We’re going to have to do this, aren’t we? We’re actually going to have to explain the obvious (and not at all nefarious) reasons why a terrorist attack in one city provokes a different national response than an attack in another. Because social media is never truly firing on all cylinders unless it’s being used to transmit sanctimonious indignation over something or another, we’re going to have to attempt to answer a ghoulish “grief-off” that seems to have developed over the past 24 hours, with advocates for different countries competing for attention in the wake of the most recent terrorist tragedy.
Surely you’ve seen it: memes,articles, and Twitter and Facebook posts all wondering aloud why the media goes to 24/7 coverage and the world lights its landmarks blue, white and red when dozens of people are killed by terrorists in Paris but terrorist deaths in Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya and Nigeria feel like they’re met with barely a raised eyebrow. Supposedly, it’s a double-standard — likely a racist double-standard — that explains the glaring discrepancy and it proves that we as a society value certain lives over others. White faces covered in blood get attention — black or brown faces don’t. That’s how the theory goes.
First of all, let me say that it’s truly awful to be having a debate like this at all right now given that the blood has barely dried in Paris. There are people trying to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones and others still fighting to survive this massacre and meanwhile Facebook is lit up with people self-righteously scolding — or in other cases melodramatically lamenting — the grief so many feel in response to this particular attack against this particular city. While the death of anyone in any act of terror is a tragedy, regardless of race or ethnicity, there’s something extraordinary about Paris and its citizens and an attack on them strikes an especially raw nerve with the progressive world.
Paris isn’t just a city — it’s in so many ways the castle keep of Western culture. It’s a place that for centuries has represented the ideals that the Western world is founded on: freedom, equality, philosophy and introspection, knowledge, love for fellow man, and a belief in the absolute good of artistic expression. Paris has always stood for the embrace of life and all that it offers. An assault by Islamist jihadis on the city is a knife through the heart of those values and the West in general, which is exactly why it was chosen by Daesh (ISIS). Friday’s coordinated attacks struck at everything we as a liberal democracy celebrate. They hit a concert hall where music was playing; a football stadium where thousands were enjoying a game; and a series of sidewalk cafes where people had gathered for dinner and drinks. These are all things that Daesh despises and has stricken from its ultra-fundamentalist caliphate — they’re the things that make up our way of life.
The attacks of November 13th also represent the first time that Daesh has extended its theater of operations beyond the Middle East — and that’s more than newsworthy. True, the group hit a market in Beirut on Thursday, killing almost 150 people, but no matter how harsh this may sound, to the media and the rest of the world a terrorist attack in Beirut just isn’t all that surprising (which is admittedly a tragedy in and of itself). You’re talking about a place that’s historically been a hotbed of terrorist activity and which has had nearly 60 bombings in or around it within the last decade.
What makes news is, as they say, man-bites-dog. Well, Beirut — and for that matter Kenya, another country whose deadly terrorism people are complaining has been overlooked in the wake of Paris — is unfortunately nothing more than the usual dog-bites-man. This certainly isn’t to say that the lives of the people of either of those places matter less than the people of Paris, it’s simply that terror there doesn’t have the kind of impact on the imagination of the media and Western cultures that a massacre in the peaceful cradle of the Enlightenment does. And that’s somewhat understandable.
Daesh specifically brought its lethal evangelism to Paris because it needed to target an iconic place deep within the body politic of the West where its values were most prided. It needed to make a statement and hit us close to home, in an accepting, cosmopolitan city that we could see ourselves in and whose beauty and permissive, humanistic values have captured the public’s imagination for centuries. It also needed a city we here in the U.S. could imagine as New York, or Los Angeles, or Washington, DC, a city where we could be dining and drinking or watching a football game or hanging out at a rock show. The free world thinks Paris is special and it always has. This is exactly why Daesh thought it was special.
Put it this way: We typically see terrorist attacks in different cities around the world. Friday we saw a terrorist attack on a city and all that it stands for.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.