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Does this still surprise you? That a little girl is killed by police officers? Like his brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, who leave a country that they would never have fled under other circumstances. Like Bakari, who, during his ten attempts to cross the Mediterranean, told us:  » The first time, it was a lady who died. We threw it in the water. Then people started to die. Whoever dies is taken and thrown into the sea. 25 died « . Like those who stay at home and die of hunger, thirst or from having worked too much in the cadmium, cobalt or tantalum mines, or in the smoke of the dumps where the plastics of our obsolete objects burn. 

We know the story, a child dies of hunger every 5 seconds today, while in 1985, « singers without borders » sang « Ethiopia is dying little by little », a show aimed at removing the daily life of the decaying flesh that Africa, and others, would experience. They were already used to it, secular slaves, while the western stars were getting fatter and fatter. There are still those who fall asleep and don’t wake up, in winter, in summer, all year round, under bridges, in the interstices of train stations, who make us say, each time, as the Beaujolais nouveau comes back, that  » the new blood has arrived « (2). Of course, the difference lies in the origin of the death, percussive and close for Mawda, isolated and distant for the great majority, but all these deaths are not accidents, we forget it too often, but the result of a logic. 

It is because we are resigned to no longer wanting to change this world (« that’s the way it is, what can you do about it? We will not be able to change the society! ») that others only find this ultimate hope, desperate, that is the flight from their country, massive exodus which is only a prelude to the global collapse of our civilization. Our resignation, if not anaesthesia, signs, each time, their death warrant. Mawda, if she had left Libya or Morocco, would have drowned, perhaps. No one would have known. Photographers could not have captured the image of his grieving parents, rubbing shoulders with newspaper ads for cars and other smartphones. She would have joined the ranks of the anonymous who die on the altar of capitalism, like those nameless corpses found in the desert near the Mexican border. We wrote it in 2016, when the staged photo of little Aylan was making the rounds of the world:  » a dead child on the sand whose sight is appalling to us. Shock photo that follows the previous ones and precedes the next ones, and all those that will not be taken or will not be published. Have you seen the photo, the one that hides all the dead that our dying world generates? She is the symbol of the media show « .(3)

We are not insensitive, to answer the probable attacks of those who will want to avoid discussing the substance of what we say. The emotion is an obvious one, it is important but becomes useful and subversive if it does not limit itself to follow the rule of the dead mile, that the indignation does not remain this cold, flaccid and incomplete thing inversely proportional to the distance of the tragedy. Apart from that, it remains futile, individual and selfish, like the guy who cries when he sees a stranger’s hearse pass by. In Gaza, over the past few days, months and years, hundreds of children’s bodies have filled the city’s morgues. But the head and the bullet were several thousand miles from home. The shouts, rare, let the silence dominate, preparing the future Bullet in the head. There, as here, those who kill know they can, with impunity, that unspoken perception of what one can and cannot do, dictating behavior. 


Does it offend you that the authorities and the media play along with the accident? Do you wonder if they weigh their words, if they euphemize their words? But that’s what they do all the time. May 22 in Le Soir:  » The cause of death of a 2‑year-old passenger remains unclear. Kurdish networks are known to be extremely dangerous « .  » A passenger ‚ » not a child. It is necessary, as George Orwell said, that the words arouse the least possible mental images, they must be empty, poor, to create the blur that the newspapers pretend to describe while they create it themselves. A passenger is anyone in a vehicle that he/she is not driving, a child is a human being who is in an early age of his/her life and who is designated as such for this reason only. He is therefore a living being who should normally have had many more years to live, but who has been  » shot in the cheek « , not in the head(4). To evoke moreover  » the Kurdish networks  » in the same sentence allows to divert the attention of the reader so that he does not imagine a being in blue uniform representing the police as a murderer, but the Kurdish networks  » extremely dangerous « , at the origin of all this, and thus in fine responsible for the death of the girl. All this is therefore « fuzzy » for those who have the power to represent reality, and what must remain fuzzy is above all what could be too clear. 

