Paris: a Muscovite in Boston speaks

27 Nov

My friend Sue Beardon alerted me to this FB post of November 17 by Greg Afinogenov, a Muscovite living in Boston MA:

I’m so sick of seeing the endless debate about “if you care about Paris you don’t care about Beirut/Metrojet/now Nigeria” et cetera. The reality is this: Paris, like any American city, is in the first-world protected zone.

Ever since WWII the overall consensus strategy on the part of everyone in the ruling elite of the global North, from the most far-right capitalist to the most left-wing Politburo member, has been to export conflict from the North into all kinds of global peripheries. We EXPECT to see violence in Beirut because we put it there. Our security states protect us from the blowback of whatever neocolonialist policies we might care to pursue on those peripheries. So what if we fail at nation-building? We’ll never have to “fight them over here,” not really.

So of course when there’s a terrorist attack in a core northern city like Paris or New York we’re shocked, bereaved, and upset. We’ve lived our whole lives in a bubble in which violence is always declining and foreign-policy issues are remote and academic. The faux-leftist argument that we should feel equally sad about people dying in Beirut is hollow and hypocritical because it substitutes moral righteousness for actually asking WHY it is that we feel so shocked.

If someone told you that 129 people were killed in car accidents in Paris the other day, you’d shrug your shoulders. In fact millions of people die every day and you don’t give a shit. Everyone dies. But those concrete deaths represent a brief puncturing of the bubble of security that surrounds us and makes our lives as we know them possible. It accomplishes what the terrorists want us to believe: that this bubble is a sham, as much propaganda and hubris as reality.

The solution isn’t pretending like you’re oh so distraught when a bus full of Russians or Bangladeshis falls off a cliff. It’s pursuing a politics in which Western elites–that’s the people who govern us–have to take responsibility for the violence they displace onto other people. And that means acknowledging that the bubble they’ve created was created ON OUR BEHALF.

Great post, though I take issue with one or two secondary points:

The faux-leftist argument that we should feel equally sad about people dying in Beirut is hollow and hypocritical because it substitutes moral righteousness for actually asking WHY it is that we feel so shocked.

Not always. Greg detracts from an otherwise cogent and timely contribution – to a discourse of rage, selective tears, stupidity, cynicism and we must do something! –  with a false either/or. It’s not impossible to recognise the humanity of those in far off lands, exploited that we might sip our lattes in peace, and ask the questions he so rightly poses. Right now, in my country, a vote looms on whether to bomb Syrians. The bomb cheerers are aided immensely by the fact Syrians are less psychologically real to us than Parisians.


What prompted Sue to point me at Greg’s post was this two-minute-forty video. It sheds light on a couple of things:  why we fall for American (indeed, western) Exceptionalism; and why it’s so easy for us, with no idea how it feels to have bombs drop from the skies and into our homes, to want Britain raining them down thick and fast on Syria because it’s “not fair” to leave the job to France and America.


Another friend, Peter Mitchell, offers this perspective: when a mosquito lands on your testicles, you realise not all problems can be solved by violence. 

2 Replies to “Paris: a Muscovite in Boston speaks

  1. Don’t the two most powerful nations on earth just love sabre- rattling! Their interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have made situations, situations they deemed to be hazardous, even worse. Other countries, having become embroiled into this chaos, are now constantly at risk from terrorist attacks and countless numbers of innocent people living in these Middle East war zones are being slaughtered every hour of every day.

    “Blessed are the peace=keepers?????”

    • And now two things come together. One, showing the world “we stand by Paris”. How? By dropping bombs that will take more innocent lives since “it’s not right to leave it to French and American air attacks”. Apart from being no argument at all, this overlooks the fact either force could ALONE reduce Syria to a wasteland. Two, the open season on Corbyn.

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