Thursday, 15 January 2015

The dead don't write op-eds

Charlie Hebdo happened. I'm not interested in the issues of freedom of speech, religious tolerance, global politics or all that stuff that's been reposted from every conceivable angle so many times that I want to tear my own face off; rather, I'm interested in death.

12 people died in the attack, another half a dozen in the ensuing chase. A massacre, by any definition. Think of those innocent people, promising young lives cut short by acts of senseless violence. Think of their families and their destroyed lives. What should we do about it?

We should ignore it.

Here's a challenge for everyone: next time there's a bloody tragedy, don't post about it. Unless you personally knew the victims, don't read news articles about it. Definitely don't read opinion pieces about it. Avoid conversations about it to the extent you can. Pretend the story contains spoilers from upcoming Game of Thrones episodes.

“How unbelievably crass and awful!” I hear you cry. “We should honour and remember innocent victims so that their loss wasn't in vain.”

And yet, I'm virtually certain, anyone making this objection doesn't do that. Almost no one in our society honours and remembers innocent victims of terrible massacres. OK, you honoured and remembered Charlie Hebdo, maybe you remembered the victims of flight MH370, heck, you definitely still remember 9/11. If you're politically attentive, you might have noticed and felt sorry for the victims of Boko Haram in recent weeks.

But you probably forgot about the many hundreds who died in the insurgency in Iraq in 2015 alone. The 144 people who died in Northwest Pakistan may have slipped your mind. More than a hundred in the Libyan Civil War. 52 in Somalia. 30 in the Mexican drug wars. All in the last few weeks. Not to mention Syria, Darfur, Palestine and dozens of other locations.

I definitely don't want to guilt trip anyone. I didn't know about any of these until I looked them up just now. The point is, we don't keep track of horrible massacres because we couldn't possibly. There are too many. We also don't mourn the thousands who die from horrible diseases every day, despite them being just as tragic and impactful for the victims.

To my mind, caring about the death of certain people when you so blatantly don't care about the death of most is somewhat thoughtless. When the ones you care about are the same race and religion as you, it becomes even more suspect.

If you choose to give your attention, opinions and solidarity rallies to a certain Death Event, you've got ask yourself what it will achieve. In the case of Iraq and Pakistan and the rest, it won't achieve much because we have very little power to do anything about those conflicts.

If you think it's different for Charlie Hebdo, ask yourself this: how would the world be different now if no one had ever heard of the attacks other than personal acquaintances of the deceased? If anything, the world would be better, right? There'd be tiny bit less threat to freedom of speech, and a tiny bit better relations between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

Did the massive parade convince anyone not to bow to the terrorists' whims? Of course not. No one was contemplating bowing. Did it help to improve the West's policies towards radical Islam? Nope. Was it even trying to? Not really.

The dead don't need our honour or remembrance. Frankly, if I died and could magically have an opinion on the matter, I would find the mourning of people who didn't ever know me to be highly patronising. I'd hope to be remembered by my friends and loved ones, but it would be insane, not to mention arrogant, to expect any more. Doesn't matter if I have a random heart attack or if I was blown up in a children's hospital.

If you have to mourn something, and clearly there's a lot in the world to mourn, then mourn the statistics. Focus your emotions and actions towards graphs and spreadsheets. Do whatever it takes to get those numbers ticking in the right direction. The survivors need more help than the victims.

Don't mourn the dead you never knew. In almost every case of random violence, it does more good to forget than remember.  

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