« It’s really not a big effort for us (…) We had a Sudanese guy the other day, we told him: « We’re going to make you listen to music from home ». We made him listen to Johann Sebastian Bach. I asked him if he liked it, he opened his eyes and said: « I love classical music. When I get to England and find a place to live, I want to be a violinist in a symphony orchestra. When you see a guy of one meter ninety, that you would have rather, uh, sent, uh, to be a surface technician, or a basketball player if he is a little bit athletic… no no, it is not his objective, he wants to be a violinist: a future Yehudi Menuhin » *. 

We will therefore not talk about the « networks » of this Europe that makes « the world a better place. especially pressure on Turkey to keep misery and suffering away from it (…) Once protected from the contagion, Europeans are much less concerned about the fate of these people .(5) It will not be said that the one who has been the friend of European leaders, Erdogan, has supported the EI and supported the Al-Nosra front(6). Let’s not talk about the destruction of Iraq or Libya or, further on, about the assassination by Belgium of Lumumba who, if he had led the Congo, would have avoided many deaths and refugees, but also drastically reduced the turnover of the multinationals that exploit the raw materials that we find, notably, in smartphones… Let’s not talk about Thomas Sankara, president of the « country of honest men », assassinated by his right-hand man Blaise Compaoré, with the support of the CIA and France, because he wanted the independence of his country, who remained alive would not have seen Bakari and the other refugees flee Burkina Faso. This is why, always,  » political language must therefore consist mainly of euphemisms, petitions of principle and nebulous imprecision (…) This phraseology is necessary if one wants to name things without evoking the corresponding mental images « .(7)


This concealment of the causes of the world’s misery behind a facade of normality may be due to the ideology of development which, placing all countries on a sort of continuum, considers that some would be further ahead than others — the countries of the European Union, for example -, while others, « behind », would have to catch up. Since this belief requires that no link be established between the development of rich countries and the underdevelopment of the poor, it will always be a question of concealing the responsibilities of the former in the distress of the South in order to focus on individual cases. Thus, we will remain silent on the role of the former in the « backwardness » of the latter, but also and above all on the fact that our way of life is not generalizable, and that thinking that all can do as the rich — countries or subjects -, is an aporia. This ideology of socio-economic development is also grafted onto the subjective perception of individual development, transformed into the ideology of the « self-made man ». Disregarding social determinisms, we would consider that the one who succeeded « by force of arms » has more merit. The inevitable result is that the poor are still seen as solely responsible for their situation, and therefore « must have something to do with what happens to them » and are not entitled to the same attention. A part of the population therefore continues to think that the lives of some are less valuable than others.(8)

Refugees, working-class children, « Arabs », tramps, parents from poor backgrounds, in short, everything that is not of the bourgeois class, will be treated inhumanely at some point. You have to have been in a police car, to see what they are capable of doing to a white middle class Belgian, to imagine what they are capable of doing to a « dirty immigrant », sure to have the support of their hierarchy(9). You have to see what they do with the poor kids in the special education classes, the antechamber of vocational education, whose daughters will come to do the households of the bourgeoisie, if it is not their body that they will have to offer them for a few euros. You have to see what they do with the prisoners in the cells of Saint-Gilles, Forest, Tournai, Namur, or the refugees in the detention centers… Did you think that they would treat a certain category of « disadvantaged » differently? 


Believing that it is departing from the dominant logic, left-liberal thinking, however, reproduces its way of thinking if it only cares about welcoming those who leave without caring about the causes of their departure. It brings the act of escape closer to the sole subjective choice. If we have to think about the reception, it is not enough, because if we limit ourselves to that, we would be like a guy who leaves his house every evening and picks up the guy who falls on his sidewalk every day without asking himself why he fell. Thus, he would respond to the duty of assistance to a person in danger, but without wanting to recognize that it is the slippery ground in front of his house that causes the fall. When you try to explain it to him, his whole attitude would indicate that he doesn’t want to change his covering and prefers to assist the person who falls indefinitely. Sure, it’s a lot better than the guy who pretends not to see him and leaves him on the sidewalk, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. But both reactions characterize a refusal to look for the origin of things: the first, often in a cognitive dissonance that he tries to resolve by convincing himself that he is a « good man » and that the sidewalk is not so slippery (that the world is not so bad…), the second by totally decontextualizing the situation and making the onlooker the only culprit of his fall, by totally repressing the question of the floor covering. 

