Jade Saab: The UK doesn’t owe the Middle East grief, it owes it understanding

Writer and political theorist Jade Saab says greater effort must be made to understand the roots of terrorism in the UK

FOLLOWING the Manchester bombing, as with any such terror event that has happened in Europe over the past two years, the same line of questioning appears. 

Why are we so quick to grieve over the lives of Europeans and not those of people suffering the Middle East?

The question is thrown around as if it exposes the inhumanity and hypocrisy of those grieving a loss closer to them. In that accusatory question also lays a masked hint at the role western governments play in the ongoing suffering in the Middle East, from Libya to Iraq.

To challenge those grieving or coping with a terrorist event within their proximity is not only unfair, it’s insensitive and grossly misguided.

The only thing that the question exposes, though, is the small mindedness of those who ask it. Not only does the question present a sense of mutual exclusivity, as if one cannot mourn for a nearby loss and at the same time be upset about suffering in the Middle East, but it also presents the process of grief as a collective movement as opposed to the individualistic process it is. 

It also presents a false image of what grief within the Middle East is like, as a picture of constant despair and worry. This is, ironically, an image we are quick to discipline media outlets for when they present it.

Having lived in Lebanon for most of my life, it makes it easy to attest to the fact that grief is not treated with this simple binary there, so why is it expected elsewhere? 

Growing up in a country where suicide bombs and assassinations were the norm for a while made us as Lebanese "grow thick skin"; a bombing and the death of our fellow citizens, children or otherwise, was shrugged off and life went on. 

It isn’t that we didn’t find these acts heinous, or that we were ok with our reality; it’s that we learned to cope. It was only until death touched us immediately that an event would gain significance.

As citizens of the UK sit there asking themselves why this happened, and as media channels continue to propagate this rhetoric of surprise, all questions regarding the UK’s past and present foreign policy will fade away. 

Somehow though, we want to offload this burden to people now experiencing their own loss, as if to say your loss is not enough in our eyes, you must acknowledge our loss as well, even when we have stopped acknowledging it ourselves.

I wholeheartedly reject the sinister intent attached to such a limited question. What happened in Manchester is horrible, as horrible as any atrocity taking place in the Middle East or elsewhere. 

To challenge those grieving or coping with a terrorist event within their proximity is not only unfair, it’s insensitive and grossly misguided.

However, as misguided as those notions are, they are correct in their initial assessment that there is something "off" with the media reaction to the events in Manchester.

Shortly after news broke out of the bombing, media outlets quickly took up a tone of shock and surprise, as if attacking a concert attended mostly by teenagers is beyond a group that has been beheading, crucifying and setting people on fire for more than six years now.

It’s this perception of shock that should be questioned and criticised, not the level of empathy those in the UK have.

The question wasn’t 'how can something this heinous happen?', it was 'how could this happen, and why would this happen, here?'.

This sense of shocked surprise is baffling. The UK has been actively involved in bombing Isis in Syria for years now and played a leading role in the Nato bombing of Libya in 2011 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. How can the media be shocked that a group the UK is in military combat with, which has participated in so many atrocities, has struck on their home soil?

This shock shows the impunity of asymmetric warfare that the west has gotten used to fighting. More dangerously, though, it shows the democratic disconnect when it comes to foreign intervention. 

As citizens of the UK sit there asking themselves why this happened, and as media channels continue to propagate this rhetoric of surprise, all questions regarding the UK’s past and present foreign policy will fade away. 

Analysis will be disjointed and skewed towards some sort of "natural hatred" towards western ideals, and the relationship between religion, immigration, and terror - all topics that will in no doubt fuel further rightwing sentiment.

Analysis will be disjointed and skewed towards some sort of "natural hatred" towards western ideals, and the relationship between religion, immigration, and terror - all topics that will in no doubt fuel further rightwing sentiment.

It’s this perception of shock that should be questioned and criticised, not the level of empathy those in the UK have.

The objective of this analysis is in no way meant to engage in victim blaming, it is a call for the media, the government, and those affected by these events to engage in a greater democratic understanding of their country's foreign policies. Unfortunately, those of us on the receiving end of such policies have no impact over them. 

My view is not an attack on a wounded and hurting UK, it is an attack on the naivety and ignorance that this response to such events breeds and propagates.

People grieving and in shock don’t owe the Middle East any grief, and to even suggest or question people's empathy is preposterous. What they do owe is a deeper understanding of the interventionist policies adopted by their government. 

Until that happens and change is driven through the political process, our roles will continue to be mutually limited to the suffering we experience.

Picture courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO

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