Malaysiakini Letter

#IAmNoOne - disregard our geopolitical limits

Julia Sveshnikova  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Je ne suis pas Charlie . I am not Ahmed either. Consider me ‘no one’. ‘No one’, who has spent much time living and working in the capital from where the recent universally infamous decisions were taken - Moscow.

Russian intellectuals used to be politicised enough for the reason that, as any nation that has went through a difficult transitional period, we’re not very happy with the direction it took. The intellectuals have been, and are, very critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his team and his policies.

Some might personally despise him, and some might consider him a mere representative of a complicated institutional machine that endured the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), strengthened some of its features and acquired new ones.

What I am trying to say, is that support for Putin is limited within the country, and even more among educated middle-class professionals. Yet, when it involves issues of common concern, a sense of humanity and compassion - say the death of our fellow citizens at the airport or subway bombing - we were rather more united than when judging about our politicians.

It does not imply unity in retaliatory actions, but a consensus about the shared grief and respect to the victims of various kinds of attacks. Many of them even put #JeSuisCharlie and its picture as their profile avatars to express solidarity with the French nation that witnessed such an abhorrent attack on its caricaturists on Jan 7.

Yet, it was very curious to observe the development of commentaries on the tragedy. First, condemnation of terrorists, then critics of caricaturists, and then further attempts by some authors to analyse the commentaries given by Muslims, most implicitly excusing the religion from providing the motives for such a cold-blooded attack.

In the end, numerous restless efforts of Internet users succeeded in their thankless work. Everything became so messed up that I doubt even good intentions - like the mitigation of another burst of Islamophobia in Europe - would have made its way. Even lesser, is the hope that the French nation’s common grief will be an input into the universal compassion about the pain of another.

First and foremost, the people’s wrath was about freedom of speech. Elevated to an almost absolute, this impersonal value outweighed the cost of human lives themselves. I am not talking about the history of the implicit inculcation of hatred and disrespect to anything valued sacred by various communities - talented authors like Charlie Hebdo have already accomplished the job.

It is a distinct grief that the very culture - not law - could not set up limits for what the editors’ hands were not supposed to publish. Because apart from the freedom of speech, there are other freedoms - there are people with their ethical, religious or atheistic feelings; there is also a nation where feelings of harmonious communal living must be nurtured.

Children of the Great French Revolution forgot to grow up and work out the rules that are comfortable for all, and establish the binding factors within the ethos, not the law only.

The picture above is just an example of a caricature Charlie Hebdo published on the occasion of the March 2010 explosion in the Moscow subway where 41 people were left dead, with 88 injured - and sadly, a Malaysian citizen among others.

While we in Moscow and the rest of the country were crying from looking at the bodies torn apart by the blast, the cartoonists portrayed the attack as if the bombs were an injection of venom directly to the brain of the tyrant.

On Dec 4, 2014, 14 police officers died in the course of an anti-terrorist operation conducted in Grozny, Chechnya. It was fine to consider it a local matter, counter terrorist operations became a norm of life there. But when supporters of the maidan (the European membership at the European Union) burned the building that served as headquarters for the proponents of federalisation in Odessa, Ukraine in cold blood, in May 2014, what were the feelings then?

The English-speaking media probably had not popularised it, so perhaps I will refresh the memory. Forty six people - supporters of the Ukrainian federalisation and provision of more autonomy for ethnically Russian regions - were locked in the building and then set on fire by supporters of the Ukrainian route to Europe.

A surreal picture of charred human bodies, all solidified in horror from their inability to escape, still stand before our eyes the same way as the bloody incident in Charlie Hebdo which occurred just recently.

Now, do you think it is something that we were used to? No, for us it was the same nightmare as the Jan 7 disaster is for Paris. How many people in Europe put on relevant T-shirts in support of the dead Ukrainians who stood for their rights?

Or, how many journalists rose after long days of searching for Russian TV correspondent Andrey Stenin, who went missing in Ukraine, and was later found dead from the hands of the regime protectors? Did anyone say, “I am Andrey Stenin”? Do you even know the story? No. Why? Simply because geopolitics have somewhat turned the spirit of compassion to be highly selective.

The heartbreaking arson in Odessa and the Donbass fighters were perhaps very far, so the pain and fear did not reach our remote hearts. But the Charlie Hebdo tragedy happened right in Europe’s front yard, so the pain was immediate; the temptation to boost the international terrorist threat was very high.

And we put aside the Ukrainian crisis with over more than three thousand victims, as if we are oblivious to the continuing atrocities that dehumanise human losses.

I am sure there were many other calls based on other examples to stir the public consciousness. And I believe our friends from Peshawar could come up with no less touching stories left without such an extensive international sympathy.

I just brought some cases which are familiar to me, that echo with pain no lesser than the sudden loss for the French nation, or the pain due to foreseeing the consequences that it will entail.

The death of 12 French citizens as a result of pseudo-religiously motivated attacks, is abominable. I wonder why we cannot go a bit deeper with all the online mess and draw a lesson of unconditional compassion; disregarding the geopolitical limit which we have set unconsciously in our minds? Although, I tend to believe it is a bit too late for such a naïve hope.


JULIA SVESHNIKOVA is a policy analyst with the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).

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