated in meaning with a crime against all of humanity, while the killings of people in Ankara, Beirut or Bamako are not? The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the people killed in Ankara, Bamako or Beirut are incapable of being representative of all of humanity because they are considered to be best lesser humans. Such a belief has been the hallmark of Western racism institutionalized by Western colonial order.
This, of course, is not the first time an attack on a Western target is presented as an assault on all of humankind. The same script was used earlier this year after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. All of humanity was supposed to proclaim "Je Suis Charlie." Before that, it was 9/11. The same sort of assumptions were made: We are being targeted because we are democratic and they hate our democracy. When George W. Bush, in the name of all Americans, asked: "Why do they hate us?" both the question itself as well as the answer - "because they want to destroy our way of life" - point at the apparent confusion around the West's self-believed, overarching foundations that can give legitimacy to Western power in the world. It is this elusive and all-encompassing "way of life" that is being threatened, which is self-evidently the ground for that legitimacy.So when French President François Hollande began to read the same tired, old lines - these was an attack on the French "way of life," on our cherished freedom of expression, on our democracy - it is hard to escape the sense of deja vu. Is it really possible that there could be a attack on any Western target that would not be seen by Western elites as an attack on their way of life but, rather, an attack on their polices? For the most part, most of the global media outlets simply read from Hollande's script: These attacks had nothing to do with France's actions or policies; rather, they are simply and only attacks on French values and the French way of being. If these and the previous attacks in Paris are assaults on the French - and ergo Western - values such as freedom of expression, is it naive or churlish to ask how come only last January, Hollande walked hand-in-hand with some of the biggest deniers of freedom of expression in the world - without showing any sense of irony, let alone shame.
This hypocrisy has structural rather than individual characteristics. It comes from a sense of white supremacy and a desire to preserve its authority. Following the end of the Cold War, Western dominance in the international arena is increasingly difficult to justify on moral grounds. Western plutocracies have chosen the path of a "global dirty war" as a way of dealing with the challenge to their authority. With a mixture of hubris and racism, their leaders simply believed that Western resources would be sufficient to bring the restless natives in line. Using drones as the hi-tech equivalent of gunboat diplomacy, the major powers have sought to oppose - directly or indirectly - the expression of Muslim autonomy as well as the quest for an alternative to the belief in Western supremacy.
The French state acquiesced in the coup that prevented the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from coming to power by means of an election victory, plunging Algeria into a civil war in which 300,000 people were killed. Paris could have, at various points, taken a principled position in support of the democratic process and the right of the Algerian electorate to vote for the FIS, however, it did not. In 2011, when the duly elected government of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was overthrown by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Western powers could have, at various points, taken a position defending the elected government - for example, they could have introduced sanctions and/or used leverage against Riyadh and those undermining the Mohammed Morsi government However, they did not. Compare the Western attitude to the overthrow of the government of the Muslim Brotherhood with the swiftness with which they introduced sanctions on the beleaguered Palestinian people who dared to vote for Hamas.
Instead of being consistent in their claims to defend democracy, Western governments have launched a series of de-radicalization programs. Western governments are spending millions of dollars on these programs in the attempt to win the hearts and minds of Muslims by demonstrating that the West is in favor of democracy, freedom, prosperity and peace. At the same time, however, the inconsistencies of Western policies undermine all these efforts and, as a consequence, it becomes unclear whether the real purpose of this expenditure is actual de-radicalization or narcissistic validation. In other words, the people Western plutocracies are really trying to convince that they are virtuous and on the side of the angels are not Muslims or individuals in the Global South, but themselves and their publics. It is always, easier to believe that the bloodshed in Paris was triggered by French virtues rather than other factors such as the racism of the French political establishment, the adventurism of their foreign policy or their ability or unwillingness to come to terms with their colonial past. De-radicalization programs tend to gloss over the systematic manner in which Western powers have been complicit in blocking and undermining the political expression of Muslims. It is the sustained Western support for authoritarian rule and not a faulty theology that has made a massive contribution to the spiraling violence in the region. Therefore, there is little surprise that after all the millions spent on trying to win Muslim hearts and minds, the reach of Western campaigns does not go much further than the ranks of the "Westoxicated" among Muslims - those who already believe in the supremacy of the West - and it is among these groups and only in these group where they find validation.No one has any doubt that the violence afflicting Muslim lands is a serious matter and requires a series of measures to be taken. But as long as the efforts to deal with the violence are unable to understand its true nature, we will be like doctors proscribing medicines to their patients when they do not know what is making them ill. A step toward a better understanding of the causes of the violence might begin with the recognition that the value of lives should not be measured by the city people live in.