Sunday, November 15, 2015

On making a stand

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris were horrific and unjustified. Nothing can ever excuse indiscriminate violence inflicted on innocent people, and the way these attacks were executed is sickening. This is a tragedy and a brutal crime that I condemn in the strongest possible terms.

There’s a problem, though.

A couple of days before the Paris attacks, two suicide bombers in Beirut killed about forty people and wounded, according to more recent estimates, over 200 others. That was also an inexcusable and horrifying tragedy, and there are many others like it. Yet it’s quite likely you hadn’t heard about this one; not because it wasn’t reported in the media, but because not many people cared about it.

This is also a human tragedy.

But they should. Although we should probably take with a pinch of salt ISIL’s claim to have carried out that attack, it’s still the worst in that country since the end of the civil war, and may yet prove to be the catalyst for a revival of that conflict: more violence, more bloodshed, and a huge problem for the million or so Syrian refugees in that country — where are they supposed to go now?

How many people superimposed the Lebanese flag on their Facebook avatars? How many public buildings across the world were lit up in red, white and green? How many western politicians made statesman-like speeches?

Instead, while Paris merits a huge outpouring of grief and anguish, Beirut barely registers: that outrage disappeared into the background radiation of general violence in the Middle East. Nobody there, apparently, needs our support, our prayers, our blood donations. Paris is different.

Now, at this point, the temptation is to gloomily conclude that we’re basically racist, and that we’re simply not concerned about Muslims killing other Muslims. That, surely, is the point of this entry, right?

I almost wish it were that simple: it would be at least understandable.

On October 31st, a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt, killing all 224 passengers and crew, in what is now believed to be a terrorist attack of some kind. What was the reaction on social media? Speculation, some expressions of horror, but nothing like what we’ve seen for Paris.

And yet the scale of the tragedy was roughly similar, the likely culprits the same. We can’t even get away with saying that Islamic terrorism in France has never happened before.

Somehow, people everywhere who are unconnected with both events are acting as if Paris affected them personally, but Metrojet 9268 didn’t. This reaction mystifies me: what makes the difference here? Are Russians less valuable than Parisians? Is it the fact that the plane came down on an Arab country? Were the victims’ deaths somehow less terrifying? Or could it be that watching a dot disappear off a radar screen isn’t as compelling as watching terrified people running for their lives on live TV — and if that’s it, what does it say about us?

You won’t, then, see me changing my avatar on any social medium. It’s not because I don’t care, but because I would have to either pick and choose whom I mourn, or be in a constant state of mourning. I choose not to loudly proclaim “I stand with Paris”, not because I don’t, but because I don’t want to imply that I stand with nobody else. But the age of 45, I have lived through similarly turbulant times, and as horrifying as the idea is, this is still very much business as usual. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


  1. I would probably say that the reason western media didn't care about Beirut and the Russian airliner crash is kinda racist.
    I think it's all about how media thinks that it can give their audience the feeling of something horrible has happened to "us".
    And it really shows us that our society mostly thinks that Beirut or Russian tourists aren't us. They are cultural "too far away" for people to identify with.
    Because we never cultural included them. Beirut because, well non-industrial country, Russia because, well cold war. We defined them as "them".
    But I think there is nothing wrong with peoply only focusing on Paris. At least it's quite understandable and normal human behaviour and not a bad think at all. At least that's how I see it.

    But I really appreciate you post. It's always important to point out what's wrong with our society and talk about these problems.

  2. In G+ I posted a YouTube video with Dirty Harry as my response. You need a trained force of heavy security nowadays.