Selective Compassion



On these days of terror that we are facing, I'd like to point on something that we all must have noticed. Something that we are all aware of but it seems that no one wants to talk about.

What westerners feel right now is a powerful and very selective outrage that identifies with the suffering of the victims from the terrorist attacks. This reaction is of course normal and a good thing. There is compassion felt with the victims and their families. But why now and not earlier? Why not with the larger amounts of victims, throughout the world, from the same wars, since many years now?

We mourn the deaths in Paris while not even noticing those killed in Lebanon a day earlier, more than probably killed by the same kind of manipulated  fanatics that launched the attacks in France.

It seems for lots of westerners very natural, to care more about people who are similar to them. So, I ask myself and I'd like you to think about it for a moment: Even if the compassion that is felt and expressed for the victims in Paris may be comforting, isn't that precisely the problem? After all, what drives our selective outrage if not selective compassion?

But our selective compassion is what got us into this mess in the first place. Europeans have always viewed themselves as fully human, and seen those in the Middle East and much of the rest of the world as slightly less than human, not quite as deserving of our sympathy. It is such feelings that allowed Europe to colonize, abuse and exploit darker people.

The historic racism that Europeans are all too ready now to acknowledge, and that we understand fed western colonialism, is not a thing of the past. It still thrives deep in our minds. Where once we felt the white man’s burden, we now feel his outrage. Both depend on the same arrogance, and the same ascription of lesser human qualities to those we see as different from us.

We are still trying to civilize dark people. We still think we have the right to change them, bend them to our will, improve them by force. We still want to lecture them, condemn them and their cultures, threaten them, overturn their elections, arm their oppressive leaders that we of course carefully choose for them to plunder their resources.

And after we have destroyed their societies, we expect to be able to shut our borders to them as they make desperate journeys to find some peace, some safety away from the war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere we either created directly or supported with our money and arms.

Our racism has not changed. It is alive and creating new justifications for our selective compassion every day. What has changed is that technological advances have made weapons of death and destruction ever easier and cheaper to acquire. Those we once oppressed with impunity and far from our homes, out of sight, can now find us and give us a taste of our own disease.

If we want to stop the terror and avoid turning our own societies into the oppressive dictatorships we have supported across much of the rest of the globe, we need to stop interfering, pillaging, manipulating and abusing. And we have to start by refusing to allow ourselves to identify more with the victims in Paris than those in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut or anywhere else.

If we were really as civilized as we believe, we would understand that all are equally deserving of our compassion.