November 19, 2015

HERMAN | Paris

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How do you determine whose life is worth more?

This past week, the globe erupted in outrage over the terrorism in France. On Friday, November 13th, Paris trembled in the wake of gunshots. Facebook offered an easy, one-click option to change profile pictures in support, and social media posts rippled within seconds of each unfolding piece of news: a new location cited with violence, the re-estimated number of casualties and the release of personal stories from survivors who witnessed the attacks.

However, over the course of a few hours, the posts on my social media newsfeed evolved from shock and anguish to outrage over the neglected victims to violence in other countries: Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Iran… the list is extensive.

Last Tuesday, over 40 individuals lost their lives to suicide bomber attacks in Beirut, Lebanon. And much like those in Paris, those killed were innocent civilians pursuing daily activities, taking the bus or eating in restaurants. However, families in Beirut, while showing solidarity for those killed in Paris, lamented over the stark differences between global responses. This past weekend, landmarks shone with the colors of France’s flag and national leaders emboldened speeches with support for the Parisians. Where was the support for Beirut?

In response to the international outcry, Lebanese doctor Elie Fares wrote, “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

Those parts of the world. Why do we not cringe the same way when reading the news about those murdered in Lebanon the way we did for the victims in France? Moreover, why are news stories and social media posts not as widely broadcasted about Lebanon? I had to dig through The New York Times to find a story about the Beirut attacks, but if I wanted to read about the death toll in Paris, I could glance at the front page or even merely open Facebook.

Though unsettling, the difference is clear: It’s because Paris is where parents send their children abroad. Families with young children regularly flock to Paris for vacation and if we see Paris in the news, it’s more often than not to celebrate fashion and gourmet food or discuss European politics. When was the last time France was connected to extreme violence?

On the other hand, the Middle East appears so often in the news regarding terrorist attacks and war that it seems many have become numb to the reports. Stories of war, unrest and refugees in Syria have begun to blur together. How long, now, has there been unrest in Syria? Has Europe decided to accept more refugees? What do we know?

Can as many people locate Syria on a map as those who can pinpoint France? When the average American college student thinks about going abroad, does Syria make one of the top five choices? Paris, on the other hand, a tourism hotspot, previously regarded as safe and fun, offering promises of fine wine and cheese, elicits a shock response unfortunately much more unlikely to develop from accounts of terrorism outside Western Europe. People are more upset, more moved, and more inclined to read the news about Paris because the stories feel more relatable. A mass shooting at a theater in Paris feels a step away from a mass shooting on Broadway.

Of course, just because news in Paris seems more relatable does not mean we should forget those suffering elsewhere in the world. However, I have seen social media posts blatantly criticizing those supporting Paris because of their apparent neglect for or disinterest in other victims. This criticism, I think, is more unjust. While those championing profile pictures for France might not know anything about the Beirut attacks, at least they are talking now about ISIS. At least they are showing support and empathy for any humans, regardless of national border! It’s a start.

The international uproar after terrorism in violence has drawn more attention than ever to ISIS, and those who might not have previously heard of the radical terrorist group are now more informed. Now it is time to continue reading and learning because France is only one of few countries that has faced violence recently. We can harness the shock, terror and outrage people feel about Paris and turn it into awareness of the widespread violence coming from ISIS.

Heather Herman is a senior in the college of Human Ecology majoring in Human Biology, Health and Society. She’s a self-proclaimed animal whisperer and can often be found scooping up after the puppies in Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She also enjoys volunteering at a maximum-security prison and wants to live in South America after she graduates. Heather’s posts appear on alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].