Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for November 2015

In a speech expressing his solidarity and sympathy with the French, US President Barack Obama described the brutal and cowardly attack last friday evening as “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

“Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress,” Obama said. “Those who think they can terrorize the people of France or the values they stand for are wrong. … The American people draw strength from the French people’s commitment to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté, égalité, fraternité are not only values that the French people care so deeply about, but are values that we share.”

And in a message of solidarity to the people of France, the British Prime Minister David Cameron he said: “Your values are our values, your pain is our pain, your fight is our fight.” He added: “Today the British and French peoples stand together as we have so often before in our history when confronted by evil.”

Further, “These were innocent victims enjoying a Friday night out with friends and family, no doubt at the end of a hard week. They were not seeking to harm anyone, they were simply going about their way of life – our way of life.”

The responses of President Obama and David Cameron to Friday night’s terrorist outrages in Paris reveal, once again, just how mired such Western political leaders are in self-righteous hypocrisy, historical naiveté and double standards.

How ironic that I should be reading at the present moment a marvellous book (The Guardians) by the Harvard historian Susan Pedersen on the Mandates Commission of the short-lived League of Nations which sought, with limited success, to curb the acquisitiveness of the French and British imperialists after the Great war of 1914-1918 and make them accountable to international opinion. The British and French were at each others’ throats when it came to the division of Africa and the Middle East, following the defeat of the Germans and Ottomans, finally settling for the French creation of new states in Syria and Lebanon while Britain had sole jurisdiction over Palestine and Mesopotamia (later Iraq). As for West Africa, it was the main foreign recruiting ground for the French army until well into the 1920s. A common history of rapacity and feelings of civilizational superiority – but I doubt if this is what Cameron meant when speaking of “our shared values” and ‘our way of life”.

How ironic, too, that Cameron is right now lavishly entertaining the Indian Prime Minister Modi who, when state minister of Gujarat, presided over the slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims by right-wing “Hindu” mobs. How was the terror experienced by such Muslims in Gujarat (who were also “not seeking to harm anyone, they were simply going about their way of life”) different to that experienced by Parisians?

A few weeks ago, Cameron was again rolling out the red carpet, this time to the Chinese President- demonstrating once more that “British values” include kowtowing to despots and turning a blind eye to crimes against humanity so long as it benefits the British economy. The church pastors, human rights and pro-democracy activist, and journalists who have been killed or imprisoned in China carry little or no significance in the eyes of British and American governments or business leaders.

As for President Obama- of course, the carnage inflicted on the French is an attack on all of humanity, but so are aerial bombardments of Palestinian families, suicide-bombings of Shi’a mosques in Pakistan and the deployment of chemical weapons in Syria. Are these no less an attack “on all of humanity and the universal values that we share”? And what is it exactly that an American and a Frenchman share that the rest of us do not?

Perhaps we should re-phrase Obama’s speech thus: “We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté, égalité, fraternité are not only values that the French people have (fitfully and unevenly) cared about- just like the rest of us- but that we should all repent of our complicity in historical injustices and renew our collective commitment to pursue justice and peace for all humanity.”

I wish there were American and European Christians who would openly raise these questions in their media (print and virtual), colleges and universities, and political assemblies! It would be a powerful demonstration of the distinctiveness of the Kingdom of God and how the Gospel liberates people from the self-righteous parochialism that surfaces even in times of national tragedy.


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