By Dorothy Le–
On the evening of November 13, 2015, France witnessed one of the deadliest attacks since World War II and the deadliest in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings, leaving 129 victims dead, along with seven assailants, and 433 injured.
Shaking up the whole world, the tragedy filled Twitter feeds with the #PrayForParis hashtag and photo tributes to the Eiffel Tower. Both celebrities and the public mourned over their favorite memories at their time in the City of Light. Even monuments such as the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House lit up in the colors of the French flag.
In the midst of grieving, people came together in solidarity with a call to unite. However, some criticized media and the president for not mentioning another bombing that took place just hours before in Beirut, Lebanon–a double suicide attack that killed over 40 people and injured 20.
The attacks in both Paris and Beirut were claimed responsibility by ISIS and both cities were targeted by a strategic terrorist plot, yet one city received more sympathy than the other.
Furthermore, many were up in arms about Obama’s statement of Paris as “an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share,” yet he didn’t mention a single word about the killings in Beirut.
Many have angrily called this out as an act of prejudice because of Paris being a first-world European country. It wasn’t just Paris, but even when other major European countries experience a tragic event, they simply garner more attention in the media.
But is it really about playing favorites or getting more media coverage? Every attack, no matter how big or small, and no matter where they occur is tragic and is deserving of our condolences. But the higher public sympathy shown towards Paris was a natural response given the history and relationship with the U.S.
To point out, it is human nature to feel emotionally attached to things we are familiar with. Many have heard of Paris, while Beirut is still a distant and unfamiliar land. Culturally, there has been much more exposure to Paris through film, fashion, travel, and other references which allow us to carry favorable thoughts of the city. Expressing grief to a place that is unrecognizable to our culture doesn’t typically move the heart because of its relational distance. This also means more education and knowledge of other cultures are needed to help create understanding and change.
In addition, the Middle East has been plagued with mass bombings for years. To most, the first thoughts that come to mind at the mention of the Middle East are oil and war-torn streets rife with extremists.
This is not to diminish the mourning of what occurred in Beirut, but because we already have a picture of terrorism and war as an everyday occurrence in the Middle East, another event unfortunately does not change our established perception of it.
Paris received more attention, simply because acts of terrorism are a rare occurrence in Europe.
To raise the question of why we didn’t react equally to a comparable attack is a valid response and does allow us to realize faulty ways of thinking, but it shouldn’t be a cause for division or come down to playing the blame game. If peace is what we want, then we need to start by helping the situation, working in unison and paving the road so that all lives are valued and recognized.