By MANIKA GARG —
The Beirut Bombings of Nov. 12, 2015, were followed by the Paris attacks on Nov. 13. In response, monuments across the world were covered in red, white and blue; Facebook photos were filtered over with the French Flag, and #Parisjetaime, #Jesuisparis trended on Twitter. We can reasonably assert that the Paris attacks garnered far more attention than the Beirut bombings, even though ISIS was behind both assaults, which occurred on consecutive days.
So then, what are the causes and consequences of the disproportionate attention given to the Paris attacks, compared to several instances of violent massacres in other parts of the world, including the Beirut bombings?
While explaining why Paris received more attention than Beirut, I feel the media as well as news readers had a role to play. The media coverage of Paris was different not only in quantity but also in quality. The quantity was simply because more newspapers and networks showcased the Paris story across more news cycles.
The quality of the media reporting, however, is what I find particularly important, because the effects of this often go unnoticed. The quality of reporting is seen in the choice of headlines and content. Stories on the Paris attacks reported first- and second-hand witness accounts, and personal anecdotes of the victims, humanizing them to the readers and thus garnering more empathy. Headlines such as, “PARIS TERROR ATTACKS KILL OVER 100; FRANCE DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY” also provoked emotional reactions from readers. On the other hand, while covering the Beirut bombings, headlines such as “Dozens Killed in Beirut Attack, “conveyed no urgency or shock. The content of the stories was dispassionate and factual, not prompting any empathy or connection for the readers.
The role of the news consumers in the disproportionate attention given to Paris versus Beirut may lie in the fact that we have grown complacent to reading about violence in the Middle-East, and so we view it as unexpected and less like “news.”
Paris on the other hand was unexpected, so people were shocked and reacted accordingly. Since France is a developed nation, people expect it to be highly secure and safe, so when suddenly faced with such a nation directly threatened by ISIS, they panicked and paid far more attention to this assault. People in the West relate to Paris more for numerous reasons, including shared political ideas of democracy, likelihood of having travelled to Paris, and many more such connections that made the Paris attacks “hit home.”
Even though we cannot dictate how people grieve, or tell people that they must equally empathize because experiences are personal and subjective, I feel sad that we live in a world where not all lives matter equally. The fact that the lottery of birth has determined one being born in the safe Western hemisphere and another in the turmoil-struck Middle East, should not further determine whether one is safe from violent extremism, or whether one’s death is equally anonymously mourned.
Even if we put aside the ethical dilemma that this disproportionate attention to Paris causes, we cannot ignore the real-term consequences. By not having Syrian or Lebanese flag filters on Facebook, we are indicating to people in those lands that their lives do not matter to the West as much. This further marginalizes them and plays right into the hands of ISIS, which seeks more marginalized groups on which to prey, in order to radicalize and recruit them.
When irrationally hating Muslims, or refusing refugees in reaction to Paris, we need to ask ourselves if we are thoughtfully reacting, or if we are just furthering a problem. What happened one night in Paris has been an all-too-frequent occurrence for millions of refugees. And just because one wasn’t born in the western world does not mean one has less of a right to live. And so, even if it may seem natural to care more about the Paris attacks, let us be cognizant of our bias, and fight it, because all lives matter equally. When we start internalizing this, we may actually live in a peaceful world, or at least one that has the potential to be.
(Written by Manika Garg, edited by Terril Y. Jones, Nov. 26, 2015)