#PrayForParis. Almost instantaneously, the hashtag spread through social media, reposted far and wide as the tragedy that unfolded around Paris last Friday night quickly gripped the world. I was sitting at work when I found out about the attacks via-what else?-Facebook. My walk to the subway took me past the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue, a beautiful stone building facing Central Park that, as an intern for American Friends of the Louvre back in 2011, I was fortunate to enter to help set up (and attend) a Young Patron’s Gala. Outside there were several police cars as well as news vans, who were no doubt gearing up to film a statement from the consul. As a fire truck sped down the avenue, cars refused to pull over to let it pass.
Interestingly, my walk also led me past the Lebanese consulate. Perhaps news vans had congregated outside its ritzy facade the day before, when twin blasts killed 40 people in a Beirut suburb. Perhaps they did not. And if they did not congregate under the large white Lebanese flag that bears a pine of Lebanon, I would not be surprised, nor disgusted. All news is news, but it is not created equal.
This seems offensive. But if I read to you 10 news headlines, which one would stand out to you the most? Undoubtedly, the most unusual one, the news you have never heard before. And this is the argument that I would like to use as an explanation for all those who, merely hours after (during) the attacks, began to spout anger about “selective media” which only focuses on attacks on Westerners. It seems unfair–and it is. It is unfair that the world cries for Paris but not for Beirut, or any other tragedies that beset non-Western nations on a near-daily basis. But “near-daily” may be the key word: Paris has not witnessed such a bloodbath since World War II. Bombs, terrorists and murder do not feature prominently in its daily news.
It was not only the media that was saturated with updates of the attacks which, to date, have claimed the lives of at least 129 people. Individuals across the world took to social media to show their support, and to quote that AT&T commercial where the awkwardly cute girl says that “everyone” includes the guy standing near her, “the world” includes non-Westerners, including Arabs such as some of my favorite stars:
Yet there were those who refused to show respect to the people of Paris during this sensitive, tragic time by pulling out their PC megaphones and making comparisons. Why didn’t Facebook activate its Safety Check Feature in the immediate aftermath of the Beirut attacks? Irate Lebanese complained. I agree–it is unfair. Why only for Paris? Don’t the Lebanese use Facebook? If the feature exists, why can’t it be available 24/7 for any tragedy that arises?
But unfair as it is, it was not the time to be complaining. YES, these are important issues that must be addressed, and it is sad that it takes death and destruction for people to realize these things. But was it the French people’s fault that Facebook decided to devote such attention to Paris and not Beirut? Was it the French victims’ fault that the world hung their heads in deuil (mourning) and turned their national monuments bleu, blanc et rouge, and barely blinked at the Beirut bombings? No.
Pakistani Actor and Director Hamza Ali Abbasi posted the following on his Facebook page:
And here we go, French flag being projected all over the world and facebook makes a French flag DP filter. I wonder why FB never created a Palestinian flag filter where hundreds die each month? Or maybe a Syrian, Iraqi or Afghan flag? A Pakistani flag after 16th Dec APS attack? Its exactly this “Selective” Humanity and Imperialistic mindset which leads to hatred towards the west. I condemn Paris attack but i also condemn the hypocrisy of western imperial mindset. #MarkZuckerberg
Facebook is not run by the American people: it is run by Mark Zuckerberg. I do not want to defend racism, nor ignorance, nor carelessness. I do not want to defend imperialism. But if you are going to be hate the West for issues like a Facebook filter, well, please use some other networking site that is not created by an American or European. I know they are indicative of greater issues. But it reaches a point of pettiness, almost, that seems embarassing. Instead of saying that he felt sorry for Paris, Hamza Ali Abbasi had to go on a rant about a decision that the French had nothing to do with. Facebook, although used by people throughout the world, is an American company. It is not fair, but it is also not surprising that it may selectively focus on issues closer to home.
Frank Bruni wrote a wonderful op-ed in the New York Times about this phenomenon, where instead of simply standing in solidarity with the French people began connecting issues diverse to the attack. “It was a megaphone to be used for whatever you yearned to shout. That’s how it works in this era of Internet preening, out-of-control partisanship and press-a-button punditry, when anything and everything becomes prompt for a plaint, a rant, a riff.”…….”Using Paris to delegitimize them is puerile. It’s also tasteless, cheapening what happened there.” “but because of my feelings about the automatic, indiscriminate politicization of tragedy.”
In a sense, Bruni sounds to be stomping over the First Amendment: one is allowed to speak, about anything, whenever one wants, regardless if it’s tactless and ill-timed. I have personally grappled over this “selective media.” But really, why does tragedy have to politicized as soon as it happens? Why does it, unsettling, seem to victim blame? The rants I read seem to hold the French personally in contempt for the world’s response to their tragedy. But did these people post about the Beirut bombings? Do they raise awareness about Baghdad, Syria, Palestine, Pakistan? If the answer is no, then how can they point the finger at others?
This past week has been one of the longest, I think, of my life. Every day seemed to bring fresh terror: Air France flights diverted because of bomb threats; a flight from Poland to Hurghada diverted (luckily, because of a drunk passenger); the shootout in the infamous Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis which saw two terrorists, one female, blow themselves up. There were threats made against New York City, where I live. Most importantly, an ambulance full of explosives was found but two hours before a Germany-Netherlands soccer match in Hanover, Germany, where Angela Merkel and Norwegian diplomats were to attend the match. Today, fundamentalist Islamic group Boko Haram took 170 people hostage in a Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, leaving at least 27 people dead.
When will the terror end? Today, the future is unknown. We do not know what will follow. Yesterday I walked past the French embassy again. There were still policemen at the entrance; a shrine had been created, with flowers, candles, momentos and posters in French. Shrines are tragic because they remind us of tragedy, but they are also sweet because they remind us that people care, that people can be united. We can stand in unity, and stand with our heads bowed in deuil. We can pray for Paris, pray for Beirut, pray for Bamako, pray for all hearts around the world to stand together and love.