Consider the recent violent events in France. One focus has been the transparent hypocrisy and ignorance of so many commentators such as proclaiming that one must side with the assaulted magazine's policies or side with terror.
Another focus has been the monumental capacity to ignore immense U.S. and French excesses while excoriating the typically far less widely destructive excesses of others whenever it services power and wealth to do so.
Another focus, dealt with less often, is the character of the attacked periodical. The attack was vile, of course. But the victim of criminal assault is not by that fact made saintly. Calling ridiculing a hounded constituency in ways designed to produce hate "satire" is ludicrous. Norman Finkelstein, here, has properly and I might say courageously noted that far from being satire, Charlie Hebdo's anti-Muslim cartoons are more typically sadism.
However there is a different and so far less discussed angle on the massacre and it's aftermath that may also prove informative once fully explored.
In the U.S. there have also been recent incredibly heinous murders of innocent civilians and though such horrors are ubiquitous in U.S. history, the most recent racist policing has garnered far more notice than usual, due to public reactions. These U.S. murders were inexorable outcomes of ubiquitous profiling and intimidation policies perpetrated by trained agents of the institutional order of the U.S. and then exonerated in U.S. courts.
This mixture provoked an incredibly passionate reply in the streets and even in some corners of popular culture, but overwhelmingly from the assaulted community. There has been sustained activism in Ferguson and NYC, for example, and quite a bit of dissent, as well, in various other metropolitan areas. Additionally, various prominent sports and media figures have demonstrated solidarity with the slain victims by their public dress and media pronouncements. However, this outpouring has seemed to me, at least, to be overwhelmingly from the Black community and, beyond that, from very progressive activists – and not from the population at-large.
In France, in contrast, what appears to have been a tiny group of maniacs – though quite well trained – assaulted and killed various journalists and associated media employees. As commentators all noted, this was a virtually unique event in French history. The outpouring of anger and support in Paris (and around the world) has been enormous and has appeared to span French society. The displays are in many instances angrily and even violently directed at a minority and impoverished community as are discussions of and likely implementations of new repressive freedom curtailing policies, though the demonstrations rhetorically claim no desire other than to defend free speech and show solidarity with the slain victims. The scale of the events spurred by the assault on Charlie Hebdo appears to be much larger, proportionately, than were the U.S. reactions to Ferguson – though perhaps that impression is only a product of coverage.
So here is my query. Why the differences and what do the differences tell us?
There were horrible crimes in both cases. There were passionate reactions in both cases. But the reaction has been of different scale and composition.
The constituencies to think about regarding the concern raised above, is not elites – who are simply doing the horrible aggrandizing and repression enlarging things they are in place to do in both countries – but the broad public. More explicitly, in the U.S., the group to assess is the common folks who did not get particularly upset at the police crimes even though the violations were and are clearly systemic and recurring. And, in contrast, in France, the group to assess is the common folks who did get upset even though the crimes were not systemic and one off.
What differences do we easily see? The background of the targets of violence is different. The perpetrators are different. This suggests that the racism at work perhaps transcends that of a few perpetrators, whether the cops killing others moved by sadism and institutional pressure as in the U.S., or the fundamentalists killing others moved by anger at sadism and religious fanaticism in France.
Maybe someone more psychologically oriented than I am can unravel the broader dynamics of the public response in the two cases, revealing lessons able to produce instructive results.
I hope if there is further study, it will reveal that the French public, so outraged, has been largely manipulated by media, which I would imagine was itself in turn outraged partly by its fealty to power, but also partly due to feeling, hey, we ourselves took a hit – we need to rally round – except, of course, they don't rally round when it is reporters abroad who are bombed by Western forces.
And in the U.S., I hope if there is further study it will reveal that the part of the population that has been quiet and even complacent about police violence and judicial complicity is simply ignorant of the scale of the injustices rained upon the Black community, again due to media machinations.
But I must admit that I fear that in both cases, even if lies and ignorance certainly played a major role, something far uglier is also playing havoc with many people's reactions. Why else would transparent lies and scare mongering be so effective at directing views, and realities be so ignored?