Photo: Mourners at the site of the suicide bombing in Beirut
On Saturday, November 14, less than 24 hours after the attack on Paris, a woman at my gym interrupted my workout to very sincerely ask, “Why would anyone want to attack Paris? I get D.C., New York, and the Twin Towers,” she elaborated, “But why Paris? What was the significance?”
I’ve spoken with this woman before. She’s not stupid, and she’s not wholly ignorant of what goes on in the world. She’s also not malicious. It just seems that she honestly didn’t know why anyone would want to attack Paris when they could be going after the big dog – America. After all, this “War against Terrorism” is really just between the US and the terrorists, right?
At around the same time that this conversation was occurring, people on social media were starting to wonder why Western media didn’t cover any of the other major attacks that had happened at around the same time – such as the two explosions that killed 43 people and injured another 239 in Beirut on November 12 and a suicide bombing that killed 26 in Baghdad on November 13. As other columnists have pointed out, there was media coverage of these attacks (How else would I have links to show you?), but they weren’t as widely publicized. There were no Facebook skins for our icons. There were no emoticons for our phones. There was not an international outpouring of grief, love, support, and rage. It was business as usual.
Both of these examples, the woman at the gym and Western media’s selective coverage of terrorist attacks, highlight a blind spot in the West’s consciousness and empathy. The closer we are to the scene of the crime, the more readily we’ll engage in sympathy and support. However, if we’re distanced by geography, culture, or religion, we will gladly forego clicking on the news story. Likewise, media outlets will not promote these stories as much, failing to send in on-the-ground crews, getting pictures, or making sure they don’t erroneously print that a man and his child stopped a terrorist attack (It was only the man. His child was fine.). The media sees our perceived apathy and feeds off it, willingly shielding us from things they “know” we won’t care about. Yes, we should take responsibility and do our best to check international sources and spread reputable tales, but how can we do that if our local news sources, regional news sources, and even national sources tell us that there’s nothing to see here? Why, if you’re not already plugged into the international community, would you even think that your news is keeping something from you? Aren’t they supposed to keep you informed?
This is dangerous. Our news must tell us things regardless of the amount of hits the story gets, and we must learn to broaden our understanding of the world, those are country is fighting, and our place in an international coalition of support. Because ISIS won’t be stopped with French jets bombing the bejeezus out of them or US governors demanding that we only accept Christians. ISIS will be stopped when we learn to take responsibility for the wellbeing of others, when every attack is a cause for international outcry, and when every life lost is a tragedy. Until we can accept that responsibility, ISIS will continue to terrorize non-Western countries like Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, will continue to have a leg to stand on, and will continue to threaten and harm innocent people. So let’s drain their power. Pray for Paris, but pray for Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and every Muslim unjustly associated with ISIS too.
* Photo taken from http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/11/why-the-west-stood-in-solidarity-with-paris-but-not-beirut/416199/, credit Hasan Shaaban/Reuters