« We open the door to people who are young and they are all beautiful, ultra-recognizing. They also give us the feeling of being useful and not just being there to consume and pollute,
to die after, one day » * 

In the context of refugees, the former prefers to believe in the naive and dangerous solution of multiculturalist openness. It appears however  » It is becoming increasingly clear that the solution is not to « break down the walls and let everyone in », as the kindly liberal « leftists » chant in their simplistic idealism. No; the only viable solution would be to take down the real wall: not the one erected by the immigration services, but the socio-economic wall. In other words, to change society so that people are no longer desperate to escape from their homes. « (10) We must therefore choose: change the pavement or continue indefinitely to pick up those who fall, knowing that in view of the climatic disasters and the nuclear risk, to name but a few, we will soon have to welcome ourselves. 

It goes without saying, once again in order to anticipate those of bad faith and to reject their caricatural insults, that the behavior of the guy who still accuses the pedestrian of having fallen and makes him responsible for it, leaving him on the ground, does not constitute for us a solution and that we only have contempt for this subject. But it would be hypocritical, which is what an antifascist left-wing movement likes to do, which never questions, except sometimes in the discourse, the origin of the evil — a model of productivist society which valorizes our worst instincts -, not to criticize the one who picks up the pedestrian under the only pretext that it would be to play the game of the one who lets him die (the game of the extreme right in short). And so, it is not a matter of generalizing our criticism to the whole person and thereby denigrating his punctual altruistic intervention, but of saying that this does not constitute a political action. If the subject is complacent, however, aware that he is not touching the causes of the evil he is alleviating in its effects, he should know that it is because he probably finds in it a selfish personal satisfaction and a confirmation of his way of life. 

Let’s just say that the help is not only altruistic and that it allows the subject to forget that he knows — that the ground in front of his house is slippery and that he could do something about it, or that the world is profoundly bad -, and thus to realize a form of « fetishistic disavowal »: « I know, but I don’t want to know that I know, so I don’t know ». I am aware of this, but I refuse to accept the full consequences so that I can continue to act as if nothing had happened « .(11) We must therefore believe that if there is an innate behavior in helping one’s fellow man, there is also an attempt to « pretend that nothing happened « . To be clearer:  » The one who is morally indignant in front of the images of misery and massacres that are brought to his attention, when a feeling of horror actually experienced and not only mimicked would quickly make him understand the obscenity of adding declamation to impotence, what is he looking for if not the narcissistic satisfaction of feeling like a sensitive and civilized person, of showing himself as such, and of concealing from himself his anguish of being caught up in this nightmare real of the end of the world. In the same way, the crowds gathered by the promoters of this or that platonic good cause are mainly occupied with admire themselves for being there together in the euphoria of a generous unanimity of which they are very quiet that it is without consequence, that it does not commit them to anything. And in this respect very few things differentiate the good feelings of the humanitarian, democrat, anti-racist propaganda, from the calls to the murder of stars of the simulated violence, as very few things separate, by the conscience, the crowds of rioters of one evening from those which assemble for other « urban trances », where one gets drunk of mimetic identification while vibrating under the blows of the music of mass « (12). It is true that today it is more comfortable to pay 2.50 euros per month to Oxfam, Amnesty or Doctors without Borders than to go without a smartphone. 


The difference in treatment is still astonishing when we see the surge of solidarity towards the refugees, relayed by various official groups and institutions, compared to their relative indifference to the endemic misery. It is as if there is a categorization between good and bad poor. For the former, communal motions, interpellations, cries, indignations. For the latter, a few restos du coeur, and a lot of silence. We think we know why. In both cases, the idea of an undetermined choice in the person’s history would be floated: the refugee would have left and would have to be welcomed, all of them: « welcome »; the bum would have decided to live on the street and that’s that. Again, if it needs to be repeated, it is not a matter of opposing imported misery and indigenous misery, of saying that one would be less worse than the other, of playing into the hands of the extreme right capable of opposing these two groups, instrumentalizing the sd(f) for the sole purpose of mounting(13) the population against the refugees, that is not what we are about. Here, it is a question of trying to understand why, although tramps and refugees are products of the same socio-economic system, the benevolent attitude towards them can vary. Patrick Declerck, who has worked for years with the tramps of Paris, describes this so-called existential freedom of the guy who « chose the street » as an absurdity:  » Who dares the odious and flippant insult of thinking, for a moment, that one lives on the street because one wants it? Because we like it? Who. But everyone, all the time… « .(14)

