I’ve repeatedly tried to summarize my feelings on the international response to the horrific events in Paris. It’s been a struggle to find the words to encompass the emotions that have surrounded the past few days, but this is my best attempt.
I shouldn’t have to explain how I feel about the attack itself. I cried with all of you. When gunmen invade a city and violently take the lives of innocent human beings, we all know it’s a tragedy—at least when it happens in a place where we can envision ourselves. My tears for Beirut felt far more lonely. Suddenly, an article about the brutal attacks on a university in Garissa, Kenya, is being shared en masse. That happened in April, and while it’s not any less tragic now that many months have passed—while the pain is undoubtedly still fresh for those left behind—I can’t help but ruminate: are we so used to violence that we can no longer differentiate between attacks when they happen in the places we “expect” them too? Or is it that the majority just didn’t care, until they were reminded that the west is just as vulnerable?
My heart sank as my newsfeed filled with a red, white, and blue photo filter yesterday. People died all over the world this week. Last week. There was no immediate activation of Facebook’s Safety Check feature to let me know my friends in Beirut were safe. Their cries largely fell on deaf ears, until a tragedy in a place where bombs aren’t supposed to detonate forced us to turn off our selective hearing.
Iraqis have Facebook. So do the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and the Syrians. I don’t take issue with showing support for Paris. I just don’t understand why I don’t have the option to offer support to the other nations, and people, who are also bleeding. Who decides which atrocity deserves the collective mourning of the world?
As the memes and hashtags spread, so have the verbal attacks on refugees. Thousands of angry voices shouting that we must keep out the “others;” that we must shun the world’s most vulnerable—their cries of condemnation accompanied by a freshly filtered profile picture.
Yesterday, monuments worldwide were lit up for France. The message to a country just starting to pick up the pieces was, “we cry with you and we stand beside you.” And it’s true, we do. I do. France will overcome. The lives lost will be remembered, their names etched into the side of the memorial that is sure to be erected. There will be yearly remembrances, and the city of love will once again fill with joy and music as life continues.
But what of the Syrians? The Iraqis? They’ll feel the sting of this attack far into the future. Aside from a brief time in recent memory when the perfectly posed corpse of a toddler resonated with the world, their plight has been largely ignored. Their homes are gone, their loved ones tortured and disappeared. Syrian passports, once representative of the ability to move freely throughout the world, now trap them in the in-between of life and death. As the countries of the world unite to show support to France, they will slam their doors in the faces of Daesh’s biggest victims. And it’s impossible to fit a whole country’s worth of names onto a single memorial.
I’ve heard the argument that to make this point now is too self-righteous. That we should allow the people of the world to mourn however they choose. I won’t change my photo filter, because I won’t be complicit in the idea that only white, western lives matter. This is how I choose to mourn; and while it may be equally as insignificant as a #prayforparis hashtag, it’s the only way I know how to fight against a system that repeatedly bases the value of human life on location, religion, and skin color.