Butler’s words in “Violence, Morning, Politics” are especially relevant in the wake of the attacks on Paris and the continued deaths in the conflict in Syria. He writes about how we as humans have the tendency to value certain lives over others. “Certain lives will be highly protected”, he writes, “and the abrogation of their claims to sanctity will be sufficient to mobilize the forces of war. Other lives will not find such fast and furious support and will not even qualify as “grievable.”” This phenomenon could explain in part the immense media, political, and cultural response to the 11/13 attacks in Paris, and how the same response did not appear for those who die in the same numbers every day in places of the world such as Syria.
I admit, I was more saddened by the deaths in Paris than I was by the deaths of very similar violence in Syria. Consciously, I hold the value of all lives to be equal. I understand that the loss of a father, a mother, or a child is no greater or less a tragedy in the Middle East as it is in Europe. I understand that humans are humans, created equal no matter the place or the culture. And yet, on instinct, news of the deaths in Paris brought more of a lump to my throat than months of reports of bombings and shootings in the non-western world. Maybe it is the shock of it, the loss of people who live in a usually safe area, whose lives are, as Butler would put it “highly protected” that causes me to grieve more. maybe it is because I, as a Westerner and a speaker of a language that is a mixture of French and Germanic, identify more with the culture of France than I do with the areas of conflict in the Middle East, a region that I am all too ignorant about. And maybe, (And Dear God I pray that this is not the case), deep down on an instinctual level I grieve more for the French Dead because I perceive them as being closer to my race than the families who were torn apart due to a similar violence or due to French missiles on Sunday. Whatever the reason, it is my instinct to grieve more for those who I perceive as being closer to me as a person. I wish that this were not the case, that my instinctual and conscious minds could match in understanding and that I could grieve evenly for the people of the world who must endure greater horrors than I have ever experienced. And I hope that it will change as I get older and I get the chance to travel to new places, meet new people, and read and see new testimonies, and that one day I will be able to collapse my instinctual hierarchy of grief.