On The “Deflection” of Suffering

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

By Diana Rahim

It’s always so difficult to make that balance where your valid critiques of geopolitics, terrorism, empire & institutionalised islamophobia can be communicated without appearing like you are being deflective or unsympathetic to the victims of terror attacks. I know it’s because these large words & ‘ideas’ seem like very abstract, cold things when something as visceral as a terrorist attack happens, when people are brutally & senselessly murdered. But they are not abstract things at all. They are things that configure the lives of Muslims & shape the way we are treated. They justify & enable the violence faced for decades in Muslim-populated countries, that justify the incarceration & torture of suspected Muslims in Guantanamo Bay, that justify the killings of innocent civilians, including children, in drone attacks.

When Muslims have to come forward & affirm our humanity (it’s like reflex now, a muscle we’ve exercised so often it’s second nature), to condemn these attacks to distance ourselves from these murderers, it seems as if we are more interested in proclaiming our innocence than acknowledging the horrendous suffering the victims & their families must be going through. But it’s not that at all. We do this because we recognize that these attacks are not isolated incidents but an eventuality in a continuum which we are hyperaware of. A continuum that began with imperialism, that was cemented with the “war on terror” in a post 9-11 world, that exacerbates each time discourse gets polarised. We know this will keep happening if we do not come forward each time & say – those are not Muslims, we are not like them. To remind people not to keep entrenching the polarity from which these attacks exacerbate. Because if we don’t do that & if you don’t believe us, then this will keep happening. So we do it each time. Each time more aware that people don’t really want to believe us.

The support Paris is receiving is heartening & phenomenal as it should be. The tragedy that happened is senseless & horrific & it breaks my heart to know that innocent people have died. The expression of solidarity is something that is beautiful to see. The world lit up for Paris today. The world marched for Paris when the Charlie Hebdo shootings happened. Yet the world struggled for decades to publicly & hearteningly give that same level of acknowledgement of suffering to the people of Palestine who have lost & continue to lose every day. The people of Iraq. Afghanistan. The Rohingya in Myannmar. Will the world march for all these places & the victims in them? Will the world march for the 250,000 dead in Syria? Will the world march for Beirut? Will the world march for the blood & bodies holding non-Eurocentric pain? Because Muslims know more than anyone what it’s like to lose people through senseless violence. Through the machinery of militaristic capitalism, war & global apathy. A machinery of empire that decides the hierarchy, the value of lives, that decides who gets to be mourned & who doesn’t. We stand in solidarity with you & your pain. We want it to stop. But it won’t unless the world can snap awake & recognize our common humanity. The biggest lie the world order sells us is the notion that we stand opposed. We must refuse to believe the systems that have worked tirelessly to drain us of our humanity, for it is precisely this that has allowed the dichotimization of the victims of terror and it is precisely this that has allowed acts of terror like this to continue to happen.

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