On a Friday evening, hundreds of people enjoying their weekends in Paris, France fell victim to a series of horrific attacks that claimed at least 129 lives. Families at dinner and couples on concert dates fell under the assault of Islamic State monsters. The city was brought to its knees as France suffered its most deadly attack since World War II. No politicians were assassinated, no strategic points captured — just innocent people a continent away from any war zones at the wrong place at the wrong time.
You’d have to live under a rock to not have heard about this. It swallowed the Internet in one gulp. France was Googled more times in the entire history of the country or search engine and suddenly pictures of Putin, POTUS and French President Francois Hollande in rare form, working together, hit the front page of Reddit.
That’s why I was a little surprised to walk out of Hamburg’s main train station on Saturday morning to a pro-refugee parade making its way down the main street. My immediate thought was “a little soon?” Despite the contextual gloom and doom and sad mist, hundreds of activists brought life to the streets. Pastel posters contrasted the industrial port-city backdrop. A “Refugees Welcome” flag waved past. An acrobat hung from a tree, directing attention to a banner declaring “Bleiberecht fur alle” as the parade passed under her.
“Remain fair for all” or “Right to stay for all.”
In the wake of a terrible attack, a demonstration raising awareness on the desperate refugee situation in Europe actually makes a lot of sense — a reaction to diminishing popularity, both present and anticipated.
Last week’s horrific episode in Paris is another stock on the pile of mounting pressure against giving Muslim refugees from the Middle East asylum, despite the necessarily noted zero correlation between the perpetrators and European Muslim communities or refugees on the run from war.
In Europe, far-right political parties gain traction as Islamophobia becomes more contemporary and fear mounts. In 2012, France’s right-wing, anti-immigrant National Front won 17.9 percent of the vote during the presidential election, a 10 percent jump from 2007. Germany’s anti-Islam PEGIDA party held a rally in Dresden, blaming refugees and immigrants for the attacks. More than 10,000 people showed up.
A sense of uneasiness builds for Muslims as they become demonized, thanks to no actions of their own, especially those who fear a forced return to conflict zones.
In the aftermath of another attack on Jan. 7 of this year, which killed 12 in the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, anti-Muslim violence soared.
People are afraid. It’s understandable. However, to turn on countrymen with no connection to the violence won’t serve to speed up any healing process, but rather expand on fractures in the community. For the innocent people who are labeled “suspicious,” it’s probably hard to empathize when you’re made to feel like a stranger in your own community; it’s probably harder yet to empathize when it hasn’t come to you in the reverse situation.
Two days before the Paris attacks, two suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, killed 43 people and wounded more than 200. What’s notable about this attack is that it wasn’t notable at all to the Western world. Bylines struggled to the surface of news websites, but any attention drowned when the attacks on Paris happened.
My point isn’t to reduce this painful weekend to some morbid competition of what horror story deserves more validation, but when two attacks happened at nearly the same time, it became obvious whose lives mattered more. Where were the temporary Facebook profiles for these other people just living their lives before a sudden, unjustified end? Just because these humans lived in a place of slightly less cultural relevance to the West, they didn’t deserve the deployment of Facebook’s “marked safe” function?
These might be anecdotal examples, but Google Trends, a Google product that allows users to uncover data on search topics and compare them, shows that the Internet’s collective interest was extremely one-sided. The search terms, “Beirut bombing” and “Paris attack” are each given a designated number showing at any point in time Nov. 9-16 proportional Google search interest.
Interest in Beirut’s search term was so low that it registered a zero throughout almost the entire timeline. During the attack on Lebanon, the number remained at zero. During the attack on France, Beirut’s number remained null as “France attack” relevance skyrocketed to 100. The point isn’t that attention or mourning needs to be diverted from what happened in France, but there’s no cap on the empathy we are capable of giving. The deaths of 43 people are surely worth more than zero.
We will remember what happened in Paris forever. We should. However, what happened in Beirut will probably fade into an irrelevant oblivion, just like the mosque bombing in Yemen that killed 137, an al-Shabaab terrorist attack in Kenya that ended 151 lives or a car bombing that killed up to 200 people in Khan Bani Saad, Iraq.
They all happened this year. Did you know about them? I didn’t.
It’s important for us to give appropriate concern when something horrific like this happens, regardless of where or to whom. We have a hard time looking past the pedigree information of those affected, but it’s a real shame if no one cares because we’ve never heard of the city an atrocity is committed in.
The inability to humanize events serves to divide the international community. Until we become totally aware of what’s happening in parts of the world unfortunate enough to be out of the limelight, we’re complacent and unable to address it as a united community.
Bleiberecht fur alle.