On Friday night (CET), citizens around the globe were informed (and appalled) by the atrocious acts of terrorism in Paris of France. The following day, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for this series of mass shootings and suicide bombings that took away 129 lives and wounded several hundreds more. Soon after the attack took place, President Francois Hollande declared war against ISIL and pledged to “destroy” it. It felt much like the French “9/11” moment.
While most of the world has been grieving for victims and vowing to defeat terrorism, a heated debated emerged on the internet on the unequal treatment in public attention paid to the ISIL attack in Paris vs. that in Beirut. The cause of this was that on Thursday, one day before the Paris incident, ISIL engineered a double suicide bombing in Beirut, capital city of Lebanon, killing at least 43 civilians while more than 200 were wounded. This has been the largest terrorist attack in Lebanon since August of 2013.
The media coverage following the incidents bothered many people. In the past few days, the city of Paris has received an outburst of global sympathy in every possible way. Landmarks everywhere put up colors of blue, white and red to show support to the grieving Parisians. Facebook offered a new service called Safety Check for those in Paris to notify their well-being to families and friends. It also called upon users to have their profile pictured backed by the national flag of France to show support. Everywhere on social media people can see posts that ends with #prayforparis.
In the midst of all this, Beirut seemed to be forgotten by the world. Media coverage of Lebanon’s capital was absolutely overshadowed by reports of everything that’s happening in Paris. In fact, many people only learned about the Beirut attack because they saw angry articles or social media posts online that expressed indignant feelings towards media’s negligence of Beirut in comparison to Paris.
One particularly frustrating story about this disparity in public/media treatment is especially frustrating. The Australian actress Ruby Rose posted on Saturday “Today has been devastating. #lebanon #paris #syria and everywhere under attack right now. this is not a blanket post this is a post for today’s horrific news which spans many countries.”
Yet, hundreds of followers were outraged at her detracting public attention from the Parisian tragedy, which they saw as much more of a devastation to humanity. Some asked her to correct her statements while others requested her to delete the tweets. Out of embarrassment, Rose had to post several more tweets to explain that she had been very concerned about Paris and she was not trying to detract attention – something terribly obvious if a reader actually pay attention to what she said in her first tweet.
So why is this happening?
A simplified explanation tells us that France is a more important country, politically, economically and culturally, than Lebanon within the international community, and because of this (or some other reasons derived from this logic) people in the Western world tend to care much more about France than about Lebanon. As sad and disturbing as the statement sounds, it is the underlying mindset for many people. Just as a Lebanese doctor commented on this issue, Arab lives seemed to matter less to Westerners.
Maybe another argument can be made about the timing of these incidents. After all, the attack in Paris happened soon after Beirut (as ISIL planned), leaving people with too little time to gather their thoughts and reactions (if any) to the Lebanese capital. Information updates fast in our modern age, and people are used to pay more attention to the more recent news than older ones.
Last but not least, people are devices of their own prejudices. After all, who would have thought that such an bloody catastrophe can ever happen in the most romantic city of the world (despite the fact that France’s domestic policies towards Muslims has long been problematic) ? As for Middle East, aren’t wars and casualties a bit more common (despite the fact that Beirut has been relatively peaceful in the last decade)? These stereotypical bias have remained in people’s minds so deep for so long that they even emerge when something as serious as this happens.
We know ourselves that these arguments do not hold up against careful moral scrutiny at all and they are merely excuses for paying insufficient respect to victims in Beirut (and all other forgotten corners of the world). After all, a life is a life. The loss of human lives should be equally honored by the media and the public, regardless of where, when and how.
It is true that we tend to only care about people we are close to or familiar with, and there’s probably nothing wrong with it – just another sad truth we have to face. But next time, let’s all try to be a bit more sympathetic, put away our biases for a moment, and pray (and strive) for the welfare of the entire humanity.