It is not much of a surprise to anyone that tragedies are often used as occasions for political propaganda. The image of the “leaders of the free world” walking arm in arm on the streets of Paris, after the Charlie Hebdo killings has burned into our memories as an iconic moment. A moment to measure future eruptions of Western narcissism. It is a scale to measure the obnoxiousness of European hysteria. When they decide to collectively superimpose their Facebook profile pictures with a French flag, or when they launch a smearing campaign to label all refugees as rapists we can ask: “Are they as crazed as that time they walked arm in arm and sang their national anthem?
But far too much has already been written on the self-centered nature of European mourning. With each global tragedy, the Internet turns into a furnace of angry debates about who is worth mourning and who is not. A new trend has emerged out of this furnace of civilised discussion: the trend of Western observers to write sentimental articles to mourn others’ tragedies.
The recent attacks in Istanbul and Ankara have been particularly revealing of how this trend has ripened. People with names like Molly Crabapple, Liz Cookman and Allan Hennessy have taken it upon themselves to tell other Westerners that the loss of Turkish lives is worth mourning like all others. What do these writers all have in common besides food- and drink-related last names? None of them are Turkish. It is ironic that when Westerners feel the need to mourn for Turkish lives, they must do it through the intermediary of a fellow white Westerner. None of them have even ventured to quote the words of a Turkish person. Instead, Liz Cookman quotes the “viral Facebook post” of a certain James Taylor who has been in Ankara for 18 months! I was born and raised in Ankara, when I showed the article to one of my closest friends from school, her reaction was: “Who the f**** is James Taylor?”
The Crabapples and Cookmans and Hennessies of this world have built themselves a cottage industry which specialises in reminding white Westerners that everybody else is human too. We, whose lives are supposed to matter just as much, are excluded from reaping the benefits of this economy by telling our own stories. Non-Western writers who write about their own people are perceived as biased. Our opinions are tainted by knowledge of context and personal investment, whereas the mature bird’s eye view of the Western journalist is considered impartial. Their interest is considered a neutral vantage point.
You are of course welcome to mourn alongside us, but do it like we do: with a quiet dignity.
If all this goodwill and solidarity for the deaths of non-Westerners were genuine, Western writers would spend more energy into giving us their prestigious platforms, and less on turning our stories into products that they can sell to the highest bidder. It takes a very special kind of narcissism to genuinely believe that we will be grateful for the kind words of Europeans with funny names. What we need is not your love; what we need is to write our stories and be financially rewarded for it. Talented writers based in the developing world can put every penny of that money into good use by investing in local alternative media projects and developing small local industries of their own.
There’s another thing we don’t need: It is the transformation of our mourning into a media circus. Although major publications infantilize our views by excluding them, we are not the ones bursting into hysteria about how everybody should stop what they are doing and mourn for us. Only Westerners are outraged by how Turkish deaths are not turned into a media circus like the ones witnessed in France. Our own government media is feeding us enough propaganda about who we should be hating, but so far popular opinion has resisted getting caught up in a frenzy of flag totting and anthem singing.
A lot of us are more willing to concentrate on healing our wounds. The last thing we need is white journalists to show up at our funeral, to hand out business cards and take selfies so they can show their friends back home. This is not the appropriate occasion for you to flash insider credentials by dropping lines like “oh I know Istanbul really well” or “my friends in Turkey are wonderful people.” The appropriate occasion for that was when you had your friends with equally funny names over for a dinner party, and regaled them with the story of how you haggled for your Oriental rug.
I am not worried about the absence of patriotic scenes like that witnessed in Paris. In fact I am rather proud of my people for having little interest in such charades. The French might not realise what their flag symbolises for Algerians, Haitians and Vietnamese, but I would like to think that my compatriots have a sense of awareness about what our flag means to Kurds, Armenians and Greeks. So stop telling the world how they should feel about us. We can do it better. You are of course welcome to mourn alongside us, but do it like we do: with a quiet dignity.
Efe Levent is a writer based in Istanbul, Turkey. Follow him on Twitter: @STBCollective