Paris attacks: Is solidarity for white terror victims only?

Local French and Australians at a vigil for the victims of the Paris terror incident in Martin Place in Sydney.

Local French and Australians at a vigil for the victims of the Paris terror incident in Martin Place in Sydney. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

When I first heard about the twin suicide bombs that ripped through Beirut on Thursday, I didn't even think to share it on Facebook. Like much of the grief and trauma caused by the war in neighbouring Syria, the news was something my family and I discussed in private.

Concern for relatives living nearby, fear that it may happen again, despair at the burden that this tiny country continues to bear, and anger that the violence Islamic State was inflicting on Syria could engulf Lebanon, too.

Truthfully, I wasn't even surprised, let alone disappointed, that the western world was largely indifferent to the attacks; mourning our fallen is something us with ties to the Middle East have become accustomed to doing without the widespread empathy of the west.

The Sydney Opera House lit up in Red, White and Blue to show solidarity with France in the wake of yesterday's terror ...

The Sydney Opera House lit up in Red, White and Blue to show solidarity with France in the wake of yesterday's terror incidents. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

But then Paris was also attacked on Friday night and suddenly it was impossible not to think about the way that Lebanon had been ignored.


What happened in Paris was horrific and pointless and agonising and I mourn for France, the way I mourn for my father's homeland Lebanon and my mother's homeland Syria. But even as I despair, again I find myself asking why does the west respond so resoundingly only to some victims of terrorism? Why is it that suffering simply matters more when it happens in the west?

The sea of red, blue, and white currently on Facebook is meant as an act of solidarity, but with no such support for Lebanon each profile picture on my feed that transforms into the French flag feels like a physical kick in the guts, a reminder that, as an Arab, I am not quite as worthy, not as significant, not as human.

Facebook reiterated its selective grief by offering the "safety check" feature for Paris, allowing those in the city to mark themselves as "safe", no doubt a relief for their loved ones. But the feature was not offered for Beirut.

How could this be when the ones who terrorised Paris are the very same ones who attacked Beirut? Why must the Arab world shoulder its burden alone, even as the entire world - including Muslims - once again unite in solidarity with France, just as we did in January, the last time the country was targeted?

Now is not the time, many people will say. Don't take way from their grief and pain.

But expressing our own loss should not take away from anyone else's. Is there ever a right time for brown people to ask to be regarded as human, to feel like our lives matter too?

I get that people feel more empathy for that which is familiar (hence people sharing pictures of themselves holidaying in Paris, as though longing to feel personally connected to the tragedy), but the wholesale way the globe has united for #PrayForParis while ignoring Lebanon, when their tragedies occurred within 24 hours of each other, is a telltale sign of how little non-white lives matter.

Later tonight, the sails of the Opera House will be lit in the blue, white and red tricolore of the French flag. I've...

Posted by Mike Baird on  Friday, November 13, 2015

To see the colours of the French flag on the Opera House and other landmarks across the world, while the green of Lebanon's cedar tree is conspicuously missing, to hear world leaders condemn what happened in Paris as a crime on "all of humanity" while sweeping Lebanon's grief under the carpet, is to be told over and over again: You are not one of us.

And that is what hurts the most; what is ostensibly a sign of solidarity is, from my perspective, a triumph of the Us and Them mentality that causes tragedies like this in the first place.

This was readily apparent in the initial media coverage of the Beirut attacks. Headlines such as 'Suicide Bombing Kills At Least 37 In Hezbollah Stronghold Of Southern Beirut' instantly dehumanised the victims by associating them with a terrorist organisation. It's a pattern of reporting reminiscent of that during the Gaza War, where the legitimate victim status of Palestinians was called into question because they "may" have voted for Hamas, also listed as a terrorist group by the US.

This is the sad reality of how much of the west views the Middle East: a collection of known terrorists, would be terrorists, and potential terrorists.

Well, tell that to the family of Adel Termos, the young Lebanese father who potentially saved hundreds of lives by tackling one of the Beirut suicide bombers after witnessing the first detonate his suicide vest.

But Islamic terrorism is not just a Muslim problem. It is a consequence of many wars, fear of secularism, strongarm dictators, overthrown tyrants, power vacuums, colonialism, and foreign interests. As such, as this poem by Karuan Ezara Parek, which has been widely shared over the past two days indicates, to blame Muslims and refugees for the very terror they are desperately fleeing from, is to ignore the west's role in the chaos and to minimise the suffering of innocents.

I woke this morning deeply disturbed by the news from #Paris, but more amazed by the attention it received on social...

Posted by Karuna Ezara Parikh on  Friday, November 13, 2015

To act as though terrorism does not really matter until it is inflicted on westerners not only diminishes the pain of people of colour, it is counter-productive. The days of war and suicide bombings being a problem 'over there' are over. Terrorism is a global threat and if we are to learn anything from Beirut and Paris at all, it is that solidarity can no longer just be for white people.

We have to be all in this together.