The coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris on the night of November thirteenth were horrific. Around 130 people died and hundreds more were injured. The people killed were just enjoying themselves at a concert hall, at a restaurant, at a bar. It is easy to imagine ourselves in the same kinds of places on a Friday night, and as we empathize with the victims, the terrorists succeed in disseminating terror. The Western world rose up in indignation, and understandably so.
Yet well-intentioned American reactions all over social media were often inaccurate. First, the Eiffel Tower turns off its lights every night at 1am to conserve electricity, so a dark Eiffel Tower is not the sign of mourning many seemed to think it was.
Then presidential candidates and political figures like Ted Cruz and Ann Coulter took to Twitter to push their own agendas. The former wrote that we need to stop allowing Syrian refugees into the country, and the latter implied that that if France allowed concealed carry, someone would have been able to stop the attackers.
Regardless of whether either of these, and many other political judgments made in the aftermath of the attacks are correct, it’s selfish to try to use them for political arguments so quickly after they occurred, especially when we didn’t have that much information about what had happened.
Only a day before Ann Coulter’s tweet, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, suffered its own tragedy. Two suicide car bombings left at least 43 dead and, again, hundreds more injured. Again, ISIS claimed responsibility and again, the attacks occurred during the evening in a densely populated civilian area.
There was hardly the American outrage that there was over the Paris attacks. While the Beirut attacks were not necessarily worse or more worthy of grief, it is important to ask ourselves why we cared more about France—why it is that we recognize the colors of the French flag but can’t figure out where Beirut is, much less name the colors of the Lebanese flag.
Yes, more people died in Paris than in Beirut. France has historically been our ally. People here idolize France as the land of lovers, and only ever associate the country with war when they’re thinking about Les Miserables. Lebanon, on the other hand, is part of the Middle East that American media portrays as perpetually wartorn. In reality, Lebanon hasn’t seen violence on the scale of the Beirut attacks since the end of their last civil war in 1990.
But how would we know? While Africa and Latin America are largely ignored, the only reason we get news about the Middle East is because of our vested interest in their oil. Even then, we’ve gotten so desensitized to hearing about violence in the Middle East that we don’t click on those news stories anymore, so there’s less incentive to report on it. We don’t click on news about suicide bombings in the Middle East anymore, so there’s less incentive for the media to report on them.
This ignorance about other parts of the world directly relates to American xenophobia. Americans who want to keep Syrian refugees from entering the country believe are understandably trying to keep friends and family safe. Yet refugees aren’t any more likely than natives are to perpetuate domestic terrorism. The fear of outsiders is misplaced.
The Facebook French profile filter was the cherry on top of American tunnel vision. To begin with, the filter was useless, because there was no need to “spread awareness” about anything French.
I noticed that when my friends who typically post about global current events changed their profile pictures, I was less upset. I was more disappointed with others who changed their pictures but don’t typically seem to follow global events. Mainly because I assumed (and of course I shouldn’t) that these people only cared about the Paris attacks because they were against French people that looked like them, and not because they cared about foreign affairs, or humanity in general.
The terrorist attacks were not a Facebook bandwagon trend to jump onto, and they weren’t megaphones for political agendas. They occurred in a global context wherein Iraqis and Iranians have died at French and American hands as well. Although it is admittedly easier to do so, it isn’t fair to pay more attention to France when the Lebanese victims were people too. Consider reading about global, not just European, affairs. Give other countries a reason to think we’re not self-centered and exclusive. If you want to pray, don’t just pray for France.