Since Friday, the news has been saturated with coverage of the attacks in Paris by ISIS that killed at least 127, and this has some upset, given the fact that an ISIS suicide bombing that killed 44 in Beirut did not have the same impact on the media.
Is this an issue of Western superiority? Is this a matter of some lives being more valuable than others? Are the lives of people in Beirut less valuable than those in Paris? And is there a suitable answer?
When suicide bombers set off their vests in Paris, it marked the first time that a suicide bombing took place on French soil. In Beirut, it’s not as surprising. This, sadly, is far more common in the area of the world where Beirut is. The West is most definitely not used to this happening. And it is shaking the feeling of safety that many Westerners are able to enjoy, that many in the rest of the world do not have the luxury of having. It’s fair to look at bombings, shootings and war as a day-to-day reality in the Middle East, even if that is just a stereotype. People expect it.
Much of the media that the world is watching, especially in the West, is Western based. Logically, yes, Western media will focus more on what happens in the West over what will happen in other parts of the world, like Beirut. And this does distort the sense of importance placed on specific incidents.
Paris is the one of the most famous and most visited cities in the world (32 million in 2013), and many Westerners have spent time there. They can look at the pictures of what is happening in Paris and relate to them for they may have gone to that stadium or to that concert venue themselves. They may have spent time on the very streets that heard gunfire and bombs going off. It is much easier to relate to a story when you understand the place it is happening in. To many, Paris is a neighbor, while Beirut is a million miles away in another universe.
The truth is, much of the horror in the world slips under the radar, even more so than what happened in Beirut. The pain, the anguish, the heartbreak of war is ignored on much of the planet. Why? It’s hard to digest. The brutality of the world is overwhelming and can people really be blamed for trying to tune it out so it doesn’t weigh heavily on their shoulders?
But, it can’t be ignored the closer it gets, when your own security comes into question, when the events start hitting close to home. And Paris is painfully close to home to so many in the West.
And, whether we like it or not, tribalism is very much alive in our world. Tribalism plays a role here of course. Westerners, although diverse and spread around the world, have a kinship with fellow Westerners. The West is often seen as the “free” world (hence, why the U.S. President is called the leader of the “free” world) and tends to share a number of common ideals, such as secularism, freedom of speech, relative liberalism, all at varying degrees of course. We understand each other, and understand what it means when attacks happen in the West. It’s very much similar to the issue of Gaza, and how it galvanizes the Islamic world. Muslims see that in the same way Westerners look at what is happening in Paris. It is something they relate to, an injustice they see as happening to their own people, people they understand, with common beliefs, and a common cause.
Furthermore, the bombings in Beirut happened in a refugee camp. Not many Westerners know what that is like. When looking at images of the bombing scene, the environment it happened in is quite foreign for many Westerners. It is filled with people that have a very different culture, language and religion than usually associated with the West, although obviously that is a stereotype of what a Westerner can be. It makes it harder to relate, harder to see a common ground with those involved.
Yes, sadly, the attacks in Paris are getting significantly more coverage and attention than the attacks in Beirut. Buildings are being lit up in red, white, and blue across the Western world in solidarity with France. Facebook users are putting the flags of France on their profile pictures. World leaders are speaking out against the attacks in Paris, where as they did not for the attacks in Beirut. It does smack of insensitivity. It does give the image that some people’s lives are worth more than others. And this is not going to be the last time this happens. The frustration is as understandable as the reasons why there seems to be more focus on the Paris attacks than the attacks on Beirut.
[Photo by Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images]