Paris, L’horreur. Beirut, the pain. Kenya, as students again become the targets of terror. Syria, broken from four years of daily horror.
All of these tragedies unfold as I watch from the comfort of my living room in Vancouver, Canada, as far away as you can possibly get from the reality of these events.
Throughout the day my News Feed fills first with an outpouring of shock and grief for the Paris victims, then the red white and blue flag envelopes the profile photos of friends and acquaintances, and later political statements begin to pour in. Emotional words of support and prayer (#PrayforParis) juxtaposed by resignation and bitterness at the suffering (Beirut, Baghdad, Syria) being drowned out by the focus on Paris. The dangerous conflation of terrorism and the Syrian refugee crisis seeps insidiously in (one particularly striking visual of a Syrian trojan horse filled with terrorists descending upon the eiffel tower stays with me), followed by the Lennonesque expressions of pain, hope and love for the human race (#Prayfortheworld).
Throughout the day I oscillate between my screen and the real world, logging in several times to scan through the News Feed and read each of my friends and acquaintances views on the despairing times facing our human race. I consider myself an empath, a humanitarian at heart. Well then, shouldn’t I feel shocked and saddened for the citizens of Paris, the cradle of modern democracy, rocked by these horrific attacks? No, what spins around in my head at this moment is not empathy, but politics. The role France has played in the burning rubble that is much of the Middle East, and our collective yet highly selective grief spurred by a global media that spits out a brief soundbite about suicide bombings in Lebanon, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq (almost as an afterthought), then stops everything to provide around-the-clock news coverage of the Paris attacks.
Indeed we can scold the (mostly Western-based) news agencies for pushing every possible angle of the Paris attack, ensuring it dominates the media landscape for days and wipes out tragedies occurring in other parts of the world. However media has always been biased, as concerned and educated citizens we recognize this. So perhaps by blaming this state of affairs on “the media” we are deflecting from the true holders of blame, ourselves. Perhaps we should scold ourselves and how blunt and factual we have become about these events on the egalitarian global soapbox of Facebook. Things we would have normally thought to ourselves, or debated with our loved ones and friends in bygone times, we now formulate into pithy little statements and feverishly post them for the world to read. We follow what others write and what’s trending, and feel an overwhelming and immediate need to react, to join the conversation, to say something.
Sam Kriss provides a thoughtful commentary on these tragic events, and the ensuing social media frenzy:
“Normally the duty to not opine would only apply to a very small sector of the population, but for the past few years we’ve all been at it. Most of this take-mongering is happening online, and it feels absolutely and entirely wrong to be worthily prognosticating about hundreds of personal apocalypses on the same platforms and in the same forms that are used to sound off about TV shows and football matches. A lot of this has to do with the demands of the format itself: You’re endlessly encouraged to have your sayand join the conversation, to constantly be filling white boxes with words, because what you think about any given topic is now incredibly important, and before you know it, in the stampede to have your say and join the conversation you’re trampling over the dead. We scrawl our thoughts in blood. To express anything other than sorrow is monstrous.”
Look at these two images…Taken within 3,000 km and 24 hours of each other, in cities that may look very different from the outside. What do you see? Fear. Anguish. Suffering. Human suffering. Although we might look different or live in realities that seem far removed from each other, the reality is that we all feel pain, we all feel loss, we bleed the same blood today and we all have hopes of a better tomorrow. Paris…129, Beirut…41. All individuals with mothers, fathers, hopes, dreams and beating hearts silenced by terror.
As the shock and horror subsides, my hopes are that we keep our ears and eyes open to suffering occurring across the human landscape. That we pray for Paris, but also for Damascus, Mogadishu and Mosul. Just because tragedy and horror happens more frequently in some areas, is no excuse to become numb and turn away from the reality of this human suffering.
For now, I watch motionless as the ever-so-fickle News Feed populates once again with cute kittens and baby memes. Maybe I will login, click on the white box and fill it with words (meaningful? beautiful? useless? offensive?). Then again maybe I won’t, because after all this is not my tragedy, and who am I to speak on it? Perhaps what is needed is for everyone from Donald Trump to my work colleagues to myself, is to impose some much-needed self-censorship in the direct aftermath of grave tragedy. Give yourself and the rest of the digital universe a short moment of silence, a chance to honour the dead, to take in the gravity of the tragedy occurring across our world.
Photo credit: NBC News (Beirut), KSNT.com (Paris)
For Sam Smith’s entire Slate article, see http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/culturebox/2015/11/the_ethics_and_responsibilities_of_responding_to_tragedy_online.html
Note: I originally wrote this post in the aftermath of the Paris and Beirut attacks, as a response to the variety of emotions I felt watching my Facebook News Feed populate with messages of love, fear, immense double standards and ultimately silence, a collective forgetting of tragedy and return to banal youtube entertainment…