HAVANA TIMES – Over the past few days, I have seen a growing number of people publish comments on social networks that criticize the indignation prompted by the terrorist attacks in Paris, claiming that those who express solidarity with the victims do not cover their Facebook profile pictures with Lebanese, Pakistani, Afghan, Iraqi or other flags the rest of the year.
In some cases, the epithets these people use are extremely aggressive, and, in their efforts to provoke those gripped by pain or moved by certain cultural norms, their verdicts include a thinly-veiled accusation of complicity with bomb-dropping imperialism and with the manufacturers of the weapons that were supplied to rogue nations.
I looked at the walls of acquaintances who, at this time, express anger at the condolences offered Paris and claim they are put off by the fact these aren’t offered every day, every minute, in view of the hundreds of thousands, the millions of hungry people and exploited children around the world.
To my surprise, I’ve been able to confirm that not one of them has ever published the flag or a distinctive symbol of those victimized countries, and that none have even mentioned those savage acts of cruelty before these days.
I don’t know about others and I can only speak for myself, but the solidarity towards Paris has to do, in my case, with early impressions that settled in my hypothalamus, from the time of my birth, one could say.
I come from a family that regarded the French Revolution and Paris Commune as the most important events of modern history, and I continue to regard them as such. We were also brought up under the canons of French culture, with some sprinkles of English customs and sports.
The US teachers that Sarmiento had brought to Argentina to modernize its educational system used a French methodology at school. Thanks to this, Argentina had one of the best educational systems in the world for a long time.
Paris was also the city where oppressive monarchs had been guillotined. Opposing the monarchy was a natural impulse in the Americas, but to do so in Europe and to give it a formal, social and lasting framework is something that astounds one to this day, particularly when one is exposed to cases such as Spain, and to the impunity and corruption that persist in the heart of the Crown.
There’s also the fact France was the most beautiful of all, a place where ethics and aesthetics went hand in hand. I have read twice as many French poets as those of any other nationality, including my own. Some, like Rousseau, inspired our independence fighters. Others, like Proust, offered our intellectuals their cannons, while Breton and Aragon impelled our Left, and Beauvoir and Sartre the entire progressive world. As the world unraveled the thought of Balzac and Victor Hugo, Verne and Dumas delighted adolescents and Saint Exupery captivated children. And, while Rabelais and Descartes accompanied thinkers, Artaud and Nerval were the faithful companion of the raving mad.
Paris is the city where the most tango is played and danced, after Buenos Aires and Montevideo (if Helsinki will forgive me for saying so), the city of streetlights that the neighborhoods of Pompeya and Barracas would kill to have, the city with the best cheeses and baguettes, the city of famous paintings, perfumes, of kisses at parks and sex on the landings of stairs.
And an extremely long list of etcetera’s.
Without the need to visit Paris, many of the values of rebelliousness, solidarity, equality and freedom, as well as comfort and good taste, had been reaching us for generations, thanks to the history of that city. Then came the next impact, when I got to know it in person, hear its language, spoken on the streets that admit of no other tongue, see it as something close to perfection, being exposed to its charms, its night, its afternoons and days, the freedom and culture one breathes there, the poetry…
The food, the wine, the fun, the good taste.
Hence, if the question is whether my cultural formation (or deformation) makes me experience the deaths in Paris more painfully than those in Bangladesh or Eritrea, the sincere answer is: of course it does.
In much the same way, I suffer more over the thirty-thousand killed in Argentina or the Cubans who die in the Strait of Florida, or the crazies or suicidal in Havana who kill themselves, than over the millions who were decapitated in Kampuchea, even though I accept that a million people killed represents something far more serious than the thousands of Argentine or Cubans dead – but I feel closer to the latter. I know it is but a fiction, a trick the brain plays on us, and I know the brutality in Kampuchea is greater…but I identify more with Argentina and with Cuba.
Now, the question I ask those who are upset because of our sorrow over Paris is this:
What should we do? Should we become mobilized in identical fashion in view of all deaths, be it our brothers or the members of a Mongolian nomadic tribe, and, if we can’t do this, should we desist from showing any sympathy for any death, as that would entail discrimination?
One would expect that those who are upset over the selective solidarity shown these countries would be waving the flags of many countries every day of the year, as an act of injustice occurs every instant in every corner of the planet. But, as I said before, none of the people who had negative reactions to these shows of solidarity expressed anything in connection to the other brutal acts – not one flag, not one comment.
I am reminded of some loud-mouthed lefties who were upset with Green Peace, because its members defended whales or polar bears, saying: “Who defends the children of Africa?”
Once, I asked one of these people: “Oh, so you’re fighting both for the children of Africa and the whales…”
“No,” he replied. So I asked: “Then, just for the children of Africa.”
He replied: “No, for neither.”