I’ll weep for Belgium, Ankara AND Lahore but I won’t buy into the grief industry

BY Aisha Iqbal Khan

I won’t be raising the Belgian flag or putting it on my Facebook profile picture. In fact, I am done with flags entirely and may even have to lose my beloved Union Jack cushions.

It is not because I do not weep for the victims of the recent terror acts in Brussels, I do. And it is not because I don’t love my country or the best values it embodies, I do, passionately so.

But I have decided I don’t need to wave a flag – or use it as my screen saver – to illustrate or prove either of those truths. And I also don’t need to be told which wasted life I should shed more tears over.

Attack at Airport in Brussels

Attack at Airport in Brussels

Almost immediately after news of the terrible airport and train station attacks in Belgium broke, a now all-too-familiar pattern was playing out in the headlines and social media trends. Collective shock, grief, anger, then stories and pictures emerging of the innocent victims. Then the questions started, and then came the now all-too common ‘Muslims distance themselves from the bombers’ statements – with community leaders quick to issue press statements on behalf of 1.6 billion people.

In an equally predictable way, it didn’t take long for the social media hordes to start complaining about how ‘Muslim lives don’t matter as much as western ones’ and questioning the lack of headlines about Ankara and Istanbul. And the answer seems pretty obvious to me. We mourn for those we relate to and have solidarity with – historically, linguistically or culturally.

If the French produce a cartoon comforting their immediate neighbour and ally, it is completely understandable and natural. Who are we to tell others how and who to mourn? And anyway, isn’t the ‘selective grief’ accusation playing right into Daaesh’s divisive narrative? To make Western Muslims in particular think that they are perpetually ‘the other’?

The truth is that lives elsewhere – in places we have less in common with – DO matter less. They always have. It is a sad reality of the natural, tribal human condition. And, in the same way that we may bemoan the Western media’s failure to value Muslim blood, aren’t we also playing the same comparison game? As much as the mainstream media machine may be a biased, geo-politically charged entity, it does British Muslims no favours at all to play into the ‘them and us’ narrative it feeds us on a daily basis.

Explosion in Ankara, Turkey

Explosion in Ankara, Turkey

Collective hand-wringing isn’t very helpful at any time, because it plays straight into the hands of those who seek to divide us. I believe it is important to BE the change you want to see. Could it be a colonial hangover that is driving our need for even our grief to be validated by our former colonial masters?

The aforementioned flags – or false flags to be precise – are a big problem in all our current collective confusions. Because, like so much of our public and private spaces, our collective and individual griefs, they have been hijacked. Whether it be the standard of the victim’s home nation, or of the death cult that killed them, the colonizers or the colonised, flags are increasingly used as an excuse for man’s wilful inhumanity to man. And now, we have a new layer in the cult of the false flag – the banner of collective grief, I personally am done with flags as I am done with faux outrage, with mawkishness and with being manipulated over again and again by dogma, dominant narratives and diseased minds.

It’s nothing new of course. Throughout history, tribal standards were used in warfare and to mark magnificent

Vigils and prayers offered for victims of recent Brussels attack

Vigils and prayers offered for victims of recent Brussels attack

human feats and acts of bravery. The latter two I have no problem with. But increasingly in this fraught post 9/11 world, publicly owned symbols are hijacked and reinvented to justify terror, warmongering, injustice, brutality and inhumanity.

The tragedy in Brussels – as those before it in Ankara and countless other cities European and non-European – has, at its heart, divisive, twisted notions of solidarity – that belonging to one group must necessarily exclude you from claiming allegiance to the other. All sides are guilty of playing that game.

And waiting in the wings of this mawkish mess are the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, revelling in their pseudo-subversiveness and apparent reclaiming of the ‘reasonable’ voice. After the backlash over selective grief, independent apps are now offering people the option to add any nation’s flag to their Facebook profile photo.

But I say no thanks. I refuse to subscribe to this grief industry – or to let vested interests put a price on my tears.

Aisha Iqbal Khan is also a full time reporter for the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post.

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