And there is basically no more existential freedom in people who flee their country. But common thinking mostly overdetermines individual possibilities, obscuring the socio-economic and geopolitical reasons that create hobos and refugees. If the refugee pleases the bourgeois left more and the tramp disgusts, it is because these two attitudes stem from one and the same cause which is presented in the form of an intention little or not conscious: not to see, not to know. In the decontextualized reception of a liberal left, there is the idea that the one who leaves his country has made a choice, when it is first and foremost a non-choice, and that he would have much preferred not to have to flee a country and people he loves. And if the solicitude is greater towards the refugee than towards the tramp of his neighborhood, it is because the first one has this exotic side which reminds us less in which we are also responsible for what he is: the distance of his country of origin acts as protection and moves away from the spirit our participation, tiny or considerable, in the misery of the world. 

« I might as well tell you right now: political action is not even worth it, or else you are 18 years old and you have a crazy motivation and you say: « When I am 50, I will have succeeded in doing something ». In such a politically and administratively complex world, the concrete is the foot, it is the immediate help, it works, it is fantastic. It’s almost a drug, it gives me the same pleasure as when I sign a big contract. It’s too good, it’s really a humanitarian orgasm. 

In short, in one, we don’t see (or we can better hide) the unequal system that has created this misery and in which we participate: we can help without it bringing us back to the face who we are. This is a type of colonial thinking. We then like to make heroes, dead or alive. They make us forget where they come from, they become pure extractions of social matter, without any link, in short individuals as we want them. However, the colonizer  » may reassure himself that ‘I have always been this or that with the colonized’, but he suspects, even if he is not guilty as an individual, that he is participating in a collective responsibility as a member of an oppressive national group « (15) Thus, even if we reassure ourselves by welcoming refugees without accepting the revolution that would be necessary to eradicate forced migration, we know that we are part of a profoundly unequal society, that we have our share of responsibility, and that our individual actions of solidarity will not change anything. 


The « Welcome » automatically marks superiority(16), relegating at the same time the questions of local misery and the evil model of the host society. Because once the « damned of the earth » are « inserted », will they have succeeded? « Inserted » in what, by the way? To a society where one struggles to get a job, where misery is structural, where living older must automatically mean working longer, where young people must  » dream of becoming billionaires  » (Macron). As Patrick Declerck says for the tramps:  » even to the brink of death and hypothermia, we will still make them sweat with hope, with our hope, the poor. It’s not to prevent them from dying that we help them, no, it’s because, half dead, frozen, transient, as they are, there is still perhaps a microchip of small chance to make them honest and productive citizens .(17). Will the refugee who has become a wage earner, putting his ballot paper in the ballot box at every election, paying his dues, going on vacation, driving his children to school, strolling through supermarkets, have succeeded? Or will he have become a western individual? Will he support the new refugees, while we continue the wars that make others take their chances and leave? Succeed in what? To adapt to a lifestyle that destroys connection and life? To continue its small existence and become like the others, forgetting by its way of life even its brothers of despair who continue to leave and to die? Leaving is a failure, arriving and « succeeding » as well; beyond the person, his joy that we understand well to obtain papers, to be accepted, considered finally. But the model is a failure. Bakari had told us that Europe had disgusted him. He had understood this, having exhausted the solidarity of the natives, he was about to join the miserable locals, who would then be quickly forgotten. And a refugee should not spit in the soup, there would be, quickly, a return of ladle… 

Every little « successful integration » certifies and confirms the western thinking, but the model is rotten. We don’t force people to leave everything in a decent society, to forget their history, their ancestors, to leave their old people behind; we don’t force them to integrate, to do as we do, « as it should be done », while our conquests are at the origin of all this. There will be many more Mawda’s, they happen every day. Our way of life, and our Western model, rests on the ashes of those who made it possible. It should not be just the proximity of Mawda that strikes us, for once, while the information will have been chased by another, try not to forget what her murder contains as subversive potential: the idea that it’s a whole world that needs to be remade, this world in which we destroy countries to ensure our oil supplies, this world of Rana Plaza and Foxconn, of Congolese mines and Thailand’s kid bars, of Israeli snipers and trigger-happy cops, of American death chambers and separation walls, of billionaires and homeless people.… this world of entertainment where the Semira, Mawda, still pass for accidents while they are the emanation of a system. 

