Paris Terrorism Madrid Syria Despair


All I can manage this morning is an expression of disgust and despair.

Yesterday morning, half a day or so before news of Paris began to reverberate around the world, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed piece by Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. The piece was about the opening of multilateral talks on Syria, scheduled to begin in Vienna today. Roth’s article expressed concern that the negotiators will set aside the on-going catastrophe affecting Syria’s civilian population until some sort of political resolution can be reached—a resolution bound to be a long time coming, assuming that it comes at all. “Meanwhile,” Roth reminds us,

the slaughter continues, with an estimated quarter of a million dead, 4 million refugees (many headed to Europe), an additional 6 million to 8 million displaced within the country, hundreds of thousands of civilians besieged, thousands more in detention, and suffering as far as the eye can see.

I do not know if the talks in Vienna will now be postponed in view of the Paris tragedy, but if they are, it will be a pitiful loss of perspective. Just as the reporting of events in Paris—the commercial media’s narrow fixation on it, their monotonous appeals to stay-tuned for more of the same—is yet another pitiful loss of perspective.

— “Remember Madrid, 2004?”

— “Hum, vaguely.  What was it again . . . ?”

— “Bombs on trains, 191 killed, 1,800 wounded?”

— “Right . . . ”

madrid203The events in Paris, ghastly as they are, are not the beginning of the horror, nor the worst of it, nor the end of it—not nearly.

The conflagration that sent a small flame leaping into the streets of Paris yesterday has been burning in the Middle East for decades. The black smoke of that blaze has been darkening our sun throughout all this time, while our eyes have grown so accustomed to the altered light that it almost seems as if everything were normal.

This morning I see that President Hollande has announced that this wanton murder of 127 Parisians will not go unavenged. France, he assures us, will visit on the heads of the barbarian perpetrators a “merciless” response. One can only imagine how many civilian heads will be proud to witness that noble redress. This very second the civilian death toll in Syria reached 250,000 plus 1—maybe. Who’s counting?

— Steve Webb, Zeteo Contributor


Credit: Top photo, from Syrian civil war, was taken by Hosam Katan for Reuters.

Link: If no quick end to the war in Syria can be found, at least protect the civilians, Kenneth Roth, Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2015.


  1. Ed Mooney

    While bombs were falling on Sarajevo, an image of a man playing the cello on a sidewalk in full view of the destruction was widely circulated. A friend who was ten while Dresden bombing was visible on the horizon remembers being taken to a well-attended symphony concert. In Israel while Saddam threatened missile launched gas attacks, the audience for a Philharmonic concert wore gas-masks — the orchestra refused and played on.
    I suppose these memories appear as I ask myself how humans — short of going numb or changing the subject — find their spirit somewhat restored despite the onslaught of disgust and despair Steve registers, and we all know.


  2. Steve Webb

    Ed’s reminder that when we walk through a storm we should hold our heads up high and not succumb to the dark inspires me this morning to take a brave second look at my initial post and ask myself what sense I was trying to make. My point, more bluntly put, was this. “Our” dead in Paris are no more important than “their” dead in Syria, and our disproportionate response to the near event “here” compared to our response to the on-going event “there” is positively surreal. To whom, I ask myself, might the possessive ‘our’ in my phrase “our dead” really refer? Does it refer to “our” French dead—“We’re all Parisians now!”—or does it refer to our Western dead, the dead of our secular democracies, which find themselves suddenly, surprisingly under attack? Does the partiality of this present collective swoon, its unequal distribution of grief and distress, its weird magnification of the Paris event over everything else going on in the world—does it perhaps reflect an underlying, semi-subliminal clash of civilizations? Is the Syrian suffering, no matter how horrible, just too foreign to engage our deepest, most excitable emotions? Well, I’m damned if I know, but I am certain that the hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians who have been killed and maimed over the past several years are no less our brothers and sister than the innocent dead in France. I am also certain that these paroxysms of nationalist, sectarian, and civilizational “pride”—largely media driven, by the way—are grotesque anachronisms in a world that is literally on the brink of extinction. Did anyone seriously think a fire that intense, that close to home was not going to catch? Does anyone seriously think that the huge sinkholes opening up in the Siberian permafrost (to take one small example) have no bearing on these tiresome historical dramas?

    I think I may be erring on the side of rhetoric again—as usual. I notice, however, that Fritz Tucker has anticipated this post with an excellent, fact-based meditation in a similar vein. I highly recommend his “Who is Paris?”


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