It is easy to misdirect our rage at the inherent hypocrisy of the media to social media sympathisers, but we neglect to remember that as humanity, we first empathise with what we can easily relate to.
The overwhelming response questioning the hypocrisy of Western media and its solidarity with Paris is valid when you consider countries like Australia, with a massive Lebanese-Australian community that distinctly lacked any compassion for the Lebanese victims. However, the same cannot be said for the rest of the West, especially Europe. The attacks in Paris was an attack to all of humanity for the very reason that Paris is a global city. The amount of people that have traveled or lived in Paris, have friends and family who have been there, have just returned from a French vacation or are planning to visit are significantly greater than the ones who have any relation at all to Beirut.
Is it hypocrisy when I feel a stronger outrage when someone hurts my sister than if someone hurts a stranger? So why is it hypocrisy when I feel a stronger outrage when someone commits an atrocious crime in a place I know, love and hold fond memories in than a foreign land I barely have any association with?
To demand the same level of outrage is unfair to the Western media and victim sympathisers anywhere. When Bangkok was rocked by blasts recently, the entire South East Asian region showed their solidarity by sharing the #prayforbangkok hashtags as it was a regional disaster. The Thais did not demand for global solidarity precisely because Bangkok is not a global city. Granted those attacks were not ISIS instrumented and thus does not garner enough international traction, does that make for an argument that victims not of an radical fundamentalist religious sect are not victims enough?
We pray and we feel for Paris because very simply it could have been any one of us. It could have been any one of us taking that cheeky weekend trip to Paris, spending Friday night watching a friendly football match. Or to watch a gig we excitedly clicked ‘purchase’ months ago. We hear the French scream and cry in a language so familiar and we easily picture ourselves in the streets of Paris because at one point, all of us were there enjoying the soleil by the Seine. For the sheer fact that “it could have been me” or “it could have been someone I knew or loved” is how terror horrifies and unites us. Expecting the same level of empathy for Beirut or Baghdad or Syria is impossible precisely because on a personal level we cannot directly identify with the Lebanese or the Shiites. It poses more of a difficulty to imagine sitting in a Lebanese cafe surrounded by a language so foreign to many of us and being shocked by blasts. Or to imagine any of our loved ones in Syria, fearing for their safety in ISIS controlled regions for the very reason that these cities are foreign to us.
This is not diluting the attacks in Beirut or Baghdad, the victims were no less innocent than the victims in Paris. Arabs are not any less of victims. It is easy to portray Arab cities as broken and undeserving of international solidarity. But that is not the case. The fact of the matter is that these cities are not as globalised as cities like London, New York or Paris, and its reach do not penetrate the majority and the influential, unlike these vastly urban cities that manage to tangle a relation in most individuals.
The more we perpetuate this stereotype that we neglect these cities for no other reason than that they are not Western, White, or Christian is dangerously toxic in giving fundamentalists reasons to self-radicalise. If these horrific attacks were committed in Beijing, Dubai or even Singapore, I have enough faith in the media and the world to show the same solidarity they displayed with Paris. It is easy to paint the Western media as the root of all our social ills as many see it as a beacon of light that which controls the amount of compassion we distribute. We are too keen to pin an extremely human disposition of prioritising our compassion in ways that make sense to us on the media, on the West. To leave us free from blame.
It is a tragedy that a nation more accessible is a nation we mourn more for but to discount anyone’s empathy for a terror so atrocious is in itself heartbreaking.