The ordinary pace of life is, from time to time, fractured beyond recognition by death or disaster. This was the case when 132 civilians were senselessly murdered in Paris last Friday, sending reverberations across the globe.
Shock. Devastation. Anger.
Anger at those responsible for these atrocities. Anger at the religion the perpetrators claim to represent. Anger at those who speak in defence of this religion. Anger at those who are angry at the religion. Anger at those who express condolences for victims of some disasters and not others. Anger at those who allegedly only care about the other disasters to make a point.
So much anger – and notice how much of it is directed at those who also want peace.
So let’s consider Beirut. The day before the Paris attacks, 43 civilians were murdered by two ISIS suicide bombers in the capital of Lebanon. The news on it was slow, to begin with. I personally never heard anybody discussing it before Friday.
By the time Saturday came around, a backlash was beginning to surge against the allegedly disproportionate reaction to the terror in France – a white, Western nation – in contrast to the world’s response to events like Beirut.
No Lebanese-flag-stylised Facebook filter was offered in commemoration of that attack, and this made some people angry. It was taken, by many, to be a reflection of the fact that ‘we’ (whomever that might include) place more value upon the lives of white people than dark, Europeans than Asians, Christians than Muslims, and so on.
Personally, I chose not to add the Tricolore filter to my Facebook picture. As sick as I feel about the hideous events in Paris that night, the idea of singling out this particular atrocity over any other felt a little uncomfortable to me, as someone with no direct connections to France.
Nor have I chosen to join in with the trend of sharing messages of condolence for Beirut, and other similar recent atrocities. It does not mean I don’t care, it just means I don’t care any more today than I did when I first heard about it. It would feel hypocritical, to me, to begin making overt gestures of sympathy only now there is a point to be made.
Nonetheless, I hold nothing against anybody who makes different choices. I understand why people want to make a gesture and pay their respects to the lives lost in Paris. I understand why people feel rattled about the apparent inequality between the West and the East.
Around 600 innocent lives were lost to terrorism in October. 300 in September. 320 in August, and so on. Not one person I know openly mourned each of these tragedies. I saw few or no tributes for the 224 victims of the Russian plane bombing on October 31st, or the 22 Pakistani victims of the Jacobabad bombing and 27 victims of the Nigerian car park bombing on October 23rd, or the 42 victims of the Nigerian mosque bombing on October 14th, or the 38 refugees killed in Chad or the 102 killed in Turkey by suicide bombers on October 10th, and so on.
Expectation breeds desensitisation in all of us. It is human nature. Tragically, it no longer surprises us when we hear yet another attack has torn apart yet another community in a politically unstable part of the world, because it happens every week, often more, and we could not possibly function if we grieved for each and every one of them.
It is uncomfortably natural to be more shocked by war-like events when they occur in peaceful places. We can dissociate from war and political instability when we don’t live it ourselves; this is how we can justify the luxuries we indulge in day-to-day while so many others suffer existences we cannot bear to contemplate. But when something happens in a place that is just like ‘ours’, it makes us realize we are not so untouchable. It is frightening, and it helps us to relate to their terror.
I do also believe the ‘close to home’ factor (culturally if not geographically) plays a major role in our response to world events. I think, once again, it is simply human nature, and I don’t think any of us are above it.
You will likely grieve for the deaths of your own close family members more deeply than those of anybody else. You have a relationship with them, and emotion invested in them. You know them better than anyone, and when they are gone, you are agonisingly aware of what the world has lost.
This is the same phenomenon on a greater scale. Replace ‘family’ with ‘tribe’, ‘town’, ‘community’, ‘nation’, ‘culture’ – all entities to which humans identify, relate and belong. That which impacts our own is always more of a shock to us than that which impacts one to which we don’t belong.
I believe this is true even for those of us who consider ourselves, first and foremost, citizens of the world. It is true even for those of us who consider every man our brother, every woman our sister. Our hearts can and do ache for every innocent life lost, every brother or sister taken before their time, every child of nature that did not survive. But when that child is plucked from our own doorstep, how many of us can truly say it does not pierce our heart deeper?
What happened last week, and what happens every week, is beyond awful. Words can’t do this sentiment justice. The passion with which the world has responded, on the other hand, is inspiring, as are the expressions of unity, strength, solidarity, hope and peace that have emerged from the darkness.
There will always be evil in the world, but evil can only win when they succeed in creating conflict between their enemies. Let’s not let that happen, let’s stand united.
PRAY FOR HUMANITY