Thursday, 17 March 2016

Paris, Ankara and Moral Hypocrisy

I was one of the many who, with the best of intentions, changed their profile picture in response to the tragic events in Paris last November. I also posted a status, furiously dismissing allegations of moral inconsistency or hypocrisy when it came to our response to Paris compared with, for example, Beirut. I was livid that somehow what was important in the wreckage of the Paris attacks was whether I had changed my profile picture to a Lebanese flag. I think it is possible for me to think that the Paris attacks are tragic but also think that the Beirut attack was tragic at the same time, whether or not I change my profile picture for both or neither or just the one. And guess what, I did. I can do this amazing thing where I give a damn about innocent people dying everywhere in the world whenever I hear about it.

I wish Facebook had stayed completely out of it. I was the first to admit to friends that evening that the reason I changed my profile picture, or at least part of it, was because when you change it back, there is a chance for extra likes. Had Facebook given me the option to change it for Beirut or any other country, then I probably would have. Which brings me to now and an article I saw pop up on my Facebook by someone I have seen but never met and heard speak but never spoken to. It was about Ankara and the tragic events that unfolded there. The basic premise is this: I am a terrible person because I changed my profile picture back in November but I have not now. That, for me, brown lives matter less. I agree with the author in part. Once Facebook has started giving us this option to change profile pictures, it seems odd to pick and choose. We should have had the Ivorian flag option. We should have daily Iraq flag options. Heck, we should have an Israeli flag option. And yes, we should have had the Ankara flag option. There would be an almost endless stream of profile-picture-changing-opportunities, every time humans prove their capacity for complete and utter inhumanity...Ping. Another Facebook prompt. Rather, Facebook should back off. I hope not giving me the Ankara option is the beginning of a change in policy, is Facebook stopping this absurd foray into current affairs.

But back to the article in question. I reject its central premise. I can guarantee the author that I do not devalue 'brown' lives. I do not think the events that unfolded in Ankara are any less tragic, shocking, disgusting and so on than those in Paris. I mourn the loss of innocents in Turkey. The loss of innocents in the Ivory Coast. The loss of innocents everywhere. I am sure no one would question me on this. The point being made is more subtle. It is not that I do not care. It is that I care more about white lives than brown lives. The author is, of course, correct, as I have said, that it is wrong that Facebook has not allowed the Ankara option. But he is wrong to then jump to this endorsing a narrative of white supremacy and imperialism.

He is wrong because if he is correct, he is guilty of it himself. When he tells us which lives we have no intention of devaluing, he makes a curious inclusion and curious omission. That being the inclusion of Palestinian and the omission of Israeli. The inclusion and omission would have been equally curious the other way round, of course. But to mention one and not the other, on the author's own logic, is to be guilty of devaluing the lives of Israelis, Jewish and Arab, currently being taken with a brutal regularity by terrorism in Israel. Obviously, the author is under no obligation to mention every single group of people whose lives are being taken but not represented in social media coverage. That would be absurd. But to specifically mention Palestinian lives and not Israeli is as wrong as it would have been had he mentioned specifically Israeli lives and not Palestinian.

I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt. He does not mean to devalue the lives of Israelis. He mourns equally the deaths of innocent Israelis as he does those in Ankara, despite his neglecting to mention it. Perhaps he should climb down from the moral high ground and give the rest of us the benefit of the doubt too?