The TV was on when the news hit the world’s airwaves showing how the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was burning. I had been to that monument in 1996 walking through it not as a Christian, or as a Catholic – both of which I have for long foregone – but as a person who was awed at the exquisite esthetic beauty of that edifice. So, yes, I was very, very sad to be witnessing the unfolding disaster.
However, I was also quite perturbed when I checked Facebook later on (and since) to find an outpouring of vitriol that pointed to France as a Colonial Power with postings that chastised the world for its tears and sad emotions regarding Notre Dame while saying that no similar sentiments were expressed when equally historical and cultural monuments were destroyed in the Middle East, as well as hospitals, schools, factories, businesses, homes, utility plants and so much more. I call this Misplaced Indignation! Rather than bitch about how millionaires and billionaires are contributing to the rebuilding of Notre Dame, maybe we could, instead, demand that Middle Eastern moguls – of which there are many! – rebuild all the destroyed Middle Eastern monuments???!!! That would make more sense than the resentments of petulant Middle Easterners and French protestors! Yes, the amounts of money that the one percent have is obscene, but that is the way the economic systems of the world are set up. I don’t like it, however, that’s just a fact. The only way to change it is at the ballot box. Meanwhile, stop niggling!
Yes, France was, and still is, a Colonial Power. It has supported the egregious wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen et al, and stood silently by as Israel demolished Gaza killing and maiming thousands of human beings. France acted with racism and arrogance throughout the Colonial Realm that it had occupied, and whose effects are still reverberating throughout the countries it controlled. It’s crimes in Algeria are well-documented and blood-curdling, something that I, as a teenager at the time, will never forget, or forgive. After all, France was, and still is, an integral part of the Western Nations’ arrogant, racist, colonist and criminal enterprise throughout the Middle East. Indeed, that isn’t, and cannot be, overlooked by any patriotic Middle Eastern citizen. I, certainly, do not absolve France, the US, or any Western Power, including Israel, from their culpability and abetting of the past, or ongoing, crimes in the region.
However, feeling sadness over the destruction of any historical monument of culture and beauty wherever it is located on our planet is in no way finite. As human beings we have the capacity to feel sadness, empathy and compassion regarding multiple happenings and people. Grieving for all and any destruction wherever it happens to be is an indication of our humanity and reverence for our shared history, culture and civilization. It is the moral and decent expression of our heritage as human beings.
Having said all that, I have to point out that the Western Powers’ reactions of solidarity and grief when disasters beset them – whether it is the murder of fifty innocent people in New Zealand, the catastrophe of the 9/11 New York collapsed buildings, the criminal killing of innocent people by radical terrorists – as witnessed in the recent horrors of Sri Lanka and the Jewish synagogue in California – be they the so-called Islamic State, or right wing fundamentalists, all being morally reprehensible and an affront to any semblance of civility, or coexistence – are admirable qualities that we should all seek to emulate. We have seen time and again how people in such circumstances come together, step up to the plate, speak out and express their outrage. We all should.
And, yes, I also understand the indignation of people in the Middle East at the egregious fate that has for long been dogging them, especially since 9/11 and the Western Powers’ disastrous and indiscriminate forays in the region all in order to consolidate their resources and power at the expense of people’s lives and livelihoods. It is a travesty!
Yet, whether it is due to the puppet and authoritarian regimes that the West has installed in the region in order to facilitate their criminal enterprise, or whether it is due to fatalism, cowardice, apathy and/or the threat and fear of imprisonment and torture, the people of the Middle East have been intimidated from stepping up and speaking out, except – a huge exception! – for the valiant and courageous people of Gaza who have been risking limb and life in order to express their desire for freedom, dignity and the pursuit of happiness as the Western World, including France, turned a blind eye to their calamity. They are, indeed, worthy of the entire world’s respect had it not been for the fact that they have a racist, arrogant, bigoted and criminal Israeli enemy, as well as corrupt governments and rulers who continue to do the bidding of the West while foregoing their patriotic and moral duties. The Middle East people are sorely in need of a Nelson Mandela, a Martin Luther King, Jr. or any hero who will inspire them to turn their indignation into action; who will take the risks and the blows in order to secure freedom and a hopeful fate for the people, rather than continuing to cower in the corrupt comfort zones of their greed and immorality.
Personally, I love the French people, the British, the German, the American and all people, and I strongly believe that if there is a referendum by those governments on whether they should continue exerting their colonist powers, or whether they should allow the people of the Middle East to exist in peace, the results would be that they should cease and desist from continuing to smother the human beings of that region by giving them no chance at dignity and the choice of charting their own futures. It is heart-breaking, unjust and, yes, criminal.
As I witness the world’s sadness and generosity for wanting to restore the beauty and majesty of Notre Dame, I wistfully hope that one day, the destroyed monuments and historical sites throughout the Middle East would be resurrected to their formidable magnificence, their historical place on the planet and their centuries of cultural splendor. The arc of history is a long and patient one. What is up today, could very well be down tomorrow; what are the policies of today are not cemented and will not be forever. It is only wise leaders who realize this and who will act in order to secure not only their own personal legacy, but the legacy of their smart stewardship of the planet in every respect, as well as to be remembered with such noble figures as Mandela and King Jr. rather than the ignoble memory of a Hitler, a Mao, a Stalin, or other such hateful characters.
While we have the capacity to grieve for Notre Dame while not overlooking French complicity in the dismal fate of the Middle East region, we can also hope that there is a will and a future out there, somewhere, sometime, that will right the wrongs and that will allow justice, legality, dignity and coexistence to prevail. Hold onto Hope!
1 thought on “Notre Dame, French Colonialism and Middle East Indignation”
Well written thoughtful and balanced.
Bravo for yet another humanistic essay.