When I was ten – Oisin Fagan writes on 9/11, Paris, and Globalised Grief

When I was ten, on September the 12th, the seven of us that made up my fourth class, were drawn into a circle by our teacher and asked how we felt about the previous day; where we were at the time we heard the news, what our reflections were on 9/11. Seven children were being forced, not to reflect on a historic event, but being persuaded to solidify concepts so that we would make one event historic in our own minds; the only other event we were asked as children to consider in similar, serious terms, was the crucifixion of Christ. Why was I, in a small parish in Ireland, in a small school, being asked to reflect on an event that had happened in New York the previous day? My teacher wasn’t mad; it had nothing to do with her.

Now imagine you lose your son or your daughter on a Friday evening to some insanity. You’ve lost your reason to live; your world is falling apart. But you look outside your window and the buildings have turned red, white and blue. Your personal grief is written onto the whole world. Your grief is facilitated and accentuated by cross-party solidarity, by Facebook, by Twitter, by every newspaper, by everything; every government in the world promotes your grief. Your interior horror has been written onto the whole of the west. It now has global, transformative implications. Your grief is real. Their grief is real, but then there is something else: a grief that grieves through a mesh of formal, manipulating structural grieving. Structural crocodile tears. This third grief isn’t not real; its just structural. Why does your grief have global, transformative implications? What is this grief doing?

I’m not making a lefty point about all lives being equal here; that the lives in Lebanon and Kenya are worth less than the lives in France, because they are actually worth less. In the system we live under you can actually measure by how much they are worth less. That is the starting point; and in this paradigm we are living in, we seem to be saying they are worth as much as other lives, but we are doing so in cloaks of grief that we have shrouded ourselves in protectively while for to two decades we have been passively living in such a way that we have allowed a clash of cultures to be created and manufactured for other people’s interests in our names and now we can’t get out of it. Now we need global hegemonic powers to subdue the forces we have created.

Total hegemonies are rare; total structures are rare, but this is a totalising structure: a structure of crocodile tears. The world has gone mad in a convenient way and the guns are loaded with the hardened grief of hurt people. When I was ten I was made to know that the most important events in human history were World War 2 and its after-effects, and 9/11 and its after-effects. My whole life hard power and soft power has coalesced around these two poles and their substrates. And somewhere a well-meaning liberal thinks, ‘What shall I say on Facebook to show the deeper roots of this conflict, to show that Muslims aren’t evil.’ Somewhere a Muslim is carted out, like so much meat, to stand behind a western leader and say ‘this is not the way of Islam.’ Somewhere someone says ‘Fuck the Muslims out.’ Somewhere a leftist says, ‘This is sad, but we told you so,’ and the whole thing actually just makes me feel ill with never-ending déjà vu. Today the U.S and its whores, Europe, are either engaged in 134 wars, or ‘none’ depending on your definition of war, and I’m going to grieve for the innocent civilians that were slaughtered in Paris as much as I’m going to grieve for the innocent victims in Beirut and Kenya and all those other hundreds of wars; which means that I am not going to grieve at all.