After Paris, Polly Chester explains how macro aggression is colouring thoughts from both sides – with the idea of a common humanity the main cost.


The morning after that awful Parisian evening has brought vast outpourings of aggression toward the Muslim community. Social media is awash with it, with even the most dedicated of the political left, quavering with anger.

As people grapple with the horror of family, of friends, of fellow humans being murdered, the non-Muslim community are demanding the Muslim community reign in their radical peers.

These demands stem in part from sadness about the tragedy and in part from anger toward the insensitivity of those in the Muslim community who are not radical, but who live in, and antagonise, the West by vocally supporting the attacks.

In the moments that we mourn the lost lives and come to terms with the unimaginable horror that descended upon Paris, it would be disrespectful to intellectualise the situation. Now is a time for grieving. A tone evidenced by the mass of catharsis displayed in Paris. Beautiful moments of humanity, necessitated by the ugliest.

Later, however, it is useful to reflect on the roots of macro aggression and terrorism demonstrated by radicalised Muslims, why such sentiments would be expressed in the first place and how we as community members can best deal with this kind of behaviour.

Macro aggression is characterised by the frustration that builds inside a person or people when abuse of their human rights is systematically administered and condoned, resulting in the manifestation and perpetuation of social disadvantage. With every layer of oppression that is added, the volcanic anger grows. Eruptions of macro aggression are fierce and destructive, and markedly difficult to cope with. In Paris, it was the innocent who unfortunately bore the brunt of an outward expression of macro aggression.

Macro aggression stems from many things, such as colonisation, multi-layered oppression, forced assimilation, cultural suppression, racist ideology, policy and legislation, dominant whiteness, resulting in privileged ideologies.

There are enough resources to keep everybody on the planet alive, well and in relative comfort, yet only the privileged population enjoys those resources. The anger that results from this kind of oppression – from constantly having to fight for the same rights that others are automatically granted – is understandably immense.

Under the proviso of free speech, French media outlets such as Charlie Hebdo have developed a reputation for ridiculing everything and everyone, with a special focus on religion. Which under other circumstances might be permissible or even applaudable. But France has a long history with Islam. Due to the tense relationship that began between the two states when France conquered Algeria in 1830, ongoing antagonism, even the satirical kind, is insensitive and inappropriate. As France only vacated Algeria in 1962, the impacts of the last bloody war still reverberate around the country.

Does this excuse the attacks on innocent French people, or any other deplorable terrorist activity carried out by ISIL? No.

But this information provides a very important context for understanding the basis of macro aggression.

This situation, whichever way you look at it, is gruelling and utterly heartbreaking.

So, how do we respond to macro aggression? There is no formula, but in the design process, rationality and common sense are called for. Bellyaching about asking the Islamic community to accept responsibility for its radicals is theoretically a good start, but realistically, probably not going to impact people who are on the edge of radicalisation.

Think back to the last time someone forced you to apologise for something. Did you enjoy it? Or did it just make you angrier?

There are a couple of things that we can do. First, trying to empathise with someone else’s experience of macro aggression is quite impossible; unless we have felt the same experience, we cannot walk a mile in their shoes and it is presumptuous to suggest that we can. Instead, we can choose to reach out with love and compassion, which can be loosely defined as resisting the “eye for an eye” mentality, and consciously choosing to never inflict suffering on another, despite having felt it yourself. If we continue to retaliate with enhanced force, the cycle will only continue.

Secondly, we need to be clear about what we mean when we talk about “common humanity”. Several Western world leaders have now referred to a shared value base with the French people, acknowledging the attack as a desecration of the common values of humanity that we all share. Implied in these orations is the sense that this value base is not shared by Muslims, which is further demonstrated by the blasé acceptance of the Muslim or Arab lives claimed by ISIL.

Common values of humanity are certainly not shared when non-Western lives do not garner the same response as Western lives. We have seen countless demonstrations of this, and in the last 12 months, the mass murder of Syrians (the Syrian Civil War alone stands at an estimated 220,000), Pakistanis and Palestinians have been met with the same indifference. An indifference never so glaring as evidenced in Beirut two days before Paris. Same perpetrators, same method, entirely different reaction.

While we bleed the same blood, the letting of is what separates us. There seems to be a vast canyon of difference between the 11th arrondissement and the gravel of downtown Damascus. On the most basic of levels, they have been felled by the same hand. They lay, innocent victims, flayed by the iron hands of violence. So where is their hashtag? Where is the collective arm around their broken shoulders? Where is their groundswell, powered by the beautiful butterfly of compassion, emerging from the darkest of cocoons?

These are questions that need to fuel discussions.

Discussions centred on how to value common humanity through actions; by living the values of peace, love and compassion, and extending those values especially toward the Muslim community during this time when further division is a predictable consequence of the actions of a violent minority.

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