Published: Thursday November 19, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday November 19, 2015 MYT 6:56:15 AM

Focus on the Paris perpetrators

Governments should go after those who committed the bloody violence, but individuals should not blame whole groups of people for this latest tragedy.

THE nightmare is upon us again. More violence and bloodshed, more hate and more tears.

I spent Saturday morning searching for news of friends and family in Paris. A look at the locations of the incidents on a map showed that some of them were very near where an aunt of my daughter’s lives, so we had some anxious hours waiting to hear from her.

Thankfully, all our friends and relatives are safe.

Relief gave way to sadness and depression. Grief at the many lives lost, of young people who decided to go out and enjoy themselves that night.

This is every parent’s nightmare, that you let your children out because they are grown up enough and know how to take care of themselves. But then how could we have protected them from this?

How can we tell them that a football ­stadium, a concert hall and restaurants are unsafe places to be?

Or how to escape from a bomb or a gun-toting madman?

I wonder what mothers in the United States tell their children in the wake of all those shootings at schools? Surely not “don’t go to school”?

The most depressing thought is that the blame and recriminations will begin immediately.

Violence begets more violence, in the form of actual warfare most obviously but also more subtly in the form of words spoken or written, or actions taken, to corral certain people supposedly in the interest of “security”.

There is nothing new in this.

After the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the Pacific Coast were forced to relocate and incarcerated in camps in the interior, despite there being no evidence that they were at all disloyal to the country that most of them had been born in.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

The Commission’s report, titled Personal Justice Denied, found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and, concluding the incarceration had been the product of racism, recommended that the Government pay reparations to the survivors.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which apologised for the internment on behalf of the US Government and authorised a payment of US$20,000 (RM87,665) to each individual camp survivor.

The legislation admitted that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”.

History, however, tends to be ignored, especially in the heat of anger.

The aftermath of Sept 11 ignored the lessons of World War II and undoubtedly they will be ignored again now.

The most favoured response is more violence, although this has never been proven to work, unless we count the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the results of which are still debatable.

Far more insidiously depressing is the discovery that individuals are quick to blame whole groups of people for this latest tragedy, based on nothing more than speculation. Despite the fact that only a few people directly caused these murders, some are quite happy to take exceedingly discriminatory action against an entire community so that they may be “safe”. I wonder what assumptions lie beneath these?

Were the dead uniformly of one race and religion, when the population of France is as diverse as any country these days?

Yet there are some who don’t hesitate to suggest that every Muslim everywhere should be considered suspect.

Given that some live in a Muslim-majority country, how do they expect to even leave their house every day if they are going to worry that every Muslim they meet is waiting to kill them?

And since when have discriminatory acts against whole groups of people ever tamed them?

The black population of South Africa never took apartheid lying down.

African Americans fought against racial discrimination with the civil rights movement.

In our country, more and more people are opposed to race-based policies.

In all cases, the initial lack of response from governments has meant a withdrawal of support for that government and sometimes open rebellion.

Why therefore do we think that any discriminatory act against a particular faith community is going to elicit a different reaction?

What examples do we have of people willingly accepting humiliating discriminatory measures against them?

By all means, governments should go after the perpetrators of such bloody violence for the sake of the security of their people. But governments are no more rational than the human beings who lead them.

Between January 2012 and November 2015, there were almost 40 cases of fatal shootings at schools, colleges and universities in the US but the government has done nothing to stop access to guns.

Why should we expect rational responses by governments to cases of mass murders in even more public places?

Their only response to mass murder has been more mass murder, preferably far from their shores.

Meanwhile, we should examine our own attitudes towards others to see if we consider ourselves peacemakers, bridge builders or warmongers.

It starts in our own neighbourhoods, communities, villages, towns, cities and countries. And we should reflect whether what the Japanese-Americans in their internment camps suffered was just.

Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

Tags / Keywords: Marina Mahathir, columnist

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