Seeking Solidarity After the Attacks




On Thursday, I was wrapped up in the fervor of the controversy at Mizzou when I saw a post on Facebook by a dear friend of mine about suicide bombers in Beirut, Lebanon, her hometown. Dozens were killed and hundreds injured. I became instantaneously concerned, and “liked” the post, in an effort towards solidarity. I, admittedly, did not share her post. At the time, the thought of sharing it did not occur to me, for whatever reason. In retrospect, I wonder if things would have been different if I had.

On Friday night, briefly checking my phone, the first thing I saw on my News Feed was an update that a close friend, studying abroad in Paris, had checked in as “safe” on Facebook. I had no idea what that even meant. I didn’t find out until later, seeing swaths of French flags, until the death toll rose on each following break I took, until the next morning I woke up and suddenly over a hundred had died. By now, we’ve all learned of the tragedy in Paris, with 129 dead. For many, Facebook was the primary source of information about it and played an important role in how those of us who have watched from abroad have responded. For instance, when I was able to go back Saturday morning and see my friend’s safety update in Paris again, I broke down, finally allowing myself to realize the implications of what that meant. I will forever be grateful and privileged that the first notification I got about Paris this weekend was about my friend’s safety.

Despite the solace it brought me, it has become clear that Facebook has played a toxic role in the grieving process of all involved. Because of the feature that allows individuals to overlay the French flag on their profile picture – a feature that wasn’t offered for Beirut, or for the massacre at a Kenyan university in Garissa this past April, or in the countless other strikes by militant groups – the conversation has led to people disconnected from the situation attacking each other on Facebook. Somehow, the conversation became – you changed your profile picture, so you don’t care about Beirut/Baghdad/other deaths. This is an utterly unproductive conversation. Our profile pictures are not directly engaged in this situation; they are neither providing relief to those impacted directly by the tragedy, nor set intentionally to silence all other tragedies. We are wasting time attacking each other, and taking criticisms of this coverage personally. The problem here is the prioritizing of some lives over others by nations and corporations with significantly more control, not innocent efforts by individuals towards solidarity. Where our personal responsibility does come in, though, is in acknowledging that we are complicit in this value system.

News media has desensitized us to the loss of lives from countries outside the West. The media does not present stories of bombs in Beirut, of bombs at a memorial service in Baghdad; when they do, we are not surprised by the stories. The loss of lives in these cities is to be expected from a Western media perspective, in the wake of the Iraq war, as the U.S. and the allies created a narrative associating the Middle East and related areas with violence. We expect lives in the West to be treated with more care, whether by ISIS or by our own states. The horror with which Paris was presented is absent in coverage of other tragedies. This has been justified by stating that because France is an ally, and Paris in particular is a romanticized location that we associate with study abroad and vacation, rather than with war. It is a privilege that we are able to be taken aback by violence.

My friend in Paris and I chatted briefly via Facebook on Sunday. She wrote of the serendipity involved in tragedy, how she avoided getting stuck in the metro or on a shutdown street by mere chance, how she might’ve even been in the neighborhood had she not chosen a new bar that night. Towards the end of our conversation, she wrote back, “I’ve never felt so much like I was in danger of my life being in a public place with a lot of people, and since then all I’ve been able to think about is how much I want to help everyone that has to deal with this kind of shit every day.”

As my friend so eloquently stated, that is, indeed, the horror at hand. Citizens of countries like Lebanon, like Iraq, and now, in the wake of France’s attempt to enact revenge against ISIS, the blighted and martyred state of Syria, have had to live through this every day. Meanwhile, my friend from Beirut did not receive relief in the form of a safety check-in or a solidarity Lebanese flag on Facebook, or a media glut of coverage.

As of Monday, 27 U.S. states had announced they were no longer allowing Syrian refugees to enter the country, directly in response to the attacks in Paris. If these refugees were Parisian, would they meet the same response? Syrian citizens have been experiencing the tragedy of Paris daily for years. If we are so stricken by grief over the loss of lives, over the irrationality of terrorism, then clearly that grief is saved only for citizens of political allies, not for all humans.

I have spent a lot of time questioning my own complicity in this silencing of grief. Why didn’t I share my friend’s initial post about Beirut? Why did I wait to call out our communal hypocrisy until I saw the world grieve for Paris? Many did not even know about what happened in Beirut until it was offered in contrast to Paris. Am I not equally at fault for this? Why haven’t I dedicated my Facebook timeline to grieving for the hundreds of lives lost every day in Palestine, for instance?

Our desensitizing to this is likely to blame, but it is horrifying to comprehend the ramifications of that. These questions – and my lack of solutions – will trouble me, for a long time. What I do know is that tragedies occurred this week, and we must mourn them all, and are in no position to ascribe worth to one tragedy over another. We must pray for Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad. But we also must pray for a world that only started the other two prayers as an afterthought.