Unimaginable: people randomly targeted on a night out, gunned down either senselessly or as an act of revenge against a government’s foreign policy. Or both.
Either way, families and friends now mourn the dozens dead in Paris, victims of tragic, unimaginable acts. Unimaginable for whom?
Violence is only unimaginable for the most privileged among us.
Watching the horror unfold in Paris, unimaginable wasn’t what I thought about. It was imaginable. Because in a society where violence against women, radicalized people, queer people, trans and non-binary people is the norm, violence isn’t just imaginable, it’s something we think about. All the time.
Imagine not feeling safe at a concert. Imagine not feeling safe at a café.
I do imagine that. Regularly.
Patriarchy and white supremacy define who is and who is not allowed to feel safe. These two forces operate together to give some people the privilege of demanding security while at the same time, reminding everyone else that they’ll never feel entirely comfortable or safe.
The height of freedom in the West is our personal safety. Random acts of terrorism are so evil, so barbaric precisely because they shake the collective notion of security to its core.
This is why terror tactics and terrorism are so effective. With the dominant media frame in the West driven by white men, terrorism is so horrible not because of the effect but because it exposes how unsafe we really are.
Most of us are never safe: from gendered or racialized violence, from car accidents, from whatever. But when the men who frame the narrative discover what it’s like to live under constant threat of violence, it’s as if there could be no act more horrible than this.
Safety is the ultimate privilege that humans can seek. Throw in a little bit of capitalism and safety becomes something that people try to buy. Our deepest fears are exploited and we’re told to mitigate our fears through purchasing things or, even worse, through supporting the manufacturing of weapons and war machines. We’re told to support wars because through war, we have won our freedom.
Terrorism is so effective because it exploits the fact that these old lies live on. The safety and security espoused by men in power and reinforced by journalists comes crashing down with small, coordinated violent acts. For short, tragic moments, the veil drops: the safety that we’re told that we feel vanishes and we’re all exposed. It feeds a cycle that helps justify actions that will never, ever stop the violence.
The machismo on which terrorism has been formed elicits an escalating war of words and sabre rattling.
Immediately following the attacks, French Prime Minister François Hollande said that France considers the attacks “acts of war” and that the French state will be “merciless” in its response.
Good news for ISIS: gasoline is being poured on a fire. Terrorism incites war, which incites more terrorism, inciting more war. The people lose. The arms manufacturers win big.
Despite the oppressions, prejudices and beliefs that are layered on top of our identities, average people still feel empathy in the face of tragedy. When the layers are cut away, it really doesn’t matter how people die: earthquake, terrorism, train disaster etc., death is death and a tragic occurrence is tragic.
The best among us can see that refugees are risking everything to find the safety and security espoused by Western nations, real or imagined.
The best among us can see that Black students at universities across the U.S. are simply trying to go to school in safety and security, in the face of violent threats made against them.
There is little doubt the tragedy will be used by Western nations to justify new attacks on civil liberties, and all citizens will find themselves less free under the guise of national security. But even then, some will remain more secure than others.
Regardless, the adage remains true: none of us are free until all of us are.
And so, it’s up to us to resist the violent cycles of patriarchy and white supremacy that feed international war machines that are so intimately connected to the way the West governs itself and polices the world.
Nora Loreto’s article is published with permission of the writer and rabble.ca, an alternative Canadian online magazine.