The Paris attacks and the ‘White Lives Matter’ movement


I received a message from one of my friends in Lebanon who asked with feigned curiosity why the U.S. media only gave a passing reference to the bombing in Beirut before turning to nonstop coverage of the attacks in Paris.

Of course, like many of us she already knew the answer – that in the consciousness of the West there is a premium on the value of White life.

We saw it in the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks where the world engaged in a gratuitous expression of moral outrage against terrorism.

But that outrage against terrorism didn’t extend to the 2,000 Nigerians who were murdered by Boko Haram the same weekend that a massive rally in Paris took place to condemn the Charlie Hebdo attack. At that rally, not one word of solidarity or condemnation of terrorism in Nigeria was expressed by the speakers or the thousands gathered that day.

Not equal
What my friend and all of us who have been the victims of the selected morality and oppressive violence of Western civilization over the last 500 years have come to understand is that non-European life simply does not have equal value.

How else can one explain the complete lack of attention to the humanity of the victims of ISIS attacks in Beirut and in Bagdad the day before or the lack of concern for the lives of the over 7,000 people in Yemen murdered by the Saudi Arabia dictatorship, with U.S. and NATO support?

False ‘Enlightenment’
In the classrooms of Western universities and occasionally in high schools, students are introduced to the ideas of liberal humanitarianism that are supposed to characterize the core values of the European “Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment is supposed to represent the progressive advancement of all of humanity by the thinkers of Europe who, of course, represented the leading edge of collective humanity.

But what is not sufficiently interrogated is that while these grand theories of “mankind’s inherent equality” were being discussed, those theorists had already arrived at a consensus. This consensus was on the criteria for determining which individuals and groups would be recognized as having equal membership in the human family. According to the criteria, women and the non-European world were excluded or assigned to a lower order of humanity.

Eurocentric academicians don’t historicize the “great” humanitarian theories of Europe and critically juxtapose the rise of those theories with the concrete practices of European powers. Those practices involved the systematic slaughter of millions of indigenous people throughout the Americas, and the African slave trade that made Europe fat and rich.

Slavery allowed the creation of a class of intellectuals freed up from the struggle to earn a living and able to engage in the higher contemplations of life.

Life, culture devalued
Eurocentric liberalism was never just confined to the academy. It became the hegemonic ideological force that embedded itself in the culture and collective consciousness of the Western project and with it the devaluation of non-European life and culture.

The White supremacist ideology and world-view, normalized and thus unrecognized by most, has become a form of psychopathology. It is the cognitive dissonance that Franz Fanon talks about regarding White supremacy as part of the colonial mindset. It’s what James Baldwin refers to as the “lie of White supremacy” that has distorted the personalities, lives and the very ability of many White people to grasp reality.

However, the contradictions in the spheres of ideas and culture are not the real threat. The construction of a Western collective consciousness that is unable to cognitively process information and consider knowledge beyond the assumptions of its own worldviews and values is dangerous enough.

The ease with which humanity is stratified with Europeans and their societies representing the apex of human development is the real threat because that belief has resulted in the rationalization for the crimes of colonialism, slavery and genocide, and the politics of permanent war.

‘White Lives Matter’
My critique of the moral hypocrisy of the West should not be read as a rationalization for the horrific crimes committed in Paris.  The intentional murder of non-combatants is a recognizable war crime that can rise to the level of a crime against humanity and should always be condemned, with the perpetrators brought to justice. All states and groups should be subjected to the same legal and ethical standards and all held accountable.

But crimes committed by Western states and those states aligned with the West, as well as their paramilitary institutions, escape accountability for crimes committed in the non-European world.  Some nations – like the United States, proudly claim their “exceptionality” – meaning impunity from international norms – as a self-evident natural right.

While the victims of the violence in Paris may have been innocent, France was not.  French crimes against Arabs, Muslims and Africans are ever-present in the historical memory and discourse of many members of those populations living in France.

Those memories; the systemic discrimination experienced by many Muslims; and the collaboration of French authorities with the U.S. and others that gave aid and logistical support to extremist elements in Syria, and turned their backs while their citizens traveled to Syria to topple President Assad; became the toxic mix that resulted in the blowback on November 13.

Lives that matter
Although a number of the dead in Paris are young Arabs, Muslims and Africans, in the global popular imagination, France, like the U.S. (even under a Black president), is still White.

So in Iraq, the Shia will continue to die in the thousands from ISIS bombs; the Saudis will continue to slaughter Houthis with U.S. and NATO assistance; and Palestinian mothers will continue to bury their children, murdered by Zionist thugs in and out of uniform, without any outcry from the West.

CNN and others will give nonstop coverage to the attacks in Paris because in the end, we all really know that the lives that really matter are White.

Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst. Contact him at


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