Understanding Disparate Responses to International Political Violence: Why Race Matters 
In response to the Indian Mutiny in 1857, possibly Britain’s greatest Victorian writer, Charles Dicken wrote:
“I wish I were Commander in Chief in India… I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race upon the stain of the late cruelties rested…to blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the Earth.”
 
Dickens’ sentiments were far from deviant. He expressed the mood of the time in Britain to what was routinely expressed in terms of innocent deaths at the hands of non-white “savages”. The British government’s response to the massacre and murder of 3,000 British men, women and children was swift and brutal. Estimates are that hundreds of thousands of Indians died in the process of reestablishing British colonial control over India. 
 
The above example is one thread in a much larger tapestry of the racialism that structures the way we understand political violence in the world. When non-Europeans kill Europeans a powerful set of tropes are set in motion that determine how that violence is perceived and the responses that follow. These tropes are as evident today in the war on terror and “clash of cultures” rhetoric as they were in the era of European colonialism which supposedly ended sometime last century.
 
Over centuries of such racialism, the result has been the formation of a powerful constellation of ideas that define the way that people in the “west” respond to acts of political violence. These powerful ideas are based on natural or common-sense beliefs that non-European or non-white violence against Europeans is markedly different from European or white violence against non-westerners. These views, challenged over and over again, are so embedded in western consciousness that even “bomb them back to the stone age”  or “shock and awe” are uncritically accepted as legitimate responses to local resistance to foreign intervention or the removal of a Arab dictator.
       
Political violence, or terrorism, such as that responsible for the recent carnage in Paris does not happen in a vacuum. All acts of political violence require careful contextualization. No doubt, such a statement will be pounced upon by some as an example of anti-western hate or the opinion of an agent provocateur.  What we must keep in mind is that western violence is happening, on a daily basis in non-Western parts of the world. This is not an attempt to explain why ISIL attacked Paris or an effort to justify it as revenge for western attacks against them. Whether this is the case or not is not important to the argument I’m making here. I want to reiterate that there is a racist double-standard in the way that acts of political violence are reported and comprehended. I hope I can make this entirely clear in the next few short sentences. I condemn ISIL’s actions without any reservation whatsoever. I also condemn “western” military intervention in the Middle East. Both forms of political violence visit cruel violence on civilians.  While we mourn the deaths of Parisians, the countless innocent lives lost in “other” societies barely leads to a raised eyebrow in most “western” societies.
   
In the last year, groups monitoring the international coalition’s airwar in Syria and Iraq have compiled troubling statistics that airstrikes are responsible for high levels of civilian casualties. As a report released in August 2015 highlights, “…there are clear indications from the field that many hundreds of non-combatants have been killed by the 12 international allies in the first year of their air war against Islamic State/ Daesh.” Another report released in 2014 by the human rights law firm Reprieve, found that 96.5 percent of casualties from US drone strikes across the Middle East were civilians, compared to just 3.5 percent being terrorists. Just as worryingly, if not more so, is the systematic non-reporting of the air war or reports that depict the campaign as  “precise and disciplined” leading to assumptions that there have been no civilian casualties.
   
Yet, despite the possible thousands of civilians killed in these attacks, we’ve had no je suis for Afghanis or Yemenis or Somalis.  There is much more evidence of frequent atrocities in these countries and others by western forces in recent years. Most were reported but received little of the coverage or provoked the outrage that accompanied the tragic and unnecessary deaths at the Lindt Café in December 2014 for example. While I think many people were shocked by the US air attack on the MSF hospital in Kundaz province, Afghanistan that left 30 innocent people dead, the international response has been underwhelming to say the least.
 
The lesser value placed on non-western victims of political violence was evident again in the disparate international response to two ISIL attacks at approximately the same time. In Paris, ISIL attacks led to the death of 134 people in a night of bloody horror. On the same day, in the southern Beirut suburb of Borj al-Barajneh, two ISIL bombs were responsible for ripping apart cars, buildings and hundreds of bystanders including killing 44 innocent people going about their daily lives. International solidarity with the Paris victims and with the French people was deafening; as it should have been. In sharp contrast, for days, the international coverage and support for the Lebanese was deafening in its silence.
       
Elsewhere the same tropes operate with abandon. White on Black violence in the US is on the rise and despite the oppressive security environment and the rapidly growing Black death toll, the dominant narrative remains that white America is under siege.  In Australia, we continue to suffer from similar illusions that we are potential victims despite military operations over the last three decades against refugees, in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. Our acts of political violence escalate with a simultaneous rise in the rhetoric of how we are innocent victims. Our planes in the Middle East are likely responsible for countless civilian deaths. Yet, Australians remain completely silent, even comfortable with this. Our planes and terrorist bombs do the same thing. They kill innocent people. If we want to live in a safer and better world, then it’s high time that that we see the equivalence of acts of political violence in these different contexts.
 
To do this we need to set the historical record straight. Let’s start with the history of white on black violence in Australia and maybe, just maybe, by confront our historical record of political violence we can start to imagine a world where all lives matter equally. Only such a world has any chance whatsoever of returning from the precipice that we find ourselves standing on.
 
Noah R. Bassil     
About the Author:

   
Dr Noah Bassil is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations and
holds the position as the  Director of the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies at Macquarie University.

Noah's scholarly interests include global political economy, colonialism and post-colonialism, and the political sociology of states in the Middle East and North Africa. Noah has published on a range of topics associated with colonialism and post-colonialism and recently published a book titled "The Crisis of the Sudanese Postcolonial State" which re-examines the origins of the conflict in Darfur by contextualizing events in Sudan within broader regional and
international patterns of politics, economics and culture. Noah is currently researching into the global, regional and national power relations that have emerged following the Arab uprisings.
    
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