Monday, November 07, 2005

French riots, the value of human lives and John Donne

I had hoped to refrain- at least for a while- from commenting on the French riots, partly because I am wary of being labelled as someone who's "got a bit of a chip on his shoulder"....Britspeak for someone who keeps raising uncomfortable truths-about race or class or gender. Never mind that attitudes like these lead to people biting their tongues and letting it all simmer inside...........except of course, if like me you have a blog where you can let off steam....so please indulge me........

Last July, in the aftermath of the London bombings, I was incensed to read an article by a French journalist based in London, the gist of which was that she was not surprised that the bombings had happened seeing as the British had got the whole race relations- and- integration caboodle wrong, implying of course that France had got it right. I was incensed because a year before I had visited Paris and was struck with how bleak the lives of its non-white populations seemed.....

From the dreariness of the banlieus, graffiti strewn and soulless, with unemployed youth hanging around listlessly to the virtual absence of ethnic minority people on television, there was something particularly hollow and sad about the people of colour I encountered there.

Chatting to some Nigerian friends later, they told me how lucky I was to be living in London, describing how regularly, black people coming off the trains in Paris would be herded into groups by gendarmes shouting "Les papiers, les papiers" as they checked immigration and identity papers

My feeling of unease was virtually complete when on two separate nights going back to our rather trendy upscale hotel with my English friends, I was stopped at reception by security men asking to see my room key. The second time I just stormed past, refusing to respond to their increasingly agitated "Monsieur, monsieur!" In my three years in the UK, I had never had a similar experience.

Which is why I was annoyed to imagine that someone from France dared to exploit the tragedy of the London bombings to pontificate on what Britain should be doing about race relations...........

On a different but not unrelated issue, I heard "President" General Musharraf of Pakistan (I wonder when the US will turn their democracy-spreading skills in his direction,) lament on radio that he believed the world would have contributed more to the earthquake victims if it had happened in a Western country. On the same day, in a newspaper, I saw a report from Oxfam detailing the various amounts that had been donated per victim for the earthquake victims, the tsunami victims, for Hurricane Katrina and for people suffering from HIV in Africa. No prizes for guessing who topped the list.......or who came bottom

And it's not just a Western affliction, this subtle grading of the value of a human life.....after the recent aircrash in Nigeria, a few people pointed out that far more than 117 people had died in huge road traffic accidents which had not received the kind of attention that the plane crash had in the Nigerian press.Flying in Nigeria is of course the preserve of a small privileged minority..... Other commentators lamented that the death of the First Lady appeared to take up so much more space in the Nigerian media than the death of the 117 victims of the plane crash.....

And even I, I remember, a few days after the London bombings which killed 52 people, reading an article about a bus plunging into a river in Nigeria and killing over sixty people. I quickly flicked on to the next page and put it out of my mind. And then the thought came to me.............only days before, I had been devastated by the shock of the London bombing and the lives lost and greedily devouring article after article on the bombing and yet here could not summon more than a passing thought for these other souls and their families......

We must never forget John Donne's immortal words- "....Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind...." and we must take them to heart more often.....

5 comments:

Nneka's World said...

Its a real pity.
Race relations is something we are going to keep fighting for a long time.
Its like an old sore that refuses to heal, everytime you think its healed, something opens it again.

Hmm the french now they are quite another story all together. You see the thing about the western world which i have realised no one wants to share the blame about the crisis in the world so it has to be shifted to other people/countries and unfortunately its the "ethnic minorities" as they term us living in the non-western world that recieved the blame.
Like aids apparently we invented it, it came from the monkey but which african person in their right mind would have "sexual relations" with an animal? maybe they do we dont know.
Who supplies us with weapons to kill ourselves?

The london bombings i would say i was not suprised at all, because we dabbled into matters that were of no concern to us.
Have you ever heard of saudi/ ghana/nigeria/southafrica/ south america, stand up one day and say ok lets tackle the western world and fight them because of oppression of lesser developed countries or pollution or corruption, no instead everybody is minding thier own business and trying to run/cheat/steal from thier respective countries.

The thing is that when the "world leaders" start accepting blame for thier actions and mind thier own business "unless" they are called upon then we would still be plagued by all these atrocities surrounding us.

Besides what is UN there for? i dont see them doin anything, there are more things to worry about in the world. like tackling the AIDS epidemic in south africa, child slavery in asia, brutality of women in some parts of africa and even in the so called western world. So many things the list is endless instead everyone wants to come out smelling like roses.
That is not possible.

Jeremy said...

The French are in a complete mess: the architecture of their cities operates as a form of apartheid - witness the role the Peripherique plays in Paris. They suffer from a similar superiority-complex to the Americans, based on an unshakeable belief in their political system. Which is why Turkey joining the EU is so important for Europe: it will force Europeans to embrace the muslim 'other' and redefine Europe outside of religion. Europeans are indoctrinated into forgetting the crucial historical importance of Islamic cultures (from the Baghdad School to the Schools of Cordoba and Toledo) in kick-starting the Renaissance and the birth of modernity in the West. Without the islamic intellectual interregnum, the West would not be as it is today, period.

Anonymous said...

Just waiting for the French to ask the US for aid....funny how that is a one way street isn't it? Just a little thought on that matter if they are so much superior to the Americans..........why is it that there are still riots in the streets???

Chippla Vandu said...

In reply to Jeremy:

"...Which is why Turkey joining the EU is so important for Europe..."

Boy am I glad to know that there are Europeans who are thinking outside the traditional and conservative box. Few in Europe would want to openly acknowledge that so-called Western civilization had its roots in the present day Middle East, but that’s precisely what history tells us.

Gone Away said...

A thoughtful and well reasoned article. Would that there were more in the world with such clear sight.