The murder of Mawda is sickening. But every day our way of life should make us nauseous. It’s just that we forget, when we fill up our car, when we go on a plane for a few days, when we buy the latest Smartphone, how much the world is filled with atrocious stories that we generate to perpetuate it. Our power of repression is enormous. We can continue to be blinded and indignant in a selective and punctual way, but we should not be surprised when reality catches up with our illusory feeling of being protected from everything. 

Alexandre Penasse

Notes et références
  1. Semira Adamu était une demandeuse d’asile nigériane, tuée le 22 septembre 1998 par deux policiers lors d’une tentative d’expulsion de la Belgique, étouffée avec un oreiller. Mawda, petite Kurde irakienne, a été tuée par un policier belge qui a fait feu le 17 mai 2018, sur la camionnette dans laquelle elle se trouvait avec ses parents.
  2. « Comment l’histoire entre pays détermine l’histoire d’un migrant : le récit de Bakari », Kairos Novembre-décembre 2014.
  3. Parfois, certains font exception, mais c’est là le résultat d’une mise en scène, qui parvient à faire oublier tous les autres et la cause systémique de leur mort.
  4. La chronologie des termes relatant les faits est importante : au départ, il les faudra mesurés, vides, alors que les jours, heures passés, ils pourront être plus imagés, le travail de représentation ayant été préalablement accompli par une forme d’indignation alimentée par d’autres réseaux que les médias de masse, et notamment par la simple décence ordinaire.
  5. Noam Chomsky, L’optimisme contre le désespoir, Lux, 2017, p.68.
  6. Voir notre numéro spécial « L’Occident terroriste », décembre 2016.
  7. Stéphane Leménorel, Georges Orwell, Le passager clandestin, 2017, p.80.
  8. N’était-ce pas aussi au fond le cas avec Julie et Mélissa ? Quand on rappelle l’origine populaire des deux fillettes, Jan Fermon, avocat, répondait : « Les gens ont vu que, au début, quand les parents [de Julie et Mélissa] essayaient de se faire entendre, ils n’étaient pas pris au sérieux. À l’époque, ils ont vu le contraste entre cette affaire et celle de l’enlèvement d’Anthony De Clerck, le fils du grand industriel de Flandre occidentale où le procureur se rendait tous les soirs à la maison des parents pour faire rapport sur l’affaire. Ici, les parents devaient se battre pour avoir un rendez-vous, pour apprendre quelque chose… Et ils étaient parfois interrogés de façon inhumaine ». « Au-delà de l’affaire Martin, les gens ne se sentent pas écoutés par la justice », Solidaire, 17 avril 2015.
  9. Voir notre dossier « La violence policière au menu de l’actualité », Kairos juin-juillet 2014.
  10. Slavoj Žižek, Violence, Au diable vauvert, 2008, p.143.
  11. Ibid., p.77.
  12. Jaime Semprun, L’abîme se repeuple, 1997, L’Encyclopédie des Nuisances, p.75.
  13. Comme nous notions dans la « Lettre ouverte aux grévistes pour le climat et autres manifestants: ce sera radical ou « rien » n’aura lieu » : « Le terme SDF est propre à la novlangue, la langue du pouvoir, la femme ou l’homme (ou l’enfant) dormant dans la rue n’étant pas Sans Domicile Fixe, mais sans domicile tout court. Les SDF, ce sont ces capitalistes déracinés toujours entre deux avions, dormant une nuit à New York, une nuit à Dubaï, dans des domiciles jamais fixes ».
  14. Patrick Declerck, Le sang nouveau est arrivé, Gallimard, 2005, p.88.
  15. Albert Memmi, Portrait du colonisé. Portrait du colonisateur, Corréa/Galimmard, 1957/1985, p. 61.
  16. Ici en Occident. Il en est évidemment autrement au Liban et dans d’autres pays non-occidentaux d’immigration massive.
  17. Patrick Declerck, « Le sang nouveau est arrivé », ibid., p.51.
(*) Tous les propos en exergue sont de Thierry, dans « Bruxelles, simplement solidaire », 7 juin 2018, là-bas si j’y suis, www.la-bas.